The $250,000 True North Stakes (gr. II) went to a horse who couldn't be more aptly named.
Joking, a 9-1 shot who returned $21.80 while giving owner/trainer Charlton Baker his first graded stakes victory, dashed across the line to upset by a neck in a race devoid of multiple grade I winner Private Zone.
Private Zone would have been making his season debut, but his connections were forced to scratch from the six-furlong True North when trainer Brian Lynch tested positive for marijuana use in a random New York State Gaming Comission probe—a crackdown over a rarely enforced infraction that resulted in much public criticism in the days leading up to the race.
Joking, who came into the True North off back-to-back victories including the May 8 Diablo Stakes at Belmont, charged to his third consecutive win when running down pacesetter Dads Caps. Holy Boss edged even-money favorite Catalina Red for the show, and Always Sunshine completed the order of finish.
"I'm very impressed," Baker said of the 7-year-old Distorted Humor gelding, bred in Kentucky by Darley out of the A.P. Indy mare Spun Silk. "He's doing great, but today was (a) step up. I didn't know how he'd handle it. I know he's doing super and then again the track was fast all day. It seemed like speed was dominating.
"I was hoping he'd get there. He gives you that kick. He's got that killer instinct now that he wants to get there."
Joking raced at the back of the pack in a field of five under Manny Franco as the pace-setting Dad's Caps set blistering fractions of :22.44, :44.71, and :55.99. While racing widest of all and with 12-1 shot Dad's Caps opening up on the field inside the eighth pole, Joking kicked in and powered down the lane to catch the front-runner just before the wire and prevail by a neck in 1:08.04 for six furlongs on the fast track.
"I just rode the way I usually do with him; just sit in the back," Franco said. "When I was ready to make my move, I did it.
"It's the perfect distance for him because they put pace in front of him and he's coming on from behind. I tried to get out with a good trip and try to take advantage."
Joking has now won nine of 37 starts and improved his bankroll to $648,638.
"I'm not sure of his next start," said Baker, who was running Joking in the optional claiming ranks before he won the Diablo two starts back. "Saratoga might be the logical spot but he's a very tough shipper. He likes his home, he likes it here. We might run him one more time between now and Saratoga and then wait for Belmont."