Camelot Kitten, outside, wins 2016 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes by a nose from Airoforce

Camelot Kitten, outside, wins 2016 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes by a nose from Airoforce

Skip Dickstein

'Kitten' Wins Racing Hall of Fame Thriller

Cut back in distance was a key to success for homebred son of Kitten's Joy.

Camelot Kitten edged a game Airoforce by the slimmest of margins in the $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT) for 3-year-old turf runners Aug. 5 at Saratoga Race Course

Video: National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame S. (G2T)

Stalking from fourth, while Airoforce chased pacesetter Giant Run through fractions of :25.08, :49.17, and 1:12.88 for six furlongs, Camelot Kitten moved up to challenge those two on the turn and the three entered the stretch as a team. 

When Giant Run faded in midstretch, Camelot Kitten and Airoforce edged past in tandem toward the finish line, but Irad Ortiz Jr. coaxed a supreme effort from Camelot Kitten, who dug down on the outside of his rival in the closing stages to get the win by a flared nostril.  

Ken and Sarah Ramsey's multiple graded winner Camelot Kitten was cutting back in distance for the 1 1/16-mile race after finishing fourth last time out in the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) July 7 on the Belmont Park inner turf. He was the victor in the American Turf Stakes (gr. IIT) on Kentucky Derby Day May 7 at Friday's distance, and bested Airoforce, the only other graded stakes winner in the field. 

Strike Midnight was up to take third, three-quarters of a length behind Airoforce, while making his graded stakes debut.

A runner for meet-leading trainer Chad Brown, Camelot Kitten covered the distance in 1:41.76 on firm turf.

"He's the kind of horse that after watching his replays you can tell he has gotten much better over time," said Ortiz, who has won the National Museum Racing Hall of Fame three straight years and currently leads the meet's jockey standings. "He waits a little bit on horses so we couldn't make the lead too early, so I waited and eased him into the race little by little. The last part I hit a few times coming into the turn and he was ready. He was jumping. I think he might be better at this distance but he's a nice horse."

Camelot Kitten, the 9-5 favorite paid $5.80, $3.50, and $2.40, Airoforce returned $4.30 and $3.10, and Strike Midnight paid $3.60 to show.

"This horse has always shown a lot of talent but he just wasn't finishing off his races the way he should," said Brown, who won the race for a second straight year after saddling Takeover Target in 2015. "Since we put the blinkers on I think it's his fourth great race in a row. It was the final piece of the puzzle for this particular horse."

A Ramsey homebred, Camelot Kitten is a full brother to Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (gr. IT) winner Bobby's Kitten. He improved to three wins from five starts this year while tallying his third graded win of the season . He followed his American Turf win with a neck triumph in the Pennine Ridge Stakes (gr. IIIT) June 4 at Belmont before finding the Belmont Derby trip a little too far. Overall, he has a 4-2-0 record from eight career starts. 

Camelot Kitten's dam, the winning Forestry mare Celestial Woods, also produced multiple stakes winner Major Magic. Second dam Celestial Bliss is a half sister to U.S. champion turf male Paradise Creek as well as grade I-winning turf stars Forbidden Apple and Wild Event.

Giant Run, Isotherm and Unbridled Daddy completed the order of finish. Copingaway was scratched.