Jim Bakke and Gerald Isbister's Mr Freeze circled three-wide on the turn for home, grabbed the lead at the quarter pole and held a rallying Thirstforlife at bay in deep stretch by 1 ½ lengths to win Saturday night's 27th renewal of the $150,000 Ack Ack (Grade III) at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Mr Freeze, a 4-year-old son of To Honor and Serve, ran one mile on a fast track in 1:34.11.
Robby Albarado rode the winner for Churchill Downs' all-time leading trainer Dale Romans. He replaced Martin Chuan, who took off his mounts Saturday to ride in his native Peru on Sunday.
For the veteran Albarado, it was an important win as it was the 45-year-old's second victory in 33 mounts since returning to the saddle on Aug. 31 after he underwent surgery to repair a June 23 wrist fracture.
Canterbury Park invader Mr. Jagermeister, the mild 3-1 favorite in the field of eight older horses, grabbed the early lead and set fractions of :22.95 and :45.35 as Mr Darcy and Mr Freeze tracked in close pursuit. Mr Freeze ranged up on the turn, took command once in the stretch and drew clear with a furlong to go.
“Dale and his team had this horse ready to go tonight,” Albarado said. “He was pretty forward tonight in the race and just carried an easy rhythm around the entire track. He has progressed and matured, as he's gotten older. I've ridden him in the past and he seems like he's really finding his stride and putting it all together.”
The first prize was $90,210 and hiked Mr Freeze's bankroll to $542,710 with a record of 8-4-2-0. He broke his maiden last summer at Churchill Downs as a 3-year-old and later won the $500,000 West Virginia Derby (GIII).
“Credit really goes to our owners for letting us take our time with this horse and getting him back to his real self,” Romans said. “Tonight he really ran a strong effort in a fast time. We'll have to see moving forward where we could end up with him but the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile could certainly be in the discussion.”
Five of the last six Ack Ack winners – Pants On Fire (2013), Tapiture (2015), Tom's Ready (2016), Awesome Slew (2017) and Seeking the Soul (2018) – used the race as a springboard to the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
Mr Freeze paid $14.80, $8 and $4.20 at odds of 6-1. Thirstforlife, ridden by Miguel Mena, paid $7 and $4.60. MrDarcy was another 1 ½ lengths back in third under Jesus Castanon and paid $3.80 to show.
C Z Rocket, Mr. Jagermeister, Timeline, Air Strike and Unmatchable completed the order of finish. Olympic Village was scratched when his connections opted to run in Saturday's $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (GI) at Belmont Park where he finished fifth of five.
Mr Freeze, out of the Tabasco Cat mare Heavenly Cat, was bred in Kentucky by Siena Farms LLC.
For Albarado, it was his second Ack Ack win after previously riding It's No Joke to victory in 2006. This was Romans' first Ack Ack triumph.
The race is named in honor of 1971 Horse of the Year Ack Ack, who is enshrined in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. In his only Churchill Downs appearance, Ack Ack won the 1969 Derby Trial in 1:34.40 which was a track record for one mile that has since been eclipsed.
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