If you are the company you keep, Economic Model's recent association was a clear signal he was bringing some of his form into his seasonal debut.
In preparation for his return from a nearly five-month layoff in the Feb. 24 Hal's Hope Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park, the 5-year-old son of Flatter had been working with juvenile champion and fellow Chad Brown trainee Good Magic in recent weeks. Keeping up with such young legs helped inject new life into the bay horse's frame as Economic Model turned back multiple graded stakes winner Irish War Cry in the stretch to win the $100,000 Hal's Hope by 1 3/4 lengths.
Saturday's score marked the first graded victory in eight tries for Economic Model, highlighting a 14-race career that often teased of promise but was sidetracked due to soundness issues. In 2016, he won the Easy Goer Stakes and was second in the Swale Stakes (G2), Dwyer Stakes (G3), and Ketel One King's Bishop Stakes (G1). Plagued by foot problems last season, however, Economic Model lost his first three starts and had dropped seven straight races before righting himself with a win in an eight-furlong allowance optional claiming race at Belmont Park Oct. 12.
The one-mile distance again proved right up Economic Model's alley in the Hal's Hope. After settling between horses as the seven-horse field was tightly bunched up down the backstretch through the opening quarter-mile in :24.54, Economic Model came up from third to challenge pacesetter Malagacy past a half-mile in :46.91.
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. had yet to ask Economic Model as the duo gained the advantage on the far turn, but they had their hands full with 9-5 favorite Irish War Cry, who surged up outside and moved in tandem with the leader. While his brother Jose Ortiz went to work on Irish War Cry with an eighth of a mile to run, Irad Ortiz had more to work with as Economic Model drew away at odds of 5-1 to cover the distance in 1:36.50 over a track rated fast.
"He never let the other horse pass him," Irad Ortiz Jr. said. "He's the kind of horse that when he makes the lead, if you hit him left he will get out and if you hit him right he will get in. I didn't want to have any contact with the other horse, so I switched my stick and hit him right-handed. I just took a hold of him and kept him straight."
Canadian invader Tower of Texas was third, one length behind Irish War Cry, who making his first start since finishing eighth in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) last Sept. 23.
"He was coming off a long layoff. We didn't want to get caught in a speed duel," Jose Ortiz said of Irish War Cry. "I just followed Malagacy and Irad. I finally got out at the quarter pole. I thought he was going to win. My horse hasn't run in a long time. I think he will improve."
Conquest Big E, Giuseppe the Great, and Malagacy completed the order of finish. The race was marred when Paul Pompa's homebred graded stakes winner Send It In went wrong and fell near the three-eighths pole, unseating jockey John Velazquez.
Sent It In was euthanized while Velazquez escaped uninjured.
Owned by William Lawrence and Klaravich Stables, Economic Model earned his fifth win in 14 starts—with three of those victories coming over the one-mile distance—while improving his earnings to $614,625. He was bred in Kentucky by Claiborne Farm and is out of the Quiet American mare Queen of America.
"He looked really good and he felt great. He was working great and he was working against Good Magic, too, who's a nice horse," Irad Ortiz said of his mount, who was a $150,000 purchase by Northway Bloodstock out of the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale. "I worked him like three times and he was doing good."
Video: Hal's Hope S. (G3)
Earlier on the card, Starlight Racing's speedster Salmanazar, racing for the first time on grass, jumped out to a quick lead and never looked back to earn his first career stakes victory in the $75,000 Texas Glitter Stakes going five furlongs.
Salmanazar, making his first start in eight months, covered the distance in :55.84 over a firm turf course. It was two lengths back to Shangroyal, who nosed out Salmanazar's Todd Pletcher-trained stablemate, the 8-5 favorite Barbarossa, for second.