Photo: Coglianese Photos
On paper, the G3 Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream Park was not a race that Lea was
necessarily supposed to win. A turf runner for the majority of his career, the
5-year old son of First Samurai had never before tried a fast dirt track. He had
previously won in the slop and on firm turf, but that was it. With the Giant’s
Causeway influence on the top half of his pedigree and the Galileo influence on
the bottom half, Lea’s pedigree screamed grass, but today proved that he was more than a one-surface, or two-surface for that matter, horse.
Drifting down from his 10-1 morning line odds, Lea was sent
to post as the 6-1 sixth betting choice in the field of nine. With Luis Saez in the irons, Lea broke from
post 6 and moved up to closely press the pace in third. Favored Csaba enjoyed a short, easy lead for
the first quarter and was able to get away with a 24:15 opening panel. He had
to pick up the tempo, though, as Goodtimehadbyall and Lea closely tracked him
to his outside, with the half going up in a solid 47:03. Also tightly grouped
with the three leaders were Jackson Bend,
Purple Egg, Simmstown, and Neck ‘n Neck.
Leaving the far turn, Lea seized the lead and pulled away
from his foes to win by 3 ¼ lengths in a final time of 1.35:30 for the mile
long race. After losing some ground around the ¾ mile call, Jackson Bend
rallied back to grab second by a ½-length over third place finisher Neck ‘n
Neck, who held off Uncaptured by a
fitting neck. The order of finish was completed by Purple Egg, Csaba,
Goodtimehadbyall, Simmstown, and Strike One.
For a $2 wager, Lea returned $14.80/$7.40/$5.80 for the win.
Recently improving Jackson Bend returned $5.60/$4.20, and Neck ‘n Neck returned
$6.80. The $2 exacta was worth $92.20, the $1 trifecta paid $353.50, and the $1
superfecta paid $1,353.80.
For jockey Luis Saez, the win was particularly memorable for
being his 1,000th career victory. Earlier on the card, the 21-year
old nabbed win #999 in Race 8 aboard Macaroon. One race later, he nearly earned
his milestone victory aboard Tetradrachm
in the G2 Fort Lauderdale, but the
duo were nailed nearing the wire by favored Summer Front. A mere 3/4ths of a length separated the young man
from career win #1000.
Ultimately it was meant to be, however, as Saez finally hit
that all important milestone in the very next race. When asked how hitting that
milestone felt, Saez replied, “It’s amazing! I thank God. I need to thank the
trainers, the owners and my agent, too.”
For Lea, the victory proved that the homebred Claiborne
runner was potentially just as versatile as reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan. The handsome William Mott
trainee now has victories on firm turf, sloppy dirt, and fast dirt. Today’s
victory improved the intact 5-year old’s career record to 11: 5-2-2 for total
earnings of $409,618. After the race, trainer Bill Mott explained the decision
to run Lea on dirt, stating, “We’ve had him about 60 days and initially we were
pointing him to either the El Prado or the Fort Lauderdale, and then we started
looking at it and examining his dirt form, which was pretty good. He’s got two
races that are actually quite good. Discussing it with Walker Hancock (of
Claiborne Farm), we both decided to give him a shot early in the year on the
dirt just to see what direction we want to go the rest of the year."
With a win over fast dirt, Lea opened up all kinds of
possibilities for his connections. “I think the way he ran gave us good reason
for trying that [running on dirt]. Suppose now, we have to decide how far we
want to run him,” Mott mused. When prompted on whether or not the G1 Donn Handicap was a potential next
spot for Lea, Mott replied, “I was just kind of considering that. We’ll have to
talk to the owners about that.” The Donn, which was moved back a day in order
to coincide with the kickoff of The Jockey Club Tour on Fox television, is
attracting some heavy weights in the handicap division. As of today, possible
starters include Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and runner-up Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge, multiple graded stakes
winners Revolutionary and River Seven, Grade 2 winner Bourbon
Courage, and Grade 1 winning sprinter Private Zone.