Anthony Fanticola and Joseph Scardino's Obviously returned from a four-month break between races June 18 and led wire to wire to win the $300,000 Poker Stakes (gr. IIIT) in near-course record time at Belmont Park.
Video: Poker S. (G3T)
Entering his 8-year-old season as a seven-time graded stakes winner and two-time grade I victor, the Choisir gelding started 2016 with a pair of close seconds against grade II company at Santa Anita Park before shipping east from trainer Phil D'Amato's Southern California base.
On Saturday, Obviously, ridden for the first time by Jose Lezcano, took his characteristic position at the head of the pack on the Widener Turf Course and set and uncontested pace through a :23.07 quarter-mile and a :45.96 half.
Obviously's dominance remained unquestioned turning for home, as he drew clear in the stretch to win by 3 3/4 lengths, ahead of Force the Pass, who was making his first local start since capturing last year's Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (gr. IT).
Obviously completed the one-turn mile on firm turf in 1:31.65, just .02 seconds off Elusive Quality's course record set in 1998.
"The horse is a freak" Lezcano said. "He's something else. He broke well and went out with no trouble. The second quarter I had to get him relax. He started to jump at the bit, but heading for home, he did it easy and got going again. Looking at the splits, he just kept going faster and faster. I think he's a very nice horse."
Favored at 2-1 in the six-horse field, Obviously returned $6.60, $4.10, and $3. Force the Pass brought $6.30 and $3.50, and Offering Plan returned $3.90 to show.
Obviously improved his career record to 12-6-3 from 27 starts and boosted his lifetime earnings to $1,747,751. His résumé includes wins in the 2013 and 2014 editions of the Shoemaker Mile Stakes (gr. IT).
"He's coming into his own," said D'Amato's assistant, Chris Davis. "He's sound, he's happy, he's fit. He seems like he's starting to relax better. He really is just maturing. He's one of those horses that you don't want to run every two or three weeks. You've got to hand pick the best races for him, but he's really doing well. We couldn't be happier with him."