Robert Evans' classic winner Tonalist made his 4-year-old debut a winning one with a closing victory over three rivals in the Grade 3, $150,000 Westchester Stakes at Belmont Park Saturday afternoon.
The colt broke slowly and spotted the field several lengths, sitting back under jockey Joe Bravo as the gray Juba strode out to take the early lead. Making a wide rally on the far turn, Tonalist began to roll by the leaders in the stretch, pulling away to win comfortably in 1:34 for the dirt mile.
“He's a special horse, everybody knows he's the Belmont winner, you just don't know with the time off if he's gonna come back,” Bravo said. “Christophe warned me he said 'He might be a little slow leaving the gate, the hardest part just get him running the first part' once that was all over, down the backside he just pulled us to horses and it's just beautiful to ride good horses, it really is. He was a boy [when I rode him at Gulfstream] and it's funny to now see him as a man, he just completely grew into himself.”
Confrontation was second, followed by Souper Lucky and Juba. Palace Malice, expected to make his 5-year-old debut in the Westchester, scratched out of the race due to a bruised right foot.
Trained by Christophe Clement, Tonalist played Triple Crown spoiler in last year's Belmont Stakes after a four-length victory in the G2 Peter Pan Stakes. After finishing on the board in the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga, he returned to Belmont for a victory over older males in the G1 Jockey Club Gold Cup, then finished a closing fifth in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
“The layoff was not a concern; I thought he trained very well, so I was happy with that,” said Clement. “The mile was a question mark because the horse was very sharp, obviously, last year. For the Travers we took the blinkers off, put him to sleep a little bit, for the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders' Cup, where he came from last. We had to wake him up a little bit. He broke a little asleep. I thought Joe [Bravo] did a great job putting him in the race. From the half-mile pole you knew he was traveling very well.
“It's fun. That's what good horses do. They win. I guess we'll have to think about the Met Mile [June 6].”
Tonalist is by Gainesway Farm's Tapit out of Settling Mist, by Pleasant Colony. He was bred in Kentucky by Woodslane Farm.
“We were a little nervous [after he broke slow],” said owner Evans. “I think he has the best three-eighths run in the world, and we'd knew he would come on the turn. The instructions were to let him get in stride; I told Joe, 'don't get too far behind,' and I thought maybe he was too far behind. But he really kicked in the stretch. The [Met Mile] was my intention, but I have to talk to the trainer.”
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