Wearing a set of blinkers belonging to his multiple graded stakes-winning stablemate, Wicked Strong, Effinex outdueled So Lonesome in a fierce battle to the wire for an upset in Saturday’s $300,000 Empire Classic Handicap, the centerpiece of Empire Showcase Day at Belmont Park.
While four of the eight stakes races devoted exclusively to New York-breds went to favorites, Effinex’s victory as the longest shot in the field of nine was the surprise of the afternoon on track.
Effinex, whose previous best finish in a stakes race was second in the Albany on August 24, was away alertly and then settled in midpack as So Lonesome led through three-quarters.
Moved into contention on the turn by jockey Angel Arroyo, Effinex angled out at the top of the stretch to launch his bid, drawing even with So Lonesome in the final yards and edging ahead to win by a neck.
“I followed [So Lonesome] all the way,” said Arroyo, who won the Mohawk aboard Kharafa earlier on the card. “[The blinkers] made a big difference today.”
The Mineshaft colt earned his third career victory and first for Jimmy Jerkens, who took over Effinex’s training this summer. Following the Albany, Effinex finished third, beaten 10 lengths, in an optional claimer on September 28, after which Jerkens decided to make the equipment change.
Effinex more than doubled his lifetime earnings to $328,350 for Tri-Bone Stables.
Princess Violet had no trouble in her return to state-bred company, drawing away to an emphatic 5 ½-length victory in the inaugural $250,000 Empire Distaff for fillies and mares, just her second lifetime start beyond 6 ½ furlongs.
Owned by Barry Schwartz and trained by Mike Hushion, the three-year-old Officer filly rated behind the early leaders before sweeping to the lead on the far outside approaching the stretch and pulling clear under a hand ride from jockey Jose Ortiz, who picked up his third consecutive victory on the card.
Lady Sheila Stable’s La Verdad found her way back to the winner’s circle after cruising to a wire-to-wire, 1 1/4-length win over Willet in the $150,000 Iroquois for fillies and mares three and older going 6 1/2 furlongs.
“She obviously likes Belmont, and it’s nice to get her back in the winner’s circle,” said La Verdad’a trainer Linda Rice.
Kharafa took the lead from favored King Kreesa after six furlongs and held off a late bid from Lubash to win the 36th running of the $200,000 Mohawk for three-year-olds and up. It was the sixth victory in 13 lifetime starts at Belmont Park for the 5-year-old Kharafa, who was 10th of 11 behind King Kreesa in last year’s race.
Back on just two weeks’ rest following her sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 First Lady at Keeneland, Discreet Marq was an easy three-length winner in her return to state-bred company, taking the 34th renewal of the $200,000 Ticonderoga
Discreet Marq earned $120,000 to push her over the $1 million mark in lifetime purses with $1,067,900.
In the first of two races for juveniles, Eric Fein’s Ostrolenka took charge in the stretch and pulled away for a 2 1/2-length victory over Good Luck Gus to win the $250,000 Sleepy Hollow at one mile on the dirt.
In the Sleepy Hollow’s sister race, Marc Keller’s Quezon showed trainer Bobby Ribaudo she indeed could go a mile by taking the lead in the stretch and winning the $250,000 Maid of the Mist by six lengths over favorite Temper Mint Patty.
“”Common sense says you shouldn’t be doing this, but how many times can you run for a quarter of a million dollars with a New York-bred 2-year-old filly?” said Ribaudo. “She was doing great, so we went.”
Moonlight Song closed out the afternoon’s stakes with a front-running victory in the $150,000 Hudson Handicap for sprinters.
“He’s the best horse I have in the barn,” said winning trainer Charlton Baker of the 7-year-old gelded son of Unbridled’s Song.
This is the last weekend of racing action at Belmont Park before Aqueduct Racetrack opens on Wednesday, October 29. The park will still be open for simulcasting.
Saturday features two stakes races, the Grade III Bold Ruler, seven furlong on dirt for three-year-olds and up with a $200,000 purse, and the Chelsey Flower, one mile on dirt with a $100,000 purse.
Sunday will see the running of the Grade III Turnback the Alarm for three-year-olds and up over 1 1/16 miles on dirt with a purse of $200,000, and the Awad, one mile on turf for two-year-olds with a purse of $100,000.