ALFRED G. VANDERBILT HANDICAP | PURSE: $400,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 1 | 6 FURLONGS
Justin Phillip missed winning the 2012 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga Race Course by a neck. This year, he proved his class Aug. 4, taking the six-furlong sprint with a determined late run over Bahamian Squall and Gentlemen's Bet. Delaunay, favored at 8-5, finished fourth.
The Vanderbilt was a first win since the April 13 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for the 5-year-old son of First Samurai, and his initial Grade 1 victory for Zayat Stables and trainer Steve Asmussen. He now has a 7-5-7 record from 29 starts, including the 2011 Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park.
"Last year's Vanderbilt was a very good opportunity for him, and I thought he was unfortunate not to win that day," Asmussen said. "For everything to work out, to have him in this position today -- a good draw, a good set up -- was very rewarding."
After keeping track on the outside behind a hot pace contested by Delaunay and Gentlemen's Bet -- who vied for a quarter in :22 flat and a half in :44.46 -- Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez kicked Justin Phillip into gear coming off the turn for home to run those two down. They went five-eighths in :56.24 as the dark bay closed determinedly down the outside, putting his rivials away inside final sixteenth and finishing clear by two lengths on the fast track in 1:08.59.
"The speed developed the way I expected it would," Velazquez reported. "I was right behind those two horses [Gentlemen's Bet and Delaunay], and I was aware of the horse that was inside [Bahamian Squall], so I kind of got him pinned down in there. I made my move around the three-sixteenths pole, and he responded."
David Fawkes, trainer of Bahamian Squall, agreed Velazquez's race-riding tactics cost his horse and jockey Luis Saez the win. Bahamian Squall was fourth in a pocket turning for home before angling out for the drive to garner the place.
"He ran huge, he ran a great race," Fawkes said. "He was pinned down inside. The jock said he didn't like the fact that he was pinned down in there, and Johnny didn't let him out. He said if he gets a clean outside trip, he thinks he might have run the winner down. I don't think he got clear until the eighth pole, and when he did get outside, he made a huge run."
The winner was coming off a fourth-place finish in the Smile Sprint Handicap July 6 at Calder Casino & Race Course, where he finished two lengths behind Bahamian Squall. He earned his first victory from five starts at Saratoga.
Sent off at odds of 3-1, Justin Phillip returned $8.30, $4.40, and $2.80. Bahamian Squall paid $6.40 and $3.90. Gentlemen's Bet paid $2.80. After Delaunay came Caixa Eletronica, who trailed throughout in the five-horse field.
Justin Phillip, bred in Kentucky by Oakbrook Farm out of the Cryptoclearance mare Ava Knowsthecode, was a $400,000 purchase from Keeneland's 2009 September yearling sale when consigned by Valkyre Stud, agent, for Oakbrook. The $240,000 winner's share of the Vanderbilt purse pushed his earnings past the $1 million mark to $1,118,437.
Trainer Tom Amoss said Delaunay, who had a six-race win streak snapped last time out by a runner-up finish to Gentlemen's Bet in the June 28 Iowa Sprint Handicap, would get some time on the sidelines after his failed Vanderbilt bid.
"I thought he broke sharp and had very good position," Amoss said. "They were going fast, but he's used to that. When he hadn't separated himself from the field by the eighth pole, I knew we were in trouble. I'm going to give him a little time. His last two races weren't good, and he's telling us something."