Roses in May and Perfect Drift, the first two finishers in the Cornhusker Breeders' Cup (gr. III) a month ago, produced the same result Saturday in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course.
In a spectacular stretch battle, Perfect Drift, with Pat Day aboard, loomed up on the outside of Roses in May and Edgar Prado. In deep stretch, Perfect Drift appeared to put a nose in front, but Roses in May, enjoying a three-pound weight break, battled back gamely to eke out a nose victory. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile Whitney was 1:48 2/5 on a track rated fast in spite of rain earlier in the day.
"When Perfect Drift got outside of him, he gave me everything he had," Prado said. "He's a fighter. We could have gone another eighth of a mile, and the other horse wouldn't have gone by."
Making his first start in a grade I race, the 4-year-old Roses in May won for the fourth consecutive time this year at odds of 7-1.
Bowman's Band nipped Sarava by a nose for third. Peace Rules, who like Perfect Drift went off at odds of 3-1 as the slight favorite in the field of nine, fell back on the far turn after chasing an extremely fast pace and was not a factor late with all-time Saratoga riding leader Jerry Bailey in the irons. He finished sixth.
Roses in May, trained by Dale Romans for owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, went gate to wire for Mark Guidry in the Cornhusker July 3 at Prairie Meadows, shaking off Perfect Drift in the stretch to win driving by 1 1/2 lengths.
Ridden Saturday for the first time by Prado, Roses in May wasn't going to go all the way this time. Texas speedster Yessirgeneralsir was intent on getting away first, hustling into the first turn with the advantage. He clicked off speedy fractions of :22 3/5, :45 1/5 and 1:08 4/5 while Roses in May pressured him all the way.
In spite of that, Yessirgeneralsit widened his lead on the far turn and held a three-length advantage at the quarter pole. He wearied in the stretch, though, and Roses in May was quick to seize control. He responded when challenged by Perfect Drift inside the final furlong, prevailing under strong left-handed encouragement.
Romans, who won his first grade I event, said the race unfolded just as he hoped it would.
"The fractions were fast, but my main concern was Peace Rules and he was right there with us," he said. "So, if it was going to affect us, it was going to affect him. I knew Perfect Drift would come running, and when we got head-to head, it was just a matter of who would out-game the other one. It is a big step forward for him and all of his connections, and hopefully, it is going to take us to the Breeders' Cup."
Perfect Drift, winless since the Hawthorne Gold Cup (gr. II) Sept. 28, was content to let the pace battle to sort itself out. He moved up along the inside on the far turn and charged up powerfully in the stretch while three wide. He appeared poised to take command after a mile in 1:34 4/5, but couldn't do it. The final furlong wasn't fast at :13 3/5, but it was entertaining.
"I thought Pat (Day) might have went to the lead a little bit early, but that's horse racing," said Murray Johnson, trainer of Perfect Drift. "We tried our best and he came through with a great race. I thought we had it. Pat said that when he hit the front, he lifted his head up and eased up a bit. To the other horse's credit, he kept going.
"We got what we wanted. We didn't win, but we're happy."
Day said he had to work hard to get Perfect Drift into gear.
"Once I got his momentum, I was concerned about letting him down because I worked so hard to get him started," Day said. "I had a choice to make: to sit and wait or to go with him. I chose to go and I think that cost him the race."
Bowman's Band was making a nice move while four wide on the final turn, but had to check between horses. He rallied again in the stretch to hit the board, just nipping Sarava, who also rallied late for Javier Castellano.
Bailey said Peace Rules wasn't his usual gritty self.
"I had exactly the position I wanted going down the backstretch," he noted. "To be quite honest, I couldn't hold Roses in May behind the leader. I really didn't have enough horse to keep him in. It was not a typical effort from Peace Rules. He never gives it up in the middle of a race like that."
Roses in May, a Devil His Due
colt from the dam Tell a Secret (Speak John), improved to 6-2-0 in nine lifetime starts. He earned $450,000 for the Ramseys and now owns a bankroll of $773,687.
Bred by Margaux Farm in Kentucky, Roses in May was a $115,000 Ocala buy in April 2002.
The winner paid $16.80, $7.90 and $5.40. Perfect Drift returned $5 and $3.30, completing a $78 exacta. Bowman's Band was $5.10 to show.
Gygistar, 3 1/2 lengths behind Sarava, Peace Rules, Newfoundland, Yessirgeneralsir and Seattle Fitz trailed.