Green Gratto not only still has life left in his veteran legs, but they powered their way to the best run of his 53-race career April 8.
In his fifth season of racing, the 7-year-old son of Here's Zealous came through with his first top-level score when he held off 4-5 favorite Unified in deep stretch to take the $400,000 Carter Handicap (G1) by a neck at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Dismissed by the betting public at 54-1 odds, Green Gratto actually had recent form from which to draw from heading into the seven-furlong Carter. The dark bay runner won the Toboggan Stakes (G3) in his seasonal bow Jan. 16—besting a field that included graded stakes winner Stallwalkin' Dude—but headed into Saturday's test off a seventh-place run in the March 11 Tom Fool Handicap (G3).
Trainer and co-owner Gaston Grant said that Green Gratto bled in that Tom Fool outing. The dark bay runner had no such setbacks Saturday, as he broke on top under jockey Christopher DeCarlo and led at every point of call to give Grant his first grade 1 triumph.
"It wasn't like his physical ability wasn't there," Grant said. "We went to the drawing board and came back and he was working like a freight train. There's not much we can do with him now other than these races, so we might as well take a shot at the big guys."
Similar to his front-end Toboggan triumph, Green Gratto had his way with things in the Carter, taking the field through fractions of :22.56 and :45.64, with Unified tracking a length back in second. Coming to the top of the stretch, the venerable pacesetter opened up a two-length advantage and kept finding more as Unified came to his outside.
With his younger rival unable to best him and eventual third-place runner Tommy Macho unable to find running room between those two, Green Gratto hit the wire in 1:23.25 to earn the ninth— and by far most impressive—victory of his career.
"I knew he had it in him, but he had to put it together in the afternoon," Grant said. "We finally put it together this afternoon. Chris did a great job. I can't say enough, because he knew what he was going to do. I didn't say much to him. After Kendrick (Carmouche) was committed to another horse, Chris is my friend. I said, 'Chris is there, and he's a good rider.'"
Green Gratto was taking his third swing at the Carter, having run second in that spot in 2015 and eighth in 2016. The hard knocker enjoyed some of his best prior moments over the Aqueduct surface, however, winning the 2015 Fall Highweight Handicap (G3) in the first graded triumph of his career.
Bred by Kaz Hill Farm and owned by Gaston and Anthony Grant, Green Gratto improved his record to nine wins from 53 starts and became a millionaire with earnings of $1,100,872, paying out $110, $19.80, and $8.40 across the board. Tommy Macho endured a troubled run in the stretch to get third, with All Star Red fourth.
Jimmy Jerkens, trainer of Unified, was a sportsman in defeat.
"He got beat by one of my favorite horses, who almost won this race two years ago," Jerkens said. "I always loved that horse. He's not a horse who gives up when you go to him. We probably should have tried to latch onto him a little earlier, but you can't take anything away from the winner. He's been a good old horse for a long time. It's no disgrace to be second to him, even though he was 54-1."