April 14, 2024

Vekoma crushes the Carter, Code of Honor rallies in Westchester; Volatile romps in Aristides

Vekoma wins the Carter Handicap (NYRA/Chelsea Durand)

Grade 1 racing returned to New York on Saturday with the $250,000 Carter H. (G1) at Belmont Park, and while spectators weren’t allowed to attend, fans watching via television and simulcast signals were treated to a show as Vekoma trounced his rivals with eye-catching authority.

Favored to win off a season-opening victory in the Sir Shackleton S. at Gulfstream Park, Vekoma left no doubt about his superiority in the 7-furlong Carter. With Javier Castellano aboard, the son of Candy Ride pressed longshot American Anthem through splits of :22.38 and :45.02 before turning up the heat on the final turn. Splashing his way through sloppy footing, Vekoma powered to the front and widened his advantage down the lane to dominate by 7 1/4 lengths in the snappy time of 1:21.02.

Winner of the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass (G2) and a competitor in the 2019 Kentucky Derby (G1), Vekoma has thrived since cutting back in distance, following in the footsteps of dam Mona de Momma to become a Grade 1-winning sprinter.

“He’s a really nice horse. I really like the way he did it today,” Castellano told the New York Racing Association. “The way he handled the track today was amazing. I didn’t have any concern before the race because I rode him in the slop in the Kentucky Derby and he loved it, a mile and a quarter was just too far. He cut back in distance and we got what we were looking for today.”

The stretch-running Network Effect rallied to gain the runner-up spot over American Anthem, while Firenze Fire, Nitrous, Mind Control, Bon Raison, and Still Having Fun trailed the field.

“It’s just so nice to have a horse this good. He’s always been a special horse. I’m just grateful he’s in my barn to be honest,” said winning trainer George Weaver of Vekoma, who races in the silks of Alpha Delta Stables. “I think off that effort, we’ll look at the (July 4 Metropolitan [G1] at Belmont). If we can get him back in four weeks and if he’s doing well, we’ll think about it.”

Targeting the Metropolitan may place Vekoma on collision course with another accomplished sophomore of 2019. Earlier on Belmont’s Saturday card, last year’s Travers (G1) and Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) hero Code of Honor posted a deceptively easy victory in the 1 1/16-mile $100,000 Westchester (G3). Favored at 5-4, the Shug McGaughey trainee settled in midpack as the leaders carved out fractions of :22.88, :46.73, and 1:11.03, racing wide every step of the way.

But the scenic journey proved to be no obstacle for the son of Noble Mission, who rallied smartly down the stretch under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez. Second choice Endorsed had slipped to the front after unleashing a big middle move down the backstretch, but Code of Honor reeled him in with relative ease to win by half a length in 1:42.39 over muddy footing.

“He showed up big today,” Velazquez said. “I had to go around those two horses around the three-eighths pole and the other horse [Endorsed] had a really good lead. I didn’t want to ask too much of my horse, but he did what he needed to win today. I just wanted to hand ride him and he was good enough to get there.”

Endorsed, in turn, pulled half a dozen lengths clear of Forewarned, followed by Joevia, Payne, Mihos, Monongahela, Senior Investment, and the pace-setting Prendimi. But Code of Honor was the star of the show, and McGaughey subsequently indicated the Metropolitan could be next on the agenda for the Will Farish homebred.

The question now is whether Vekoma and Code of Honor will be joined in the Metropolitan by up-and-coming sprinter Volatile, who burst onto the scene with a spectacular victory in the 6-furlong $100,000 Aristides S. on Saturday at Churchill Downs. The son of Violence pressed quick fractions of :21.48 and :44.36 before obliterating his rivals with a brilliant turn-of-foot down the lane, sprinting the final two furlongs in :11.30 and :11.91 to score by eight lengths.

Trained by Steve Asmussen for the partnership of Phoenix Thoroughbred III and Three Chimneys Farm, Volatile stopped the timer in 1:07.57, missing the track record by 0.02 despite racing a bit greenly in the stretch. The sky is the limit for Volatile, who figures to be bound for graded stakes company in the very near future.