Scoring another win for the older generation at Belmont Park Saturday, Gastas Stable's 6-year-old Gander powered to a half-length victory in the 28th running of the $250,000 Empire Classic for New York breds Saturday.
In making the 47th start of his career a winning one, the Cormorant gelding carried high weight of 126 pounds, spotting his 11 rivals from six to 14 pounds.
He made a four-wide move with jockey Richard Migliore on the turn, and then desperately held off a late rally by Compelling World for his 12th career victory. The winner's purse of $150,000 boosted his career earnings to $1,623,688 and put him in position to run in Churchill Downs' $400, 000 Clark Handicap (gr. II) on Nov. 29.
"He was carrying a lot of weight, but when Richie (Migliore) set him down to run, the big guy just ran," Gander's co-owner, Mike Gatsas. "He's a real amazing horse. He's great for New York-breds, and every time we've taken him out of a New York-bred field, he's done well in open company. He's been a poster boy for New York-breds and the program and on a day like today, it's a great day for a horse like this to cap it off with a win.
"They were coming at us at the end. It looked like (Compelling World) might get up, but that is just the true mark of a champion. Richie said he didn't want to let them get ahead of him. This is the second time he won this race, and it's pretty impressive for a horse to stay on course this long. It's been a lot of fun."
For Migliore, the victory before 14,528 had sentimental value as well.
"I decided to just fall out of there and see how the race unfolded," Migliore said. "It was a gutsy move putting him in the clear so early, but I went for it and things worked out. He got a little distracted in the stretch, but I got after him left-handed and he responded. He never let Compelling World by after the race. He had to carry a lot of weight, had a tough post and still got the job done. It was a great effort from him."
Class prevailed in the end.
"I've been fortunate to ride some of the best New York-breds of all time – Win, Fourstardave, Thunder Rumble and now Gander. Being a New York-bred, it's an honor winning this race the same week Fourstardave passed away."
Gander returned $3.60 to win.