While the two race favorites, Gentlemen’s Bet and Delaunay were ding-donging it through testing early fractions, Justin Phillip and Saratoga’s all-time winningest rider, John Velazquez were more than content to sit back in the catbird seat of the $400,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt. And when the real running begun inside the Saratoga quarter pole, the dark bay horse was ready to roll on the pair’s outside. None the worse for wear from the intense :22 and :44.46 flashing on the toteboard, Justin Phillip wore down the still dueling leaders, before pulling clear late to earn his first grade 1 win by two lengths.
Not only was today’s victory his first of the grade 1 variety, but it also allowed him to become racing’s newest millionaire. The five-year-old son of First Samurai raised his lifetime record to 29-7-5-7, while winning his second graded stakes sprint of the season. Three races back, he accounted for the Count Fleet at Oaklawn Park, and also at six furlongs. He had since finished 2nd and 4th respectively in the True North and the Smile Handicap, but was far from disgracing himself in either effort.
This afternoon it was all about the Zayat Stables runner, though, as he proved more than able to take advantage of the favorable race and pace scenario. Off as the 3-1 third choice, Justin Phillip paid $8.30 for the win. Final time for the six panels over the fast main track at Saratoga was a snappy 1:08.59, and is further proof of the overall quality of the small Vanderbilt field. Bahamian Squall closed strongly on the outside, after lacking room early in the stretch, to win a three-horse photo over Gentlemen’s Bet and Delaunay for the place.
Winning trainer, Steve Asmussen reflected on today's win, as well as, a narrow loss in the 2012 edition of the Vanderbilt, "Last year's Vanderbilt was a good opportunity for him, and I thought he was unfortunate not to win that day. For everything to work out, to have him in this position today - a good draw, a good set up - was very rewarding. I can't say enough about how much respect I have for Justin Phillip as a racehorse. He hasn't held any of the mistakes we made with him against us. We were trying to win the Derby with him when he was 3. He has a lot of talent, and you want to get that done. For him to travel as much as he has, run as fast as he has, and probably put up his best race today - 1:08 2/5 in a Grade 1, put him over a million dollars - it's very rewarding."
The win pushes Justin Philip back towards the top of a deep American sprint division, and in fact, while there are many solid and talented sprint specialists out there, the top four in the Vanderbilt all fit with the best in the nation. It should come as no surprise at all to see all four lining up in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint starting gate in three months.