Zulu Alpha's decisive stretch run in the Grade 3 Sycamore Stakes Thursday wasn't only his first career graded win — it was also the first for trainer John Alexander Ortiz. The flashy 5-year-old gray gelding, piloted by Channing Hill, tracked the early pace and took a rail trip through the turn to take over the lead at the top of the stretch, and drew away by two lengths at the wire. Favored Arklow finished second, just in front of rival Bigger Picture. Early leader Final Copy faded to fourth.
Zulu Alpha came to the Sycamore off a hot streak that saw him first or second in his previous three starts. His resume also includes a third-place finish in the G2 Muniz Memorial Handicap earlier this year at Fair Grounds.
Ortiz claimed the gelding out of his most recent start, an allowance optional claiming race at Churchill.
Ortiz trains Zulu Alpha for Michael M. Hui. Calumet Farm bred the son of Street Cry (IRE), who is out of A.P. Indy mare Zori.
The final time for the 1 1/2 miles on good turf was 2:34.21.
Zulu Alpha paid $16.20 to win.
See the full chart here.
Quotes, courtesy of the Keeneland press office
John Ortiz (winning trainer of Zulu Alpha)
On why he claimed the gelding in his most recent race on Sept. 14 at Churchill
“I enjoyed watching him. He runs really big every time he runs, especially his last three starts. Right now I'm speechless and very thankful.”
“I was very happy with where he was early on in the race and throughout the whole race. I got a little concerned down the stretch because it looked like it was going to get a little tight up the rail. But Channing (Hill) knew what he was doing. He got him through. I'm just happy.”
Channing Hill (winning rider of Zulu Alpha)
On whether he was concerned Arklow would take the lead down the stretch the first time
“Obviously there was a little concern because (Arklow is) the favorite, he's the horse to beat. I was happy my horse got a little cover first time down the lane. Then when he (Zulu Alpha) pressed the pace, it was either am I going to fight him to stay in this bad spot or am I gonna put him inside? The way he ran at Churchill last time (winning a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on turf Sept. 14), obviously he enjoys coming through (along) the fence.
“Today he ran a really big race. He finished up strong with plenty of horse left. I want to congratulate Johnny. It's a big day for him to win a graded stakes here at Keeneland. I was happy to do it for him.”
Florent Geroux (rider of runner-up and beaten 2-1 favorite Arklow)
“He broke OK and I was in the race. I felt like we were going very slow and we were in contention. I didn't want anybody to steal the race (with the slow pace), so I put a little pressure on (the leader). I was surprised the winner got to me. My horse was running fast, but the winner just outkicked us.”
Brad Cox (trainer of Arklow)
“I am disappointed we didn't win but he ran well. Florent did a good job in putting him where he needed to be and adjusted to the slow pace. We will see how he comes out of this and go from there (regarding starting in Breeders' Cup Turf-G1).”
Tyler Gaffalione (rider of third-place finisher Bigger Picture)
“I had a good trip, just had to wait a little bit longer than I wanted to. I got stuck behind a couple tiring horses, but when I got him in the clear he made his run – just had to wait a little too long. (The fractions) were not exactly what I expected, but you never know what's going to happen out there. On form it looked like it was going to set up a little bit better but just gotta take the race as it comes. I'm absolutely happy with his effort today, I think if we got a little more free run it would have been a different outcome, but he definitely tried and he never gave up it up.”
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