Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan had his hands full heading to the winner's circle Dec. 30 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
With regular rider Florent Geroux off his mounts because of the Dec. 29 death of his father, former jockey and trainer Dominique Geroux, Bridgmohan picked up the mount—and the win—Saturday aboard the 3-year-old Archarcharch gelding in Louisiana.
Mr. Misunderstood has built quite a streak for trainer Brad Cox as of late, with the Woodchopper his latest in a string of five conquests—all in stakes company. He took his overall tally to eight-for-eight on the grass with Saturday's win, and remains undefeated in three starts on the Fair Grounds lawn.
"He's professional," Bridgmohan said. "He makes my job easy. I was just the passenger. He was impressive today."
Three wide on the first turn and reserved by Bridgmohan through the early going of the Woodchopper, which was run at about one mile, Mr. Misunderstood tracked fourth off the pace set by 69-1 shot St. Louie Guy. After posting a quarter in :24.25 and a half in :49.09, the frontrunner still held the advantage through three-quarters in 1:13.44, under pressure from 14-1 shot Kitten's Cat. But Mr. Misunderstood was advancing around the far turn, and made his bid in the five path at the quarter pole to take over from Kitten's Cat, who relinquished a briefly assumed lead.
From upper stretch to the finish line, Mr. Misunderstood edged clear under steady urging. First Premio finished well for the place honors, while Kitten's Cat held third. The final time was 1:35.95 on firm turf.
Sent off as the 3-2 favorite in a field of 11, Mr. Misunderstood returned $5, $3.20, and $2.80. First Premio brought $6.20 and $5, and Kitten's Cat paid $6.40. The order of finish was completed by Just Move On, Cowboy Culture, It's Your Nickel, Caribou Club, Big Bend, Oxford Lane, Don'task Don'ttell, and St. Louie Guy.
"He ran really well today," Cox said. "Shaun rode him well and put him in the right position. We backed him back up to a mile in this race and he handled it well. He's very impressive on the turf. We'll see how he comes out of it. We won't come back in the Colonel E.R. Bradley (Jan. 13), but we may look at the Fair Grounds Handicap (G3T, Feb. 17) and go from there."
Mr. Misunderstood was bred in Kentucky by Athens Woods out of the Afternoon Deelights mare Jodys Deelight, and was a $130,000 purchase by Flurry Racing Stables from Woodford Thoroughbreds' consignment to the Ocala Breeders' Sales 2016 March sale of 2-year-olds in training. He has nine wins and a second from 13 starts, for earnings of $409,694. He came into the Woodchopper off his first graded win, the Nov. 11 Commonwealth Turf Stakes (G3T) at Churchill Downs, and counts the Jefferson Cup Stakes, the Super Derby, and the Super Derby Prelude among his other stakes scores.
Video: Woodchopper S. (BT)
Ridden patiently by Robby Albarado, the 3-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro sat third in the early stages while Into Summer assumed the pacesetting role, followed by 33-1 shot Hotshot Anna, through slow opening fractions of :24.18 and :48.11.
Hotshot Anna took a narrow lead through three-quarters in 1:11.89, but Into Summer surged back, as the eventual winner began her move at the top of the stretch and powered into contention. Into Summer battled Hallie Belle the whole way home, but it was not enough to outrun the winner, who took the Pago Hop by a neck in a final time of 1:36.14 on firm turf. Lukewarm favorite Sensitive closed late to get the show spot. Completing the order of finish were Fault, Sully's Dream, Hotshot Anna, Rum Go, and Gentle Kitten.
"It was a mile race and I got her into it because it was a mile," Albarado said. "You got to get them into the race when it's a mile, otherwise they can fall too far back. I knew she would get the distance pretty easily. If it had been a mile and a sixteenth or a mile and an eighth she would have been ridden a little differently. I would've waited on her. She did enough today."
The Pago Hop was the third straight victory for Hallie Belle, who entered Saturday's race off of a Nov. 24 allowance win over the Stall-Wilson turf course after a six-length maiden win over the Keeneland lawn in October. She is trained by Mike Stidham, who scored his third victory in the Pago Hop after taking previous editions with Frankly My Dear (2000) and Fila Primera (2016).
"She was jumping from the (a-other-than allowance) condition to this," Stidham said. "We always thought she was talented enough, and as long as she stayed sound and mentally healthy, that she could be a stakes winner. With this 3-year-old race at the end of the year, it was the right thing to do. It all worked out."
Hallie Belle returned $9.40, $6, and $3.40, while Into Summer returned $7 and $3.80. Sensitive retuned $2.80.
Bred by Darley, out of the unraced Empire Maker mare Charity Belle, the winner earned $45,000 from her Pago Hop Stakes win, which increased her lifetime earnings to $119,300.