Making only his second career stakes appearance in Saturday’s $100,000 Red Smith Stakes (G3), the 4-year-old North Dakota hinted there could be more big performances ahead of him when a late surge propelled him to victory against a seasoned group of veterans in the 11-furlong turf fixture at Aqueduct.
At one point more than 15 lengths behind Real Factor, who established a long lead through the opening mile, North Dakota and others waited patiently for that leader to come back to the field, which he ultimately did racing around the far turn for the second time.
Taking the lead in the stretch was third choice Ziyad, who was looking strong in deep stretch until North Dakota, under Jose Lezcano, out-finished him in the final yards to win by a half-length. The final time for 1 3/8 miles on the firm inner course was 2:16.47.
“I tried to give him a clean trip the whole way and not lose any momentum. He progressed. Every pole was progress,” Lezcano said. “As soon as he got to the three-eighths pole, he switched gears. I hit him a couple times and he really took off and went on with it and won the race. I think he’s a very nice horse. He’s kind of one paced, but the longer he can go, the better for him.”
A homebred racing for Joe Allen and trained by Shug McGaughey, North Dakota paid $19.40. Red Knight also made a late rally to edge Ziyad for second by a head, while 2019 Red Smith winner and post-time favorite Sadler’s Joy finished a non-threatening fourth, three-quarters of a length behind Ziyad.
Rounding out the order of finish were Doctor Mounty, Aquaphobia, Postulation, Real Factor, Tintoretto, Fame to Famous, and Changi.
Needing seven starts to break his maiden, North Dakota finally broke through in a Mar. 25 heat at Tampa Bay Downs by more than three lengths. The dark bay went on to win two of his next four starts, allowances at Tampa and Colonial Downs, while his stakes debut in the Oct. 15 Sycamore (G3) at Keeneland resulted a solid fourth-place effort behind Red Knight, Postulation, and Ziyad. His record now stands at 12-4-1-2, $157,325.
“He’s come a long way. I wouldn’t have thought he would be running in the Red Smith back when he broke his maiden at Tampa,” McGaughey said.
Bred in Kentucky, the regally-bred North Dakota is by Medaglia d’Oro and out of the multiple stakes-winning Starry Dreamer, a daughter of Rubiano who has also reared prominent sire War Front, multiple Grade 2 winner Teammate, and multiple Grade 3 winner Ecclesiastic.