Village King, expertly handled by Javier Castellano, nosed out Soglio in a dramatic photo finish to capture the off-the-turf Grade 3 Red Smith on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Todd Pletcher for Angels of Catalina Inc., Village King and Soglio tracked pacesetters Exulting and Control Group through a quarter-mile in 25.20 seconds and the half in 50.49 in the 1 1/8-miles main track route which was originally scheduled for 1 3/8-miles on the inner turf. Exulting maintained a precarious lead into the final turn under rail pressure from Control Group as Hall of Famer John Velazquez urged Soglio into contention with Village King matching strides.
Exulting and Control Group continued their battle at the top of the lane, leaving little room for the stalking duo as Soglio traveled outside rivals while Castellano angled Village King to the rail and found another gear to assume the lead. Soglio, asked for more by Velazquez, responded with good energy and dove to the finish but could not reel in Village King who earned a narrow nose victory while stopping the clock in 1:52.95. Control Group stayed on to complete the trifecta in front of Exulting. Red Knight and Galope Americano completed the order of finish.
Pletcher said he expected that Village King could maintain his form on a fast Aqueduct main track.
“This horse had trained pretty well on the dirt. He had also run well in South America on the dirt, so we felt it was worth a try,” said Pletcher. “He kept fighting and cut the corner and we ended up on the right end of a head bob. It kind of gives us a ton of options going forward from here. He seems versatile and we'll see what's next”
Castellano was pleased with the winning trip he engineered for Village King, although he couldn't be certain he had the race won.
“It was perfect. It was a good trip. In the beginning of the race, I was outside, and I kept tracking the two speed horses up front. I was able to cover up a little bit and save all the ground,” said Castellano. “On the inside, turning for home, I tried to get out. I didn't realize Johnny [Velazquez, aboard Soglio] had a lot of room for his horse. I cut the corner, saved all the ground, and made the inside move.It was too close to call. I mean, basically it could have gone either way. I think I am very lucky today, very fortunate to win the race.”
Bred in Argentina by Santa Maria de Araras, the 4-year-old Campanologist bay won the Group 1 Jockey Club and finished third in the Group 1 Carlos Pellegrini International at San Isidro before shipping to North America where he landed fourth on debut in a Churchill Downs optional claimer. He arrived at the Red Smith from a narrow head defeat when third in an optional claiming event on the Belmont Park turf after setting the pace.
Village King, who paid $11.80 to win, banked $110,000 in victory while improving his record to four wins and three thirds from eight career starts.
Teodoro, Zulu Alpha, Call Provision, Inspector Lynley, Bigger Picture, Big Bend, Postulaton, Special Envoy, Focus Group and Adulator were scratched.
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