Bettors sent Wicked Strong off at 3-5, but it was the other Jimmy Jerkens-trained horse that ended up in the winner's circle of the Grade 3, $200,000 Excelsior as 6-1 Effinex edged past pace-setting Red Rifle to take the prize Saturday at Aqueduct.
Jockey Angel Arroyo took Effinex back as Red Rifle strode out to take the lead, running the first quarter in :24.55, the half-mile in :49.23, and six furlongs in 1:12.70, with Wicked Strong close in second. Launching a strong bid around the far turn, Effinex hooked up to battle with the front-runner at the top of the stretch, finally getting past his stubborn foe nearing the wire to clock the mile and a quarter in 2:02.16.
“I had the best trip,” Arroyo said. “I was able to break good and relax behind the speed. I waited for the stretch, and my horse responded when I asked. He's a nice horse.”
Red Rifle was a determined second, and Wicked Strong, after battling briefly for the lead on the far turn, finished third. Micromanage closed from the back of the pack to grab fourth.
A winner in his 2015 debut last out March 27, Tri-Bone Stables' 4-year-old Effinex is now a five-time winner from 14 starts. Among the victories to his credit was a gutsy score in the $300,000 Empire Classic last October.
“[Effinex] had a long campaign last year, going against older horses,” said Jerkens. “After he ran lackluster on New Year's Eve [fourth-place finish in the Alex M. Robb Stakes], we decided there was no sense in knocking him out [with a winter campaign]. We thought that if we gave him a late spring campaign, we could give him his best shot to become a better horse because he had run pretty hard last year.
“We don't have anything planned for him, we'll bring him back to the barn and evaluate when he comes back.”
Effinex was bred in New York by Dr. Russell S. Cohen and is by Mineshaft out of the E Dubai mare What a Pear.
Wicked Strong was making his second start of the year in the Excelsior; his first was a fourth-place performance behind Honor Code in the G2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. Last year, he won the G1 Wood Memorial and the G2 Jim Dandy Stakes before closing out his 3-year-old season with a non-finish in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup after he clipped heels and lost his rider.
“I was a little worried about running [Wicked Strong] 1 ¼ miles after having just one race in Florida, even though it was a good effort,” Jerkens said. “It puts a horse in a different mindset when you have to go chasing fast horses then you have to slow them back down again. You try to do what you can in the morning, but there's only so much you can do. He'll be back.”
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