Katherine Ball's homebred Limousine Liberal finally won his first race outside of Kentucky, and he did so impressively in Saturday's Grade 2 Belmont Sprint Championship. The 6-year-old Successful Appeal gelding, favored at 9-5, ran down a troubled Whitmore (2-1) to score by a neck on the wire. Ridden by Jose Ortiz for trainer Ben Colebrook, Limousine Liberal completed the seven furlongs over Belmont's fast main track in 1:21.53, earning an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Sprint at his favorite track, Churchill Downs.
“I could see [jockey] Jose [Ortiz] had a ton of horse and I knew he was going to make his run,” said Colebrook. “I didn't want the wire to come too soon because he was coming with a big run. I'm just glad he proved he can win outside the state of Kentucky. I thought we were in the right place. I thought maybe we'd be ahead of Whitmore, maybe not so far back, but they went so fast. Jose knew where to have him. It's taken me so long to find the winner's circle in New York; I'm just happy for this. We'd have to think about the Forego next but we were going to go to the Breeders' Cup even if we had to pay our own way in.”
Eye Luv Lulu sprang from the gates on top, but was quickly passed by Shaft of Light down the backstretch. Shaft of Light drove out to a two-length lead through a first quarter in :22.22, followed by Eye Luv Lulu, Whitmore at the rail, Lewisfield, Limousine Liberal tracking Whitmore, and Favorable Outcome at the rear of the field. After a half in :44.84, Ricardo Santana sent Whitmore up the rail to challenge the leader.
Rounding the far turn, Santana saw the gap at the rail and went for it, but Whitmore and Shaft of Light collided, throwing both off their balance. Shaft of Light then bumped with Limousine Liberal. Eye Luv Lulu then inherited the lead, but Whitmore re-gathered himself to take the lead with a sixteenth of a mile to run. Limousine Liberal also battled back, flying down the center of the course for his challenge, and was just able to pass Whitmore in the shadow of the wire to win by a neck. Whitmore had to settle for second, while Eye Luv Lulu finished third. Lewisfield was fourth.
A stewards' inquiry was held into the incident at the top of the stretch, but no change was made to the order of finish.
“He wasn't pulling me like he used to, so I thought they were going too fast,” Ortiz said. “They went 44 [seconds for the half mile] and it paid off in the end. I didn't expect Whitmore [No. 2] to be in front of me, so I decided to follow. I knew my horse was going to have something for the end. He decided to go the rail. I thought he was a little tired, so I went outside. But I'm glad I didn't have to check hard and I'm [happy] I was able to win the race.”
Bred in Kentucky by his owners, Limousine Liberal is out of the In Excess mare Gift of Gab. Last out third in the G1 Met Mile, his career record now stands at nine wins, six seconds and four thirds from 23 starts, earning over $1.6 million.
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