Sunday, July 19, 2009

Battle of Hastings Double Tough in VA Derby

By Jack Shinar

In a carbon copy of last month's Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIT), Battle of Hastings dug in late to head his rival Straight Story and win the $750,000 Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) on the Colonial Downs turf July 18.

Ridden patiently by Tyler Baze in the 1 1/4-mile test for 3-year-olds over soft going, Battle of Hastings came from well off the pace to get the better of Straight Story and Charles Lopez. He won in the final bob once again by by a head, the identical margin of victory he enjoyed in the June 20 Colonial Turf Cup. Take the Points, who had every opportunity while challenging from the rail for Edgar Parado, finished third, three-quarters of a length back in a terrific finish.

Morning-line favorite Nicanor, a full brother to Barbaro, was scratched the day before the race with a leg injury. As a result, fans went with Hold Me Back as the 8-5 choice. Hold Me Back, in his first appearance since a 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), was also making his initial start on grass. He came up empty while finishing fifth.

The Great Britain-bred Battle of Hastings remains in the hunt for the $5-million "Grand Slam of Grass" bonus that goes to any horse that can sweep the Colonial Turf Cup, the Virginia Derby, the Secretariat (gr. IT) at Arlington Park Aug. 8, and the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park Nov. 7. The bonus is being offered by Jacobs Investments. Trainer Jeff Mullins, speaking from Hollywood Park, and owner Mike House were hedging on a commitment to the Secretariat, however.

Straight Story went to the early lead before settling into second as Affirmatif took the field of nine along through easy fractions of :23.27, :46.64, and 1:11.83 while in front comfortably. Straight Story engaged for the lead on the final turn and showed the way into the homestretch, getting away from Take the Points mid-stretch by 2 1/2 lengths and looking like a winner at that point. Straight Story shortened stride late and Baze, using left-handed urging, closed the gap on Battle of Hastings, who was five wide at the top of the stretch. As they drew close with 100 yards to the wire, Straight Story fought back tenaciously along the inside to just miss. The final time was 2:03.29.

"I had a perfect trip," said Baze, even though it appeared that he had to adjust his right stirrup right after the break when they fell back to eighth. "Two wide on the first turn, three wide down the back. I just waited; I waited even longer than I did the last time (in the Colonial Cup). Today was a matter of whether he could go a mile-and-a-quarter or not."

Baze said he knew he had the victory 50 yards from the wire.

"He's a very honest horse," the jockey added. "When it came time time, (Battle of Hastings) gave me all he's got. He's very special; he's an awesome horse."

House said, "I'm not like Tyler. I didn't know he won. It's a super experience."

The owner said he wanted to make sure Battle of Hastings came out of the race in good shape before committing to the Secretariat, which is also 10 furlongs.

"We have to sure think about it," House said.

Mullins assistant Ral Ayers saddled the winner.

Take the Points was a clear third with Lime Rickey, charging hard on the outside, settling for fourth, three lengths behind the winner. Lime Rickey ran third in the Colonial Turf Cup.

Battle of Hastings has won four of five starts this year, all in stakes races. His only blemish came in a second-place finish in the American Turf (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs May 1, when he lost by three-quarters of a length. In addition to his two victories at Colonial, he won the Baldwin Stakes (gr. IIIT) on Santa Anita's hillside turf course, and the one-mile La Puente, also at Santa Anita.

Now with with six wins in 11 lifetime starts, the gelded son of Royal Applause began his career in Great Britain before transferring to the U.S. late last year. The victory, worth $432,000, nearly doubled Battle of Hastings' career earnings to $906,592.

Myriad Communications and New England Stud bred the bay, who is out of Subya, by Night Shift.

Sent off as the second choice, Battle of Hastings carried co-high weight of 121 pounds and paid $9.20, $4.20, and $2.80. Straight Story, now with consecutive heart-breaking losses for trainer Alan Goldberg and owner Richard T. Santulli, returned $6 and $5.20 and filled out a $2 exacta worth $51.20. Take the Points added blinkers for trainer Todd Pletcher and was $6.60 to show.

Lime Rickey and Hold Me Back were followed by El Crespo, Affirmatif, Safety Valve, and the Japanese-bred Florentino.

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