Jay Em Ess Stable's By the Moon returned to the winner's circle after a series of close finishes, overtaking Pretty N Cool entering the turn and holding on for a 1 ¾-length victory in the 67th running of the Grade 3, $200,000 Vagrancy Handicap for fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up on Friday at Belmont Park.
By the Moon, the runner-up in three of her previous four starts, completed 6 ½ furlongs on a sloppy and sealed main track in 1:17.44 in the first of 32 graded stakes of the 2017 Belmont spring/summer meet.
The 5-year-old dark bay mare, carrying 119 pounds, was sent to the lead from post 8, leading a field of eight with a quarter-mile in 22.57 seconds. Pretty N Cool, the highweight at 120 pounds, challenged for pacesetter status and hit the front, going a half-mile in 45.35.
Jockey Rajiv Maragh then guided By the Moon to the outside of Pretty N Cool, drawing even before driving to her to a lead near the eighth-pole that she would not relinquish.
"She broke so well, which I was hoping she would so I could establish a nice, easy position," said Maragh, who will ride Irish War Cry in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. "She got into a great flow down the backstretch, and in the turn, she stayed in a nice rhythm. She felt like I had a lot of horse underneath me. I just didn't want the 9 horse [Pretty N Cool], who seemed to be my main opposition, to get too much of a jump on me, so I wanted to keep her in range. She had me there effortlessly. I felt like I had the 9 horse where I wanted him. I felt like I had him measured, and when I looked back, we were so far ahead of the field.
"I was pretty confident coming off the turn, that if she sustained her run, we were going to win the race and she sure did," he added. "She finished the race with a lot of horse left."
Off as the 2-1 favorite, By the Moon paid $6 on a $2 win wager, improving her career earnings to $1,120,440. It was her first win since the Grade 3 Bed of Roses on June 25, though she put in impressive second-place efforts finishing just a half-length off the winner in the Grade 1 Ballerina and neck behind High Ridge Road in the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie last out on February 18 for trainer Michelle Nevin.
"Rajiv did a great job with her, she loves Belmont," Nevin said. "She doesn't care about what kind of track she's on. When she broke he had her perfect from the start. He just sat right off the other filly and timed it right. She had a great trip and things worked out great."
Pretty N Cool, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, was second. The 4-year-old Scat Daddy filly has finished in the money in eight of her 12 career starts.
Quezon, for trainer Robert Ribaudo, was third, finishing on the board for the fifth straight start and the seventh time in her last eight races.
Carrumba, Fusaichi Red, Anydayismyday, Kalabaka and Wheatfield completed the order of finish.
Jemabelle and New York-breds Kathryn the Wise and Bar of Gold were scratched.
Source: NYRA Communications (Brian Bohl)