Age proved no impediment to 9-year-old gelding John's Call, who led all the way Saturday in the $750,000 Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont Park. Jean-Luc Samyn was the winning rider in both of the day's premier turf events, taking both the Turf Classic and the co-featured Flower Bowl Handicap (gr. IT).
John's Call joined John Henry as the oldest horse ever to win the Turf Classic. John Henry won the race in 1984 when he was a 9-year-old as well.
Craigsteel, another outsider in the field of 12, closed strongly to be runner-up, 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Ela Athena. Fantastic Light, the heavy favorite, finished fourth. The order of finish was completed by Val's Prince, Drama Critic, Subtle Power, Gritty Sandie, Northern Quest, Timboroa, Commander Collins and Chimes at Midnight.
The win was the third in four starts this year for John's Call, who carried 126 pounds over 1 1/2 miles in 2:28.58 on the firm Widener turf course, earning $450,000 for Trillium Stable. John's Call completed the final half-mile in :48.28 seconds.
John's Call has now won 15 of 34 career races. He was bred in Kentucky by Wimborne Farm Inc.
John's Call (Lord At War--Calling Guest, by Be My Guest) returned $22.80, $12, and $7.40. Craigsteel paid $21 and $12.20 and Ela Athena was worth $7.90 to show. Fantastic Light came home fourth, followed by Val's Prince, Drama Critic, Subtle Power, Gritty Sandie, Northern Quest, Timboroa, Commander Collins, and Chimes At Midnight.
His mount's effort left Samyn "speechless." He was aboard for John's Call's victory in Saratoga's Sword Dancer Handicap (gr. IT) on Aug. 12, but his fourth-place finish behind Fantastic Light in Belmont's Man o'War (gr. IT) in his prior start gave no indication of what was to come in the Turf Classic.
John's Call took the lead at the start and, with Samyn guiding him through moderate fractions, maintained a clear advantage into the stretch. He has won four of five career starts at 12 furlongs.
"He is a genuine stayer and he doesn't have to take his track with him," trainer Tom Voss said. "He's done more than we expected this year. We might be tempted to supplement him to the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT, Churchill Downs, Nov. 4), but the risk-reward factor, well that ($2 million) is a lot of money."
If John's Call goes for the Breeders' Cup, history will be on his side. Four winners of the Turf Classic have gone on to win the Breeders' Cup Turf in the same year; Manila (1986),Theatrical (1987), Tikkanen (1994) and Buck's Boy (1998). Manila, Theatrical and Buck's Boy also went on to cap their banner years by being chosen Eclipse Award winners as outstanding male turf horse.
While Samyn used front-running tactics to steal the Turf Classic, he rallied Colstar from well off the pace to capture the $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational Handicap despite slow early fractions. Snow Polina was second, 8 1/4 lengths clear of Pico Teneriffe. Odds-on favorite Happyanunoit was fourth, with Lisieux Rose completing the order of finish.
Colstar came from last in the field of five to overtake Snow Polina in the final stride and carry 116 pounds and Samyn to a head victory in the Flower Bowl. It was the first Grade I win for the 4-year-old filly by Opening Verse, who traveled the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01.78 on the firm inner turf course to earn $450,000 of the $750,000 purse for owner-breeder Beverly R. Steinman.
"She (Colstar) is not Breeders' Cup nominated as this will probably be it for the season. We'll probably run her next year," trainer Paul Fout said.
Colstar paid $17.00 to win and led a $55.50 exacta. She improved her career record to eight victories from 13 starts with the win. (Charts, Equibase