Strapping Groom returned to his winning ways Saturday afternoon at Aqueduct Racetrack, taking command on the far turn and pulling clear to a 6 1/2-length victory over odds-on favorite Palace in the 55th running of the $100,000 Gravesend Handicap.
Strapping Groom, who was winless in two starts following his victory in the Grade 1 Forego in August at Saratoga Race Course, left the gate in good order but was content to settle in second as Abra was hustled to the front to lead through an opening quarter-mile in 23.21 seconds and a half in 45.83. Moving up to put away the front-runner on the turn, Strapping Groom swept into the stretch clear by four lengths and drew away to hit the wire in 1:09.74 for the six furlongs.
“As soon as Abra passed me, I just kept going without really chasing him, not wanting a fight,” said winning jockey Junior Alvarado. “Turning for home, I asked him, and didn't think I'd get beat with the way that he kicked in at the end. It worked out pretty good; he was 100 percent on his game today.”
The victory was fourth in nine starts this year for Strapping Groom, who was claimed for $35,000 in May by trainer David Jacobson and Drawing Away Stable. The 6-year-old son of Johannesburg went on to win the Lion Cavern overnight stakes at Belmont Park and the Kid Russell at Saratoga for his new connections before pulling a 15-1 upset in the Forego. He was then third in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Invitational and fourth in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler Handicap, both at Belmont, before finishing second behind Palace in the Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap on November 28 at the Big A.
“If he's not quite back to that Forego race, he's definitely headed in that direction,” said Jacobson. “He came out of the Fall Highweight like a million dollars and has been getting better and better. He had a quarter-crack [after the Forego] we were working on. I was being a little aggressive running him, and he still ran well. That's all grown out now and it's a thing of the past.”
The 8-5 second choice, Strapping Groom returned $5.40 for a $2 win bet and earned $60,000. Overall, he is 9-6-2 from 26 starts with a bankroll of $796,713.
Palace, whose three-race win streak was snapped, was 4 1/2 lengths clear of third-place finisher Abra.
“I think it would have been better if they had gone faster early on, but what are you going to do,” said Palace's trainer, Linda Rice. “He ran well. We're still looking ahead to the Toboggan (Grade 3, February 1).”
Completing the order of finish were Broad Rule and Battier. Frazil was scratched.
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