MCA Racing Stable’s Harpers First Ride withstood prolonged pressure from 7-10 favorite Owendale to post a front-running victory in Friday’s $250,000 Pimlico Special (G3). Trained by Claudio Gonzalez and ridden by Angel Cruz, the Maryland-bred kicked two lengths clear in his first graded stakes tally.
“Every race he gets better and better,” said Gonzalez, who claimed Harpers First Ride for $30,000 out of a Churchill Downs maiden win last fall. “He likes what we do with him. He’s very easy for a trainer, because he’s a relaxed horse. Anything we want to do with him, he does it. He’s a very classy horse. I knew he could do it. He gets more mature every race.”
Sent off at 5-1 after scoring a breakthrough in the Sept. 5 Deputed Testamony at Laurel, Harpers First Ride took charge through a moderate opening quarter in :24.41. Owendale was draped on him, and headed him at the half in :48.41. Harpers First Ride had his head back in front through 6 furlongs in 1:12.11, but Owendale appeared to have him in his grasp turning for home. Then Harpers First Ride found much more, hurling the favorite back decisively as Cruz started the celebrations before finishing the 1 3/16-mile affair in 1:54.97.
Owendale saved second by a half-length from Cordmaker, third at every call but cutting the deficit late. Defending champion Tenfold churned into fourth, another head back. Forewarned, Someday Jones, and Clubman concluded the order of finish, while Monongahela and Plus Que Parfait were scratched.
“I settled good in the front,” Cruz recapped. “I took the lead really easy and slowed it down. Nobody wanted to go so I just took the lead and the horse kept digging in the stretch. I
“I just feel so happy and so blessed to be in this position, to work for Claudio and for him to give me all the chances that he gave me. I just take advantage of it and do my best.
“As a team we work hard every day and for Claudio to get this one is special, because this is home.”
Bred in the Old Line State by historic Sagamore Farm, Harpers First Ride improved his resume to 14-8-1-1, $422,080. The 4-year-old gelding is by Paynter and out of the Tiz Wonderful mare Polyester, who is a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Sneaky Quiet, the third-placer in the 1995 Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Harpers First Ride sports a noteworthy pedigree pattern. Paynter’s dam is a full sister to Tiznow, and Tiz Wonderful is by that two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) legend. The Pimlico Special stretch run suggests he’s inherited some of Tiznow’s determination.