WinStar Farm and China Horse Club International's National Flag used a rush along the outside to win the $250,000 Bay Shore Stakes (G3), covering seven furlongs in 1:23.16 on the main track April 7 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The Todd Pletcher-trained colt captured his first graded stakes victory despite getting squeezed at the start by 6-5 favorite Engage to his outside and A Different Style to his inside. After settling, the Speightstown colt ran five-wide down the backside as A Different Style set fractions of :22.82 for the opening quarter-mile and :45.77 for the half-mile.
Jockey Flavien Prat, unhurried up to this point, angled National Flag to the inside and gave him his cue to run. Forced to search for room, Prat angled his colt seven-wide into the stretch, passing the pack in mid-stretch to score by four lengths under a hand ride.
"I was concerned after the rough start," Pletcher said. "He had never really been in that position. He got hit pretty hard from both sides and I was afraid at that point. You never know how a horse is going to react from getting bumped that hard in the beginning. It looked like he gathered himself up and Flavien rode a smart race from that point. He didn't panic and just gave him time to get his legs up and underneath him. He produced and put in a big run down the lane.
"He's always been a beautiful horse and a fantastic looking yearling, you can tell by his price tag (a $600,000 Keeneland September yearling)," Pletcher continued. "He's one that we've always liked, and has always shown speed. A little bit of it was us figuring out how he needs to be ridden and not rushing him. He showed promise last year and he benefited from a little bit of a break afterwards."
National Flag's victory was the third of his career, and second in a row after driving clear to win a non-other than allowance March 3 at Gulfstream Park. The Kentucky-bred faded to fifth after getting bumped at the break in the Hopeful Stakes (G1) Sep. 4 at Saratoga Race Course.
National Flag returned $4.90 to win.
The Bay Shore was one of a few options Pletcher and his connections had for his fifth career start, but distance and timing led to the decision that proved a winning one for Pletcher.
"We had kicked around the idea of possibly going to the Lexington Stakes (G3), and then we just thought at the last minute that the horse is doing well and he was just coming off a big effort at seven-furlongs," Pletcher said. "Let's stick with what he knows. At some point down the road we might stretch him out. We'll probably look for a one-turn mile next or something like that. We'll play it by ear and see how he comes out of this."
Engage, who was making his fourth career start and first since drawing clear to win the Futurity Stakes (G3) Oct. 14 at Belmont Park, rallied hard through the stretch, finishing three-quarters of a length in front of Aveenu Malcainu for second.