The Jim Stable’s Ah Day returned to his winning ways when he beat a nice band of older sprinters in the $74,400 Fire Plug Stakes, the co-feature on Saturday’s card at Laurel Park.
After chalking up six stakes victories during his 3-year-old campaign, the son of Malibu Moon ended 2006 with a disappointing effort in the 1 1/16-mile Northern Dancer Stakes. Trainer King Leatherbury gave the gelding two months to regroup and saw Ah Day return the favor with a galloping 3 3/4-length victory under jockey Mario Pino.
Ah Day covered the six furlong distance in 1:10.30, beating 7-5 favorite Crafty Schemer, who was second by 1 1/2 lengths over 92-1 shot Gold Cluster in the field of eight.
“What a move he made at the three-eighths pole,” said Pino, who ranks 16th on the all-time win list with 5,844 career victories. “I was kind of nudging on down the backside, but he was just not ready to take off. Once he switched leads at the ... he was coming so fast that I had to kind of get him outside. It was an awesome performance. That last race wasn’t him. This horse is a warrior.”
“Ah Day is a freak,” said Ryan Fogelsonger, who rode the runner-up and has been aboard the winner for a pair of added money scores. “He moved up from college to the NFL and proved it wasn’t a problem. My horse was just beat by less than three lengths in the grade I De Francis Dash and ran a perfect race. Ah Day ran by us like we weren’t even running.”
Leatherbury will point Ah Day, who earned $48,000 for the victory, to the General George Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II), a $300,000 seven-furlong test at Laurel on Feb. 19.
“I consider that his best distance,” said Leatherbury, the third leading conditioner in history with 6,178 first place finishes. “He has always run better than I have expected. The horse that ran second is a super horse. This is beyond my expectations. That was a super, super race. I figured he would end up second or third at the worst but he just exploded. That might be the best race of his life.”
Sent off as the third choice, Ah Day paid 9.40, $3.60 and $3.60, combining with Crafty Schemer ($3.20, $2.80) for a $28 exacta. The trifecta with Gold Cluster ($11.20), ridden by Luis Garcia, paid $617.