Former claimer Calibrachoa became a graded stakes winner and remained unbeaten in two starts for owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher when he held off Independence War by a half-length in the $98,000 Toboggan Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) Jan. 22 at Aqueduct.
Claimed for $40,000 in November, Calibrachoa won the Gravesend Stakes last month at Aqueduct for his new connections and began his 4-year-old season with another triumph in the Toboggan while being sent off as the 2-5 favorite in a field of five. The son of Southern Image won for the sixth time in 12 starts overall.
With Ramon Dominguez aboard, Calibrachoa tracked pacesetter Fastus Cactus for a half-mile, took a short lead in upper stretch, and out-finished Independence War, who had split horses under Junior Alvarado and was game to the wire. The final time for six furlongs on the fast inner track was 1:09.74.
Temecula Creek settled for third under Cornelio Velasquez, who tried to find room for his charge in upper stretch but was forced to go wide and could not make up enough ground while closing determinedly. Endless Circle, also close to the pace and in contention throughout, was fourth. Fastus Cactus finished last after setting fractions of :22.87 and :45.63.
“The horse that I thought was going to make the lead (Fastus Cactus) went out for it," Dominguez said. "I was a little concerned because that horse has been known to get out pretty badly in the past, but I thought Jose did a good job last time, and today he was very manageable, too.
"I just stayed right next to him and turning for home inside the sixteenth pole, I really have to give my horse a lot of credit. I thought that I was beat. I felt like I was all out and that they were closing on me, but when my horse felt the horse on the inside (Independence War) he went on again and showed a lot of courage.”
Calibrachoa won once in four starts as a juvenile and four times last year, including the Nov. 18 claimer at Aqueduct when he was plucked by Repole before winning by 4 1/4 lengths. The dark bay/brown colt has scored in four of his last five starts. He has now earned $220,540.
Calibrachoa was bred in Kentucky by Nelson Bunker Hunt and is out of the Montbrook mare Fort Lauderdale.
"The horse has now run three really fast races in a row and anytime you run as fast as he did last time you’re concerned coming back," Pletcher said. "I don’t think this was as good of a performance as his last, but he was able to dig down and find more.
“The General George (gr. II, Feb. 21 at Laurel Park) is a possibility. (Where he races next) may depend on (stablemate) Driven by Success (who was scratched from the Toboggan). We might split the two up and run one here and one there. The Tom Fool (gr. III, March 5 at Aqueduct) would probably be a little better timing for (Calibrachoa).”
The winner paid $2.80, $2.20, and $2.10. The exacta (1-2) returned $18, and the trifecta (1-2-6) was worth $37.40.
Along with Driven by Success, Flat Bold and Jack On the Rocks were also scratched.