Vekoma paddles through the slop for a Carter Handicap win

Vekoma paddles through the slop for a Carter Handicap win
Photo: Courtesy of NYRA

After the race day scratch of morning line favorite Performer from the Grade 1, $250,000 Carter Handicap, the betting public landed on the right horse.

With his unconventional stride, 4-year-old Vekoma paddled through the slop at Belmont Park, where he made easy work of top-level company, finishing seven furlongs in 1:21.02 under confident handling by jockey Javier Castellano.

The George Weaver trainee, who stretched out to win the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) last season and ran in the Kentucky Derby, has set himself up to be a force around one turn in 2020. Off the bench, he also scored an authoritative victory in Gulfstream Park’s Sir Shackleton Stakes.

"The way he handled the track today was amazing," Castellano said. "I didn't have any concern before the race because I rode him in the slop in the Kentucky Derby and he loved it, a mile and a quarter was just too far. He cut back in distance and we got what we were looking for today."

Running for R. A. Hill Stable and Gatsas Stables, Vekoma broke on top from the outside post, then waited as longshot American Anthem went out to lead through an opening half mile in 45.02 seconds. Once the fraction flashed up, Vekoma made his move, swallowing up the leader at the top of the lane and gliding to a 7 1/2-length victory.

Network Effect ran on for second, American Anthem held for third and Firenze Fire finished fourth in his first start for trainer Kelly Breen, who inherited the horse after the indictment against Jason Servis.

By Candy Ride, Vekoma improved to 5-0-1 in seven starts with his only off-the-board performance in the Kentucky Derby. Saturday's victory also earned him a "Win and You're In" spot in the Nov. 7 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland.

"It's just so nice to have a horse this good," Weaver said. "He's always been a special horse. I'm just grateful he's in my barn to be honest."

Weaver said he'll look to stretch Vekoma out, but just a bit, assuming he exits the Carter in good enough shape to take aim at the July 4 Metropolitan Handicap (G1).

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