Valedictorian provided 20-year-old jockey Carlos Hernandez with his first stakes victory, grinding down frontrunner Heading Home before poking his head in front at the wire to capture the $75,000 Jersey Girl Handicap on Wednesday at Monmouth Park.
Hernandez, who won three races on the nine-race card, had Valedictorian closely stalking Heading Home throughout the mile grass race for Jersey-breds, surging late in deep stretch for the victory.
Trained by Kelly Breen, Valedictorian returned $5.60 to win as the second choice in the field of eight. The 4-year-old filly won for the seventh time in 18 career starts and for the second time in three tries on the Monmouth Park turf course.
The daughter of Temple City-Smart N Classy, owned by Epic Racing, covered the distance in 1:36.20 following a layoff of just over three months.
“I wasn't concerned at all about the three-month layoff because the reason for it was to give her time planning for Monmouth Park,” said Breen. “There was nothing wrong with her. It was by design. We just wanted to have all of our ducks in a row for her for this race.”
Hernandez kept Valedictorian on the flanks of Heading Home throughout before finally getting by the 6-1 shot. It was another two lengths back to Diamond Play in third.
“I know that we haven't had any rain lately and that the turf would probably favor speed so I told Carlos Hernandez I don't want to see her any worse than third early on,” said Breen. “He got her out and put her in a great spot. Carlos has worked her and ridden her and now he got his first stakes win with her. It's pretty neat to see.”
Hernandez had ridden Valedictorian once before, doing so in a victory on Jan. 25, 2017 at Gulfstream Park in a claiming race. The filly spent the past winter at Gulfstream before returning north.
“She felt strong today,” said Hernandez. “I just wanted to be behind the speed, get her to relax and then make one big run and that's what happened.”
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