ALFRED G. VANDERBILT H. | PURSE: $400,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 1 | 6 FURLONGS
Surging Poseidon's Warrior produced a 36-1 upset in the $400,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap when heavy favorite Shackleford failed to handle a muddy track at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 5.
Irad Ortiz Jr. earned his second grade I victory aboard Poseidon's Warrior following his triumph July 21 in Saratoga's Coaching Club American Oaks on Questing.
Poseidon's Warrior prevailed by a neck over fast-closing runner-up Justin Phillip, with pacesetter Emcee finishing third, another neck behind.
Robert "Butch" Reid Jr. trains the winning 4-year-old son of Speightstown for owner Swilcan Stable. Poseidon's Warrior earned his first graded stakes win.
The final time for the six furlongs was 1:09.40 over the heavy going.
Met Mile winner Shackleford, breaking from the rail, was away a bit slowly and backed up rounding the turn. He finished last in the field of eight as the 6-5 choice.
Poseidon's Warrior had won his only other start on an off-track, taking an overnight stakes at Penn National Race Course last November. Coming off a fifth-place finish in the Mr. Prospector Stakes at Monmouth Park July 8, the dark bay/brown colt posted his first win in three starts this year.
"That was a race we've been looking at for a long time," said Reid after collecting his first grade I win. "He was a notch below the top horses last year. If we had known Shackleford was coming, we'd probably have made other plans."
The winner carried 114 pounds, seven fewer than the top-weighted Shackleford, and paid $74.50, $25.60, and $8.10 as the second-longest shot on the board. Zayat Stables' Justin Phillip, third in the Mr. Prospector last time, returned $6.10 and $3.50, and completed a $359 exacta. Emcee paid $3.40 to show. The $2 trifecta paid $1,554.
Dark Hollow Farm and William P. Beatson bred Poseidon's Warrior in Maryland, where he sold at auction for $90,000 as a 2-year-old in May 2010. He is out of the Smarten mare Poised to Pounce.
Poseidon's Warrior broke sharply but settled into third while racing off the rail for Ortiz as Emcee and Rothko engaged for the lead while clicking off an opening quarter mile in :21.99 and the half in :44.61. Emcee, ridden by Alan Garcia, and Rothko were head-and-head in the stretch as Poseidon's Warrior drifted out at the center of the track past mid-stretch.
With Justin Phillip rallying from off the pace on the far outside for Ramon Dominguez, Poseidon's Warrior suddenly surged in the final sixteenth under urging to get the lead yards from the wire.
"I broke running and got a good position on the outside," Ortiz said. "There were two horses fighting on the lead. I just waited and was patient. When I turned for home I asked my horse and he had something. I tried to do my best in the stretch, and he just kept going."
Justin Phillip edged Emcee, with Hamazing Destiny fourth. Rothko, Jersey Town , Sloane Ranger, and Shackleford completed the order.
"I didn't expect him to run like that, but he's 0-for-3 in the mud," said Dale Romans of Shackleford, who was using the Vanderbilt as a prep for the Forego Stakes Sept. 1. "That's the only excuse we can make for him.
"You never want to have the one hole. You're going to get a lot of dirt down there if you don't clear the field. It wasn't the best circumstances. Johnny (Velasquez) said he felt good; he came back good. He's thrown a few clunkers at me before, and usually it's been surface related. He is kind of finicky about what he runs on, and it's been the only thing he's been finicky about."
Poseidon's Warrior counts four earlier stakes wins, all non-graded, among his seven lifetime wins from 17 races. The stakes wins included the NATC Futurity at Monmouth Park in September 2010. The winning purse of $240,000 boosted his career earnings to $634,337.
"It's terrific. It's terrific," said Tom McGrath of Swilcan Stable. "I've had the good fortune to be with Butch and have him train my horses. I'm new to the game and he's brought a lot of luck to me.
"I was just thinking, 'It's his day.' He ran a great race, and it was terrific to see it," McGrath added. "I knew he was capable. I'm just thrilled. I knew he had it in him, but it was his to prove and he did it."