Charming Kitten wins the W. L. McKnight Stakes.
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Charming Kitten wins the W. L. McKnight Stakes.
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Coglianese Photos/Leslie Martin

Charming Kitten Game in McKnight Score

Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Charming Kitten holds off Kaigun at Gulfstream.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Charming Kitten dug in late to hold off the late run of Kaigun to win the $100,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIIT) Dec. 26 at Gulfstream Park. The 1 1/2-mile event was run on a firm turf course and went in 2:27.76.

Charming Kitten, with John Velazquez up, took command at the head of the lane in the 49th running of the McKnight and battled from the eighth pole to the wire to hold of Kaigun by a neck. Favored Da Big Hoss  was 3 1/4 lengths back in third.

Beyond Smart was quick from the gate in the McKnight and was challenged by War Dancer  early through an opening quarter-mile in :24.68. War Dancer took over from Beyond Smart as the field passed by the wire for the first time in the three-turn race in a half in :49.69. They were tracked by Roccia d'Oro while Charming Kitten and Da Big Hoss were in a stalking position just off the pace. The mile went in 1:39.82.

On the turn Velazquez moved Charming Kitten to the lead while Roccia d'Oro and Da Big Hoss came with their runs. Kaigun was along the hedge, came off as he straightened in the lane and took a clear aim at the leader, but could not get by.

"He tries hard all the time," Velazquez said. "I think he really liked the firm ground here. I warmed him up by design to try to have him closer today and once he got into the bridle, he went pretty well.

"I didn't want to get to the lead too soon, but he really dug in."

It was the 13th start for Velazquez aboard Charming Kitten and the Hall of Fame rider has been aboard in nine of the horse's past 10 outings. Charming Kitten now has seven wins, seven seconds, and two thirds from 26 career outings. He's earned $874,417. It was the second win on the year for Charming Kitten, who had last won an allowance optional claiming race at Belmont Park June 20 in his seasonal bow. He placed in Keeneland's Sycamore Stakes (gr. IIIT) Oct. 15 at the McKnight trip.

"He had a perfect trip," said Pletcher's assistant Anthony Sciametta. "Johnny said the last couple of times he was just running even and if he ran the way we knew he could that he would fire and he did. He was game when the other horse came to him."

Charming Kitten is by Kitten's Joy  out of Iteration, by Wild Again. Iteration was winless in 11 starts for breeder/owner Monticule, but is also the dam of the Ramsey's Queen'splatekitten, winner of Woodbine's Marine Stakes in 2011, and a three-time grade III performer.

It was the second graded stakes win on the day for Velazquez who was aboard Miller Racing's Best Behavior in her score in the Sugar Swirl Stakes (gr. III).

The winner paid $11.20, $5.40, and $3. Kaigun paid $4.40 and $2.80. Da Big Hoss returned $2.20 to show. The $2 exacta, 9-10, returned $54.60. St. Albans Boy was fourth and Roccia d'Oro finished fifth in the nine-horse field.

Roman Approval (10-1 morning line), Amigo (30-1), and Hollywood Idol (15-1) were scratched.