A thrilling inaugural edition of the $400,000 Poseidon Stakes culminated in a stretch duel between heavyweights Imperative and Stanford; the 7-year-old Imperative just got by the two-year younger Stanford at the wire to be declared the winner in a photo finish. Owned by Loooch Racing Stables and Imaginary Stables, the son of Bernardini covered nine furlongs over Gulfstream's fast main track in 1:48.97. Jockey Antonio Gallardo rode a perfect race on Imperative for trainer Bob Hess, keeping him in range of the leaders early on.
Co-owner Ron Paolucci purchased Imperative privately following his 6-year-old season with designs on running in the Pegasus, but was unable to work out a deal with any of the 12 stakeholders for the world's richest race. Paolucci is partners with Dan Shafer in Pegasus starter War Story.
“I needed a horse. I needed a backup for War Story. Me and Dan talked about needing a second horse,” Paolucci said. “I tried to get him into the big race and I didn't have any takers. The way he trained over this track, we knew he was going to run good. To beat Stanford he had to run really good, and he did.”
“I talked to Mr. Hess and he told me how to do it,” said jockey Gallardo. “He said he had been working really good. When I was riding down the back I could have gone in and decided to stay out, and he took the bend really well. I was really confident in him. I'm hungry, and he was hungry.”
Ranger in Paradise broke very sharply from the inside, striking the lead in the short run to the first turn. Stanford, generally a frontrunner, was forced out wide by that leader around the turn, as was Hy Riverside in third. That left room for Imperative, hustled from the gate by Gallardo, to secure a solid position along the inside rail in fourth. As Ranger in Paradise continued to speed through the first quarter, both Stanford and Hy Riverside were able to angle back toward the rail as they let him move away on the lead.
Down the backstretch Ranger in Paradise first took a 2 1/2-length lead, clocking the first quarter mile in a solid :23.83, but then he slowed down to mark the half in :48.10. That attempt to give his horse a breather, hopefully catching the other jockeys unawares, would have been more effective for rider Luis Colon had his horse not again tried to blow the turn at the half-mile pole.
As Ranger in Paradise got out badly, John Velazquez threaded the needle with Stanford and squeezed through along the rail to get perfect position at the top of the far turn. Hy Riverside stuck right alongside him, but Imperative was beginning to threaten from his cozy spot in fourth position.
Stanford had the lead making the turn for home, and Hy Riverside began to drop out of it. Imperative took up the challenge on Stanford almost immediately, giving the heavy favorite no time to take a breath before he was again engaged by a rival. Those two were a head apart at the top of the stretch, and they battled for every single inch grinding toward the wire.
In the final 100 yards, Imperative could see the wire and dug just a bit deeper, dropping his belly closer to the dirt to give every ounce of effort in his body. Just as the wire flashed ahead, Imperative reached even terms with Stanford. The photo finish showed that Imperative had the advantage by a nose, and Stanford had finished second. Madefromlucky, stablemate of Stanford, finished third, with Papa Zulu checking in fourth. Hy Riverside was fifth.
“Ron gave me a call about 2 ½ weeks ago and said, 'Do you have an empty stall?' So, he bought the horse,” winning trainer Bob Hess Jr. said. “[Former trainer] Richard Baltas was very forthright and told us about his quirks. We brought him out here and he worked really well. I think he likes a little sandier track surface.
“I'm speechless,” he added. “It's great to compete on the biggest day in racing, and to be able to compete against and beat Todd Pletcher is fun and exciting. [Imperative] kind of runs with his head up a little so I thought we might have lost the head bob, but luckily he dropped in time. No complaints.”
Bred in Kentucky by Darley and Glencrest Farm, Imperative was a $325,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase. The gelding has gotten stronger with age, improving his quality each year. Though Imperative had won just a single graded stake, the G2 Charles Town Classic in 2014, he had continued to finish in the top placings in graded company throughout his career. Overall, Imperative boasts a record of 5-8-3 from 36 starts, with earnings of over $2.2 million.
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