It's on to the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers for Juddmonte Farm's Hofburg, who cruised to a five-length victory in his prep for the Midsummer Derby, taking Friday's $100,000 Curlin for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga Race Course.
The Curlin marked Hofburg's first start since finishing third to Justify in the Grade 1 Belmont on June 9, as well as the first win for the Grade 1-placed son of Tapit since breaking his maiden on March 3. Prior to the Belmont, Hofburg was seventh in the Kentucky Derby on May 5, a spot he earned with a solid runner-up performance in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31, his stakes debut.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott and ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., the 1-5 favorite got away well over the sloppy and sealed track and took up his characteristic position at the back of field. American Lincoln, one of two for trainer Linda Rice, vied for early control with Madison's Luna, leading the tightly-grouped field of five through an opening quarter-mile in 23.25 seconds and a half in 47.81.
Ortiz angled Hofburg to the outside on the far turn and made a move towards the front as six furlongs went in 1:11.94. Hofburg was briefly joined by Rice stablemate Nicodemus before pulling away at the top of the stretch. Ridden out under a hand-ride from Ortiz through the final furlong, Hofburg was wrapped up under the wire to complete the route in 1:50.18.
Hofburg returned $2.50 for a $2 win wager.
“He really was much the best in this field,” said Ortiz. “He came from the Belmont Stakes, came back good, and if he came back 95 percent, 90 percent, he was going to be tough in the race, and he was 100 percent today. He looked awesome. He's a nice horse.”
Nicodemus was second, finishing nine lengths ahead of Zing Zang in third. American Lincoln and Madison's Luna completed the order of finish. Reride, cross entered in Saturday's Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy, was scratched.
“You've got to let them have their own style of running,” said Mott. “We didn't want to get too far back. As you could see we were within five, six, seven lengths all the way down the backside until [Irad Ortiz, Jr.] got him moving and got him running toward the middle of the turn a little bit. In the mud, you don't want to get too far back in a small field.”
Now armed with his first stakes win, Hofburg will take the next step in the Travers at 1 ¼ miles on August 25, said Mott. In 2014, V.E. Day became the first and, so far, only horse to go on to Travers glory following a run in the Curlin, now in its 10th year.
“I think the timing [of the Travers] is right, he's had a race over the track, a win over the track and it gives the trainer some confidence,” Mott said. “I don't know if the horse needed it, but the trainer did.”
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