In scoring the biggest win of his career in the 1 1/8-mile turf race at Gulfstream Park, Canada's champion older horse of 2014 spoiled the 2016 debut of grade I winner The Pizza Man, who finished fifth as the even-money favorite.
"This is a gutsy horse. I knew he'd go down fighting if he lost," said winning trainer Josie Carroll. "This is a horse that always shows up. I was confident he'd run his race and we were lucky enough to win it. He's a very, very honest horse. No horse deserves this (win more than him)."
The strong finish by Melnyk Racing Stable homebred Lukes Alley also ended the upset bid by Shining Copper, who comfortably raced on the front end under jockey Joel Rosario, enjoying a clear lead through a half-mile in :49.12. Shining Copper held off a challenge in the far turn from Takeover Target through six furlongs in 1:13.63, and moved into the stretch with the lead and a big chance for his first stakes win.
But Lukes Alley, who tracked in fourth under Paco Lopez through most of the race, had improved position racing three wide in the far turn and unleashed his powerful late move, wearing down Shining Copper in the final strides to win by a neck. Lukes Alley made up 1 1/2 lengths in a final furlong completed in :11.52.
"I wasn't sure if I was going to get there," Lopez said. "It was a tough race and I knew my horse was going to run big because I rode him last time and he was second. He didn't like the rail then, but he liked the rail today. I didn't have a perfect trip. I had to go forward, then behind, but when I got him outside nobody was coming. It was the perfect move for my horse. I got a little lucky and I had the best horse today."
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Shining Copper earned the second grade I-placing of his career, holding off an inside rally by Wertheimer and Frere's All Included. Lukes Alley paid $12.20, $5.20, and $3.60 across the board, while Shining Copper paid $5 to place and $3.60 to show. All Included returned $5.80 to show.
Bred in Ontario, Lukes Alley is the first stakes winner for the stakes-winning A.P. Indy mare Vaulcluse, who has produced three winners from four starters.
Javier Castellano, aboard The Pizza Man for the first time, said the course may not have been a good fit for the veteran grade I winner.
"I don't think it was a good setup today," Castellano said. "I just rode with a lot of patience. He kicked but I don't know if it was the track here, the way the speed carries. It's so hard for a horse that comes from way, way back. It could be the combination of the slow pace and a track that carries speed. It took a little while for him to go forward and I think that's why he got beat today."