Harmony Lodge and jockey Richard Migliore held off a late rally by favored House Party and stubborn Slews Final Answer on Sunday afternoon to win the $150,000 Gallant Bloom Handicap (gr. II) for fillies and mares at 6 1/2 furlongs by a half-length.Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens hoped to close out a big weekend with House Party. The venerable 74-year-old Jerkens won the Meadowlands Cup (gr. II) on Friday night with Bowman's Band and then took Belmont Park's Frizette (gr. I) with Society Selection on Saturday afternoon.In the Gallant Bloom, however, put Harmony Lodge into the fight early, and she battled Literary Light and Slews Final Answer and a fierce headwind through an opening quarter mile of :23 3/5 and a half mile of :46 4/5. The six-horse field bunched up on the turn, with House Party last, but only three lengths off the lead.Jockey Jose Santos slipped House Party to the outside, but it was hard to run down the winner despite a last surge, and Harmony Lodge was the winner in 1:16 2/5. Owned by Eugene and Laura Melnyk, Harmony Lodge is a 5-year-old daughter of Hennessy, who has now won nine of 18 career starts. Her earnings exceed $600,000."It's a little hard to get a line on the first quarter because of the strong headwind down the backstretch -- 23 3/5 is extremely slow for her," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "Richie was able to get her to relax nicely. I think she waited a little the last part. It always looked like she was going to hold on, but House Party is an awfully nice filly and she was still closing well at the end."House Party, it turns out, ran a remarkable race considering she encountered a surprise on the windy track.
"I think the piece of paper (on the track) at the top of the stretch may have cost me the race," said jockey Jose Santos. "She was starting to put in her run, but she saw that and got a little startled. It took her awhile to get focused again. She still put in a big, late run. We just ran out of ground."This was the third Gallant Bloom winner for Migliore, who previously won this race with Miss Golden Circle in 1996 and with Catinca in 1998."I got down as low as I could down on the backstretch. Its' pretty windy and I didn't want to give her any more drag," Migliore said. "The first quarter was a little false because of the wind, but she did it well within herself. I got after her and she really sprinted home. I give both the second and third horses credit, too, they were really running and we weren't lying down. My filly was running hard. I'm just happy I got a chance to ride her back, and I enjoyed the trip."
Harmony Lodge will be taking a trip of her own, according to Pletcher. "She's going to go to Winding Oaks Farm (owned by the Melnyks in Ocala, Fla.) tomorrow," he said. "She'll get a little break and come back for Gulfstream. The Melnyks are planning on running her next year, which is nice for us."House Party headed Slews Final Answer for the place, with Alchemilla, Belle Artiste and Literary Light far back. There was a minus show pool of $3,732.47. Harmony Lodge paid $6.10, $2.50 and $2.10. House Party returned $2.20 and $2.10. Slews Final Answer paid $2.10.