Stonehedge LLC's Liam's Lucky Charm prevailed by a neck over heavily favored Chance It following a stretch-long battle to win Saturday's $200,000 Affirmed at Gulfstream Park, providing trainer Ralph Nicks with his third straight success in the second leg of the FTBOA Florida Sire Stakes.
“It was a tremendous race, a tremendous battle between two great horses,” said Liam's Lucky Charm's jockey, Reylu Gutierrez. “Last time, Chance It beat me pretty well. He had a little switching-leads problems last time. Mr. Nicks' team does such a splendid job.”
Nicks previously the Affirmed winner's circle with Soutache (2017) and Garter and Tie (2018).
Liam's Lucky Charm's hard-fought victory also gave Stonehedge LLC's Gil Campbell his 11th success in the Florida Sire Stakes series for 2-year-olds sired by nominated Florida sires.
The Affirmed co-headlined Saturday's 13-race program with the $200,000 Susan's Girl for fillies, won by Amalio Ruiz-Lozano's Ceci Valentina.
Shooting Star Thoroughbreds LLC's Chance It was sent to post as the 1-5 favorite on the strength of a 3 ¾-length triumph in the $100,000 FSS Dr. Fager Aug. 3, while Liam's Lucky Charm left the starting gate as the strong 7-2 second choice after finishing second in the first leg of the series.
The Saffie Joseph-trained favorite broke alertly from the starting gate to grab the early lead while pressed on the outside by Absolute Grit. Liam's Lucky Charm, who had settled in fourth along the backstretch, was asked for some run on the far turn as Chance It slipped away from a tiring Absolute Grit. Liam's Lucky Charm responded to pull alongside the favorite leaving the turn into the stretch, setting up a most memorable stretch drive.
The Stonehedge homebred son of Khozan got the better of the game Chance It at the wire to register his first stakes victory.
“He was in a good position. Saffie's horse kind of got away had it his own way after getting some pace pressure early. We kind of got to him today and it was a battle of the two of them down the lane,” Nicks said. “Last time we couldn't close and today we finished together. We were lucky enough to be a head better.”
Liam's Lucky Charm ran seven furlongs in 1:23.25, built on fractions of 22.67 and 46.07 seconds for the first half mile. Chance It and jockey Edgard Zayas finished 17 ¾ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Rebelde while coming up just short in the stretch.
“He was trying hard. But he prefers not to be on the lead, and the way the race set up for him, breaking from the inside, he was having to force himself,” Zayas said. “He looks like a horse who prefers to have a target all the time.”
Liam's Lucky Charm finished third in his May 12 debut before graduating 6 ¾ lengths June 8. In the Dr. Fager, he was bumped early before unsuccessfully chasing Chance It in the six-furlong opening leg of the Florida Sire Stakes series.
“I think he's a little slow coming around. I think he's going to get better as matures and gets older,” Nicks said. “I think two turns is well within his grasp.”
The Florida Sire Stakes series for colts and geldings will conclude Sept. 28 with the $400,000 In Reality at 1 1/16 miles.
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