Dragon Bay, under Gary Boulanger, denied Sovereign Award champion Are You Kidding Me a third straight Eclipse Stakes crown, eking out a neck triumph in Saturday's $180,250 Grade 2 feature at Woodbine.
Trained by Stuart Simon, who also co-owns with Brett and Russell McLellan, the Parading gelding held on gamely against a hard-charging Are You Kidding Me, Canada's champion older male in 2015 and 2016.
Dragon Bay came into the Eclipse, a 1 1/16-mile Tapeta route, off three consecutive starts south of the border, including his most recent effort, a fifth-place performance at Keeneland in a 1 1/16-mile turf race on April 19. Last October, the chestnut took the English Channel Stakes at Belmont.
Jesse Campbell put Riker on the lead from the outset, with Dragon Bay and Boulanger keeping close tabs to their outside through an opening quarter in :24.84 and a half in :49.34. Alan Garcia, aboard mutuel favourite Are You Kidding Me, was desperately looking for racing room as the field straightened for home, while Dragon Bay sought to draw off on his foes.
Are You Kidding Me launched a furious outside bid while Dragon Bay, at 18-1, dug in along the rail, fending off his rival for the narrow victory. Unbridled Juan was third. The final time was 1:43.79.
Simon was elated to see his four-year-old pupil display total heart in the Eclipse.
“Last year, it was a process,” he said. “When we got the blinkers off him and the earplugs in him, he seemed to settle and run straight. He's always been wildly talented and once we got him straightened out, he's taken care of the rest.”
Boulanger was pleased with how the winning trip panned out.
“I didn't think there was much speed in the race other than Riker,” said the veteran rider. “Stu said you could do what you want with him. When he broke that good, I just said I'm just going to track Jesse (jockey Campbell) as long as I have to. At the half-mile pole, I really liked the position I was in. He ran really hard down the lane. The gallop out was there, too. He's a pretty nice horse.”
Last year, Dragon Bay went 2-2-1 in nine starts.
Bred by Shawhan Place LLC in Kentucky, he banked $105,000 in victory while improving his record to 4-2-3 from 16 starts.
Dragon Bay paid $38, $11 and $5.10, combining with Are You Kidding Me ($2.80, $2.10) for a $102.80 (8-2) exactor. An 8-2-5 triactor (Unbridled Juan, $2.90 to show) returned $383.10. A $1 Superfecta 8-2-5-4 (Eirigh) was worth $1,305.95.
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