Not having a 3-year-old in the Triple Crown series this year was, says trainer Nick Zito, "a humbling experience."
Normally involved in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont and a two-time Kentucky Derby winner with Strike The Gold and Go For Gin, Zito showed Sunday he might have a horse who can be a factor in the division the rest of the year.
Albert The Great, the 7-1 third choice in a four-horse field, knocked off More Than Ready, Preakness winner Red Bullet and Belmont winner Commendable to win the $145,500 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park.
Albert The Great--sired by 1994 Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin--has won four in a row since the addition of blinkers, going gate-to-wire Sunday under jockey Richard Migliore.
Surprisingly unchallenged early by 19-10 second choice More Than Ready, Albert The Great cruised to the lead through a 24-second opening quarter, saw his advantage shrink to a half-length over More Than Ready in the stretch, but drew away late to win by three lengths in 1:42 3/5 for the 1 1/16 miles. He then survived a foul claim by More Than Ready's jockey John Velasquez, which was quickly dismissed by the stewards.
"I'm ecstatic," Zito said. "I'm very grateful to the horse and the people that work with him. He went slow the first quarter, then extremely fast [22 2/5 seconds] the second quarter and I think that's where he won the race. Richie really rode a masterful race. This is very special for me because his dad is Go For Gin."
Albert The Great, who lost his first four starts by a combined 14 3/4 lengths, hasn't been headed during his winning streak. More Than Ready finished nearly two lengths in front of Red Bullet, who was worse than second for the first time in his six-race career as the 3-5 favorite.
Joe Orseno, the trainer of the favorite, didn't have any excuses for Red Bullet, who acted up in the starting gate.
"Obviously, I'm disappointed," he said. "I don't have much to say. He was totally flat. [Jockey] Jerry [Bailey] didn't have an explanation for it."
Meanwhile, Commendable, who had finished off the board in six consecutive races before his Belmont shocker, reverted to form. After a slow start, he checked in last at 9-1 odds under new rider Brice Blanc, beaten by a little more than five lengths.
The stakes upsets for jockey Victor Espinoza didn't end with Gold Cup winner Early Pioneer at Hollywood Park.
Four races after riding Early Pioneer to a $51 surprise in the Gold Cup, Espinoza--the meet's leading rider with 49 victories--rode Elaborate to a $22.40 victory in the $300,000 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Invitational Handicap.
Returned to his preferred game--sprinting--after seven two-turn races on dirt and turf, Elaborate won for the fifth time in 12 races, outfinishing Cliquout and pacesetter Lexicon in 1:21 for the seven furlongs.
Honest Lady provided consolation for Juddmonte Farms, jockey Kent Desormeaux and trainer Bobby Frankel--celebrating his 59th birthday--after Chester House's disappointing sixth-place finish in the Gold Cup. Taking advantage of a sizzling early pace, Honest Lady--the 7-10 favorite--went from last to first in winning the $200,000 A Gleam Handicap. She completed the seven furlongs in 1:21 2/5, beating 9-1 shot Seth's Choice by 3 1/2 lengths. . . . A month after being claimed for $32,000 by trainer Nick Canani for owner Richard Englander, On Time Airline, a 10-1 shot, earned $60,000 for his new connections with a victory over even-money favorite Stormy Jack in the $100,000 California Sire Stakes at Hollywood Park. Canani and Englander also teamed to win a race later in the card with 9-1 shot Devine Wind, who has won two in a row since they claimed him for $40,000. . . . Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer reached victory No. 3,000 when favored Boss Ego won the $50,000 Alamedan Handicap at Pleasanton.