Saratoga County, thought to be better at distances longer than the six furlongs of Saturday's $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap (gr. III), humbled the field with a torrid stretch run at Gulfstream Park.
On the outside and near the back of the pack at the top of the lane, Saratoga County, ridden by Javier Castellano, blew past his foes in the middle of the track to lead near the eighth pole. The 4-year-old son of Valid Expectations
was in command by the sixteenth marker, pounding home comfortably in front by 2 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:08 4/5.
"This race set up perfectly," Castellano said. "There was a lot of pace in there. I asked him and he just grabbed the bit and finished super. He's just very, very strong."
Limehouse, ridden by John Velazquez, fought on for second while rallying along the inside, five lengths clear. All Hail Stormy and Eibar Coa checked in third, two lengths better than 2003 Canadian Triple Crown winner Wando, who brought regular rider Patrick Husbands along.
The speed horses – pacemaker All Hail Stormy, Shake You Down and Strength in Honor – backed up after dueling through fractions of :21 4/5, :44 2/5 and :46 4/5.
Shake You Down shouldered top weight of 120 pounds, eight more than the winner, who carried the lowest impost in the field of 10. The narrow 7-2 choice in the wagering over Saratoga County, Shake You Down led at the half-mile pole but ended up seventh with Mike Luzzi aboard.
Saratoga County, who won the Gotham (gr. III) in March at Aqueduct for trainer George Weaver, lost eight in a row after that before claiming a seven-furlong allowance test in his previous start at Churchill Downs Nov. 27. He won by 5 1/4 lengths that day in an outstanding time and has worked sharply at Palm Meadows since.
"Coming off that last race, we changed our tactics a little bit and have been giving him sharp works in the morning," Weaver said. "That seems to have helped. In fact, I thought that last work (five furlongs in :57 4/5) might have been a little too much, but he ran a big race today. I think we'll probably keep him in the sprint program down here this winter."
Overall, Saratoga County has a 4-4-1 record in 15 starts for owner Evelyn M. Pollard with earnings of $326,590. He ran second in his only previous start at six furlongs, last year's Spectacular Bid (gr. III) at Gulfstream. He was also third to Limehouse in Gulfstream's Hutcheson (gr. II) last year.
A $100,000 Ocala purchase in February 2003, Round Table LLC bred Saratoga County, who was produced by the dam Grub's Dancer (Grub), in Kentucky.
He paid $9.80, $5.40 and $4.20. Limehouse returned $5.40 and $4, completing a $68 exacta. All Hail Stormy's show was $13.20.