(Elite Power wins the G1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga on Saturday / Photo Courtesy of NYRA )
From the NYRA Media Team / Ryan Martin:
Juddmonte’s Elite Power took another step toward defending his title as Champion Male Sprinter with a dramatic head score over Gunite in Saturday’s Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and up, at Saratoga Race Course.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who was celebrating his 70th birthday, the 5-year-old Curlin chestnut has won eight consecutive starts and is 3-for-3 this season with wins in the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in February at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Saudi Arabia and the Grade 2 True North on June 10 at Belmont Park.
Mott admitted to being concerned that Gunite, who led by 1 1/2-lengths at the stretch call, had given Elite Power the slip over a muddy and sealed Spa track.
“He opened up and it’s hard to catch a horse on this kind of racetrack when they open up on you turning for home,” Mott said. “Speed always carries over this kind of a racetrack. I think our horse deserves a lot of credit trying to make a big run off the pace on this kind of surface.”
Dean Delivers broke alertly under Emisael Jaramillo and marked an opening split of 22.64 seconds before the Tyler Gaffalione-piloted Gunite took over through a half-mile in 45.49. Gunite strode confidently through the turn as Elite Power bid wide from fourth position, advancing outside of toiling rivals and taking dead aim at the leader. Elite Power still had much ground to cover with an eighth of a mile to run, but the Champion responded gamely when implored by Ortiz, Jr. and secured a memorable score in a final time of 1:09.22.
It was a further 6 1/4-lengths back to Dean Delivers in third with Gun It, Synthesis, Awesome Aaron and Little Vic rounding out the order of finish.
Ortiz, Jr., who picked up his third win aboard Elite Power, said he felt confident in his charge.
“He knows where the wire is. He does everything right. I ask him to go, he just goes. He goes for it,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “When we turned for home, that horse [Gunite] had the jump on me, I know he’s a nice horse and he’s a fighter. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I always trust my horse and every time I asked him, he responded.”
Garrett O’Rourke, general manager for Juddmonte, said that the Spa’s leading rider should share the credit.
“We were joking on the way down to the winner’s circle whether it was the horse or Irad that knew exactly where the line was,” O’Rourke said. “But I think, as a partnership, they really know how to get there right on time. He’s a horse that just guns it down the stretch, he’s tough as nails. He’s a tough horse to handle, always was since we bought him as a yearling. He came with that reputation, but he puts his toughness into that stretch run every time.
“I had more confidence than I usually would, knowing the horse,” added O’Rourke. “But I did think Gunite had stolen the march on us today. He’s a great horse, too, a very admirable horse. Both of them are tremendously sound, durable, admirable horses. I’m just glad we have the guy that gets his head in front.”
Mott, who won for the 18th time at the Spa on his birthday, said winning is the best gift of all.
“Winning on your birthday is fun, but the most important thing is that we generate Grade 1 winners for a major stable like this horse did today,” Mott said. “That’s what it’s really all about, winning the major races and a horse like this going to the stud barn.”
Elite Power won 5-of-6 starts last year, taking the Grade 2 Vosburgh in October at Belmont at the Big A and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November at Keeneland to secure Championship honors.
Gunite, who was a distant second to Elite Power in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint, entered from a sharp score in the Aristides on June 3 at Churchill Downs that garnered a career and field-best 108 Beyer Speed Figure.
Gaffalione said Gunite was brave to the wire.
“I sat right off of the pacesetter, coming into the stretch I called on my horse and he gave me everything he had. He laid it down today, we just weren’t able to get it done,” Gaffalione said. “I peeked back a couple of times down the stretch, and I felt like we were holding him at bay. But approaching the wire, maybe three or four strides, he was coming pretty quick and my horse gave me everything he had to that point.”
Bred in Kentucky by Alpha Delta Stable, Elite Power is out of the multiple graded-stakes winning Vindication mare Broadway’s Alibi, who is a half-sister to multiple graded-stakes winner and stakes-producing Mid Atlantic sire Golden Lad.
Mott said Elite Power will target the seven-furlong Grade 1, $500,000 Forego on August 26 at Saratoga Race Course.
“I’d have to say that’s a race we’ll be looking at,” Mott said. “Timing is favorable it seems like right now. The Forego certainly would be a possibility.”
Elite Power banked $192,500 in victory while improving his record to 11-8-0-1. He returned $4.20 for a $2 win bet.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Saratoga with a 10-race card featuring the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green in Race 9. First post is 1:10 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Live will present live coverage and analysis of the Saratoga Race Course summer meet on the networks of FOX Sports. For the broadcast schedule and channel finder, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule/.