By ADAM SHINDER
SARATOGA SPRINGS – A blazing pace in an historic running of the Sanford Stakes allowed a big 2-year-old colt with a big stride to surge down the stretch and come home with a thrilling victory.
Big Trouble, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. and trained by Tony Dutrow, stormed down the Saratoga Race Course stretch to beat Mr. Z by a neck in a wild finish after a relentless early pace wore down the favorites Saturday in the 100th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Sanford Stakes.
“It was pretty close down the stretch, but my horse took off at the last [part],” Ortiz said. “It's nice winning a stakes race on a young baby.”
The thrilling finish, with Big Trouble and Mr. Z charging down the lane in tandem, was a perfect way to celebrate the centennial running of the Sanford, said Louis “Sam” Hildebrandt Jr., one of the founders of the Friends of Sanford Stud Farm.
“This is a great day, for the Friends of Sanford, for the Sanford family,” Hildebrandt said.
The race, named in the memory of Amsterdam's Stephen Sanford, who ran horses under the banner of Hurricana Farm – later renamed Sanford Stud Farm when his son, John Sanford, took over operation – in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, counts legendary names like Affirmed and Secretariat among its winners. Saturday's race, Hildebrandt said, was a wonderful addition to that legacy.
“It was a phenomenal pace, and the finish was just captivating,” Hildebrandt said. “You couldn't ask for a better finish, especially for a stakes race, and I'm sure Stephen and John (Sanford) would've both been there screaming their brains out.”
The 100th Sanford also provided a bit of a passing of the torch for the descendants of the Sanford family, as Stephen Sanford's great-great grandaughters, India and Gertrude “Gigi” Legendre Manigault, presented the trophy to the winning connections.
“We kind of passed the torch with the kids, which I thought was great,” Hildebrandt said. “It was just wonderful, and a sign of things to come.”
The eight-horse Sanford field was flying from the gate, as longshot Chocolate Wildcat set a blistering fraction, running the opening quarter-mile in 21.65 seconds. Chocolate Wildcat quickly fell off the pace and was eased in the stretch, while the favored pair of Cinco Charlie and Nonna's Boy continued to charge at the front, leading the field through a half-mile in 45.17 seconds.
Mr. Z, ridden by Corey Lanerie for legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas, closed in on the leaders with Big Trouble, and while the two bumped coming down the stretch, Big Trouble gamely pushed forward heading to the wire to beat Mr. Z by a neck. Cinco Charlie held on for third ahead of Nonna's Boy, with the rest of the field well behind.
“They beat us up and we were still there,” Lukas said. “He's got a big future. It was a great effort. I felt I had a great chance to win this.”
“I had to alter course in the lane and make room, and I got caught once I made the lead, which is a shame because I think I was on the best horse,” Lanerie added.
Big Trouble came into the Sanford off a June 1 maiden win at Belmont Park, and Dutrow was thrilled by the colt's progress in his second race.
“I didn't know hat was going to happen, but I'm so happy that this boy was able to do something different than his maiden win against some nice horses today,” Dutrow said. “For him to be completely different than he was in his first race, and only having one racing experience, I have to feel really good about his future.”
Big Trouble paid $25.60 to win, $10 to place and $5.60 to show. The son of Tiz Wonderful won $190,000 for Team D Stable as both Ortiz and Dutrow picked up their first wins in the Sanford. Dutrow said the colt could be pointed to the Grade I Hopeful Stakes on closing day at Saratoga, but could opt to wait until the fall Belmont meet to send Big Trouble back to the track.
In Saturday's feature race, Somali Lemonade surged past pacesetter Discreet Marq in the final furlong and held off a late bid from Stephanie's Kitten to win the Grade I, $500,000 Diana Handicap for trainer Michael Matz and jockey Luis Saez.
“She's just a good filly,” Matz said. “Better at five years old than she's been any year before.”
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