Godolphin Stable's Lucullan utilized a patient trip to register his first career graded stakes win, running down pacesetter Dr. Edgar in the final furlong and prevailing against Olympico's late charge to capture Monday's Grade 2, $200,000 Knickerbocker by a length at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
Lucullan, who had posted a runner-up and third-place finish in four previous graded stakes appearances, broke well as the 3-2 second choice, with jockey Luis Saez keeping him tucked inside in fourth position on the backstretch of the 1 1/8-mile route while Dr. Edgar led the six-horse field through fractions of 24.77 seconds for the quarter-mile, the half in 48.67 and three-quarters in 1:12.02 on the firm inner turf course.
Out of the final turn, Saez encouraged the 5-year-old son of Hard Spun from the outside, where he overtook three opponents and held off the Chad Brown-trained Olympico's surge from the outside, hitting the wire in 1:46.87.
“He was very good today. We broke and I got the spot I wanted” Saez said. “Last time he broke a little slow, so the key today was to try to break good and get in a good position early, which he did. I knew we had to have a target in front of us and everything went perfect. When we hit the stretch, he really took off. Perfect trip.”
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Lucullan continued to do well at Belmont, winning for the second straight time and improving to 4-1-1 in seven career. His stakes score also came against a talented field led by even-money favorite Catholic Boy, a Grade 1-winner on turf and dirt, who finished fourth in his first start since July 6.
Lucullan, whose previous best graded stakes effort was a second in the 2017 Grade 3 Hill Prince and third in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy at Belmont in May, returned $5.20 on a $2 win wager. He improved his career bankroll to $510,925.
Lucullan arrived at the Knickerbocker from a troubled effort in the Grade 1 Woodbine Mile on September 14, where he finished third and was disqualified and placed fourth.
“He really is a top horse. He's been a bit unlucky,” McLaughlin said. “We were second in the Hill Prince as a 3-year-old and Bricks and Mortar was third in there. He's 3-for-4 this year. We were unlucky in the Woodbine Mile. He drifted out late under left-handed urging and was disqualified to fourth. I'm happy for the team. We were going to point to the Breeders' Cup Mile but I didn't think that we'd have enough to get in. I'll talk to the team at Godolphin about where we'll go next.”
After three straight off-the-board finishes, the French-bred Olympico's strong finish bested Dr. Edgar by two lengths for second. It marked the Chad Brown trainee's best finish since he won his North American debut in the Fort Marcy.
“We got a good trip. He tried hard,” said Olympico jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. “We were just beaten by a better horse today.”
Catholic Boy finished fourth in his first start since a runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Suburban on the main track July 6 at Belmont. He was returning to turf for the first time since capturing the Grade 2 Dixie on May 18 at Pimlico. But trainer Jonathan Thomas said Catholic Boy, the winner of the 2018 Grade 1 Runhappy Travers, could return to dirt with a potential start in the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic at 1 ¼ miles on November 2 at Santa Anita Park.
“Overall, he was a little bit even around there. I was hoping, turning for home, he would kick on a little,” Thomas said. “It looked like he stayed on and went ahead and galloped out well. He came back with a lot of energy, so we'll get back to the barn and look at him. He may have needed a tightener going a mile and an eighth. We'll see if he takes a step forward. I'm not disappointed but I'm not thrilled, either.
“This could be one of those instances where we get back in his training and he's really taken a big step forward,” he added. “He was very even and he looked like a horse that getting a mile and a quarter wouldn't be an issue. He galloped out well. He was just a little one-paced. Watching that it would scream [he needs] a little more real estate. The [Breeders' Cup] Mile would be a little bit quick for him. [The Classic] would be the most likely scenario, but we'll have to talk to everybody.”
Glorious Empire and Argonne completed the order of finish. Cullum Road and Noble Indy, who ran seventh in the Point of Entry on Sunday at Belmont, were scratched.
Action resumes Wednesday at Belmont Park with an eight-race card that commences with a 1:15 p.m. Eastern post time.
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