(North Dakota wins the G3 Red Smith Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday / Photo by Janet Garaguso & Courtesy of NYRA)

From the NYRA Media Team:

Allen Stable’s North Dakota utilized a patient trip and surged under jockey Jose Lezcano to overtake Red Knight in deep stretch to post a half-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Red Smith, a 1 3/8-mile turf route for 3-year-olds and up at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Fresh off earning a personal-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure when fourth to Red Knight in his stakes debut in the Grade 3 Sycamore on October 15 at Keeneland, North Dakota sat chilly in sixth position as 151-1 longshot Real Factor led the 11-horse field through the opening quarter-mile in 24.67 seconds before opening up a 10-length lead with the half in 48.79, three-quarters in 1:13.68 and a mile in 1:38.49 on the firm inner turf course.

Red Knight, under jockey Jose Ortiz, made up ground and overtook the tiring pacesetter out of the final turn. North Dakota maintained the pressure with a strong outside bid before gaining the advantage in the final sixteenth and hitting the wire in 2:16.47 for his first stakes victory.

“I watched the replay and last time, I think he had a little bit of trouble,” Lezcano said. “I tried to give him a clean trip the whole way and not lose any momentum. He progressed. Every pole was progress. As soon as he got to the three-eighths pole, he switched gears. I hit him a couple times and he really took off and went on with it and won the race. I think he’s a very nice horse. He’s kind of one paced, but the longer he can go, the better for him.”

North Dakota, a half brother to graded stakes-winner and prominent sire War Front, didn’t break his maiden until his seventh career race, with the late-blooming 4-year-old son of Medaglia d’Oro finally earning a winner’s circle trip in March at Tampa Bay Downs. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said he’s been pleasantly surprised by his progress.

“He’s come a long way. I wouldn’t have thought he would be running in the Red Smith back when he broke his maiden at Tampa [on March 25],” McGaughey said. “He’s been up here from Fair Hill. He had been training really well. I thought he had a big chance today. He’s got the pedigree to do it and wants a distance of ground. Jose is a patient guy and I said just take your time with him and that’s what he did and it worked out for him.”

Off at 8-1, North Dakota returned $19.40 on a $2 win bet. The Kentucky homebred improved his career earnings to $157,325.

Red Knight, the winner of last month’s Sycamore for fellow Hall of Fame conditioner Bill Mott, earned a placing for the third consecutive graded stakes start, edging Ziyad by a head for second. Red Knight, the runner-up in the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup in September at Kentucky Downs, moved to 8-7-1 in 22 career starts.

“My horse just fell out of the gate and found his own place,” Ortiz said. “I thought I was in a good position early on but when we went to the backside, everyone started worrying about the horse up front being too far in front and we had to start moving. I started moving and tried to get into position without using him much. I think I had a good trip. I passed the winner going to the half mile pole to the three-eighths pole. I passed him but then he came outside me to win the race. Good trip, no complaints. We were just second-best.”

Sadler’s Joy, the 9-5 favorite and defending Red Smith winner, finished fourth. Doctor Mounty, Aquaphobia, Postulation, Real Factor, Tintoretto, Fame to Famous and Changi completed the order of finish.

Live racing resumes Sunday at the Big A with a 10-race card featuring a pair of New York Stallion Stakes Series contests, starting with the $100,000 Thunder Rumble for 3-year-olds and up in Race 3 and the $100,000 Staten Island for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up in Race 9. First post is 11:50 a.m.