Gary Barber's Jack Milton came up from Florida to earn his first stakes score, holding off the late charge of Up With the Birds to win the $100,000 Transylvania Stakes (gr. IIIT) by a neck on opening day at Keeneland April 5 (VIDEO) .
The lightly-raced sophomore son of War Front ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in a strong 1:41.80 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez as the 5-2 favorite, and took his second trip to the winner's circle in three starts.
"He's been training in Florida and they liked what they saw in his works," said Whit Beckman, assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. "He's been a horse that's shown talent on the grass. He's improved a lot since his first and second starts."
Velazquez kept the Pletcher trainee in a solid stalking spot three wide off a pace set by Redwood Kitten, who went the quarter in :23.41 before Star Contender put a head in front for a half in :47.43. Redwood Kitten regained the lead to go three-quarters in 1:11.98 as Jack Milton launched his bid from third leaving the second turn.
"I thought we had a really good trip," Velazquez said. "I was concerned that there wasn't a lot of pace in the race, so I wanted to make sure I got a nice comfortable position the first part of the race. THe only thing down the lane was, it's the first time he's been to the lead a little bit early, so when he got to the lead, he decided to wait on the horses. The other horse (Up With the Birds) came to him on the outside, and he put up a good fight but he made me work for it."
The dark bay colt took over with a furlong to run and he completed a mile in 1:35.77. But he was all out in the final sixteenth to maintain his advantage when 9-2 Up With the Birds came flying six wide into the homestretch and finished full of run. Redwood Kitten held for third, two lengths farther back, at odds of 7-1.
"I had a great trip and saved ground," said jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, who was aboard Up With the Birds. "He ran hard the whole way. I thought I was going to catch the winner. My horse lunged at him and finished up pretty good, but obviously Johnny had a little bit more to hang on. My horse tried the whole way."
"This was definitely a step up in class," said trainer Malcolm Pierce, who conditions Black Gold Stakes winner Up With the Birds. "We will find out if he can get a mile and a quarter in July; we are pointing him to the Queen's Plate at Woodbine. We will see how he comes out of his race and work backward from July 7 (the date of the Queen's Plate). He may get one or two more starts. He is a nice colt... we are very happy with his efforts."
Jack Milton returned $7.20, $4.40, and $3.40, Up With the Birds paid $5.20 and $3.80, and Redwood Kitten brought $4.80. Brown Almighty, Amen Kitten, Bambazonki, Star Contender, Fire Guard, Holiday Star, and Bethel completed the order of finish.
Jack Milton, bred in Kentucky by Cherry Valley Farm out of the Forty Niner mare Preserver, was a $190,000 RNA from the 2012 Ocala Breeders Sales Co.'s March sale of 2-year-olds in training after being purchased for $100,000 from the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale by agent Steve Young from the Claiborne Farm consignment.
The colt broke his maiden Jan. 12 at Gulfstream Park with a strong 2 1/2-length maiden victory going 1 1/16 miles on the turf, then came back Feb. 9 to miss to Fire Guard by 1 1/4 lengths in a $54,500 allowance at the same distance. He now has earnings of $93,900.