Pam and Martin Wygod’s homebred Courageous Cat took over from pacesetter Yield Bogey nearing the eighth-pole and cruised to a 2 1/4-length victory in the $100,000 Poker Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) June 10 at Belmont Park.
The 5-year-old son of Storm Cat notched his third graded stakes victory in his season debut. The bay horse had not raced since finishing third in the Shadwell Turf Mile (gr. IT) last October at Keeneland. That did not stop bettors from sending him off as the 4-5 choice in a field of five turf milers.
Jose Lezcano guided Courageous Cat to victory for trainer Bill Mott. The final time for a mile over the good turf course was 1:36.69.
Longshot Yield Bogey and Edgar Prado were allowed to get away with soft fractions on the front end, and they led the field into the stretch after running splits of :24.63 and :49.77. Courageous Cat, about six lengths back in second after the opening quarter-mile, closed the gap through the next quarter and raced just off the lead to the outside of Yield Bogey.
It wasn’t long after they came off the turn that Courageous Cat easily went by Yield Bogey and quickly opened up a clear lead. He glided unchallenged through the final furlong for the impressive score. Yield Bogey held second, with Right One coming home third.
“He’s a very nice horse to win off the layoff," Lezcano said. "He sat in a good spot, and I waited for as long I could. He gave me a good kick. I wasn’t worried about (Yield Bogey). I let him go and waited to make my move.”
Courageous Cat, who finished ninth in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free (UAE-I) last year on World Cup day one race after winning the Canadian Turf (Can-IIIT), tallied his biggest victory in the 2009 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes (gr. IIT). Overall, he improved to 5-2-2 from 12 starts and earnings of $781,300.
“It's nice to see him close on the fractions," Mott said. "Just a good comeback race. Any time they come off a layoff and run that well, you've got to be pleased. We ran him the in Shadwell Mile and if he ran well we'd have gone in the Breeders' Cup. We didn't go in the Breeders' Cup, so we just gave him a rest.
"We're having a look at the Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT, July 2 at Hollywood Park), which comes up in three weeks. A local start would be the Fourstardave (gr. IIT, July 31)."
Bred in Kentucky, the winner is out of the Rahy mare Tranquility Lake.
Courageous Cat paid $3.60, $3, and $2.10. The exacta (1-6) returned $51.50 and the trifecta (1-6-2) was worth $112. Beau Choix was fourth, followed by Riviera Cocktail. Court Vision was scratched.