Donegal Racing’s Ballagh Rocks got the class break he needed in the $300,000 Poker Stakes (G3T) at Belmont Park June 18 and he took advantage of it to add his first graded stakes victory to his résumé.
The 4-year-old son of Stormy Atlantic finished seventh in the Makers' 46 Mile Stakes (G1T) at Keeneland April 14 and then finished fourth in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic Stakes (G1T) at Churchill Downs in his last start May 6.
"(Trainer) Bill Mott and I were talking about whether to run the horse in a $100,000 stakes at Canterbury or the Poker," said Jerry Crawford of Donegal Racing. "Bill said, 'We're running in the Poker,' so I thought, 'OK. I'm buying a plane ticket if he's that confident.'"
In the Poker Catapult sprinted to a clear lead and set fractions of :23.03 and :46.12 through a half-mile on a yielding turf course. Ballagh Rocks stalked the pace behind race favorite Projected, but made progress around the turn and unleashed a drive in the stretch. Ballagh Rocks had to fight off Projected running to the wire, after the Chad Brown trainee was caught in traffic but then made a rally of his own.
Juddmonte Farm's Projected fought bravely, but could not gain enough ground on Ballagh Rocks, who scored by a neck and completed the mile in a time of 1:34.98 with jockey Jose Lezcano aboard.
"Bill did a great job getting this horse ready," Crawford said. "Jose Lezcano did exactly what we talked about in the paddock. (He had) a brisk warm-up. We thought he'd be laying closer to the pace today."
"I had a terrific trip," Lezcano said. "He really came into the race fit and in great shape today. I was able to stalk out a perfect trip and in the lane he just had a great run. Toward the wire I knew (Projected) was close, but I was confident I had enough horse. I was just focused on riding through to the finish."
Night Prowler, Brown's other entry, was able to get past Catapult for third.
Bred by Turner Breeders in Kentucky, Ballagh Rocks is out of the Sadler’s Wells mare Bells Are Ringing, a half sister to Unbridled's Song who raced in Europe for trainer Aiden O’Brien.