Sent off the 2-5 favorite in the field of five older runners, William and Corinne Heiligbrodt's Mitole won Saturday's $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap by 2 3/4 lengths over a sealed sloppy racetrack at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., outdueling second choice Whitmore in the six-furlong contest timed in 1:09.36.
Trained by Steve Asmussen and ridden to victory by Ricardo Santana Jr., Mitole was winning for the sixth time in nine career starts but for the first time in a graded stakes. The winner's share of the Count Fleet improved his earnings to $701,510. The 4-year-old colt, bred in Kentucky by Edward A. Cox Jr., is by the Giant's Causeway sire Eskendereya out of Indian Miss, by Indian Charlie.
Bourbon Cowboy finished third, with Operation Stevie fourth and Storm Advisory fifth. The winner carried 121 pounds, two fewer than Whitmore.
Mitole jumped out to an early lead and was chased throughout by Ron Moquett-trained Whitmore, one of the country's most accomplished sprinters and earner of nearly $2.5 million. The two raced as a team through fractions of :22.49 and :45.54, but Mitole drew off to the victory over Whitmore, who does his best running from farther off the pace.
“To win his first graded stakes is special,” said Asmussen of Mitole. “He's an elite caliber horse. He handles the wet track extremely well. He won the Chick Lang (at Pimlico) under similar conditions. He broke well and was fast to the wire. Very grateful to have him in our barn.”
“Today was their day,” Moquett said of the winner. “The short field, lone speed, that's not his deal. 22 and change opening quarter. I'm proud of my horse.”
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