Ironicus stalked the pace and rallied down the stretch to record a 1 ½-length win in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Fort Marcy for 4-year-olds and up on the inner turf at Belmont Park.
The Stuart S. Janney III-owned gray colt bested Smooth Daddy, who was 15-1 on the morning line but strong out of the gate and game until the end. Ironicus hit the wire in 1:50.82 for 1 1/8 miles to pace a field of seven. Ironicus, making his 2016 debut, registered his sixth career victory in 12 starts.
“[It was a] perfect trip,” winning jockey Jose Ortiz said. “He broke good. I was three-wide the whole race but I didn't want to get behind horses and fight him. Coming in, I thought he was the best horse and he proved it. I'm thankful to Shug and Mr. Janney for the opportunity. They bought him in fit for his comeback and everyone in the barn did a good job getting him ready and it showed today.”
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey saw Ironicus return in impressive fashion following a layoff to recover from a minor fracture in his right fore cannon bone. Ironicus, who last started in September 2015 in the Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap, now has won three of four graded stakes races, with one second-place showing to improve his career earnings to $663,615.
“We had him really going in the right direction last year, and then he hurt himself, which happens,” McGaughey said of Ironicus, who returned $3.80 for a $2 win wager. “But we're glad to have him back.”
The victory at 1 1/8 miles was the longest of Ironicus' career, and McGaughey indicated he might stretch the 5-year-old even further in the Grade 1, $1 million, Woodford Reserve Manhattan at 1 1/4 miles on Belmont Stakes Day.
“I haven't thought about it, but the Manhattan could be a consideration,” he said. “We always thought he wanted to go a little father than what we were running him – 1 1/16 miles in the Dixie, a mile back here and at Saratoga and then 1 1/16th miles … that could be a very good possibility. We'll see.”
The Thomas Albertrani-trained Smooth Daddy finished in the money for the third time in his last four starts. He set the early fractions of 25.78 and 51.28 seconds and also led after three-quarters of a mile in 1:14.98 before Ironicus took over.
Messi, trained by Graham Motion, finished third. The 6-year-old chestnut gelding, posted his third top-three finish in six starts in the United States after starting his career in Germany.
Perfect Title, Blacktype, Red Rifle and Legendary completed the order of finish. Howe Great, Go Around and Force the Pass, 4-1 on the morning line, were scratched.
The Fort Marcy continued a packed slate at Belmont for Derby weekend that included three graded stakes races on Saturday, starting with the Grade 3, $150,000 Westchester and concluding with the Grade 2, $200,000 Sheepshead Bay for fillies and mares. The $100,000 Diablo will highlight Sunday's Mother's Day card.
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