The Chad Brown barn was ice cold at Gulfstream Park heading into Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup program, but jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. proved to be red hot on the early portion of the card, winning with five of his first seven mounts.
One highlight of that early quintet was the come-from-behind win by Francesco Clemente in the $200,000 W. L. McKnight (G3). Making his second stakes appearance in the U.S. following his importation from Britain last summer, the Irish-bred five-year-old made a wide, sustained rally in the stretch and drew off to a 2 1/4-length decision.
“He had everything against him and he still won easy,” Ortiz said. “He missed the break, tight turns, short stretch and he still got there. I moved wide early to try and get him there, (get him) right in the track. He made it look easy.”
Francesco Clemente just missed equaling the 1 1/2-mile turf course record of 2:22.63, coming home in 2:22.64 on firm ground. He returned $6.40 as the 2-1 favorite in the field of 11.
Starting Over, a 41-1 chance, won a scramble for second over F Five, with Cellist and Verstappen also in close attendance at the wire.
A winner in three of five starts and stakes-placed in Britain, Francesco Clemente has now won two of four outings in the U.S. Fourth in his stateside debut, he rebounded to win an allowance at Aqueduct in October while adding blinkers and stepping up to 1 3/8 miles.
Cutting back to nine furlongs for the Hollywood Derby (G1) at Del Mar in November, Francesco Clemente was flying fast at the end but missed catching Planetario by a neck.
“He’s a serious horse,” Brown said. We haven’t been able to run him that much. He was an unlucky loser the last time out in California. He had a really troubled trip.”
Bred by owner Peter Brant, Francesco Clemente is a five-year-old son of Dubawi and Justlookdontouch, a Galileo half-sister to champion turf mare Islington.
Earlier in the card, Alpha Bella registered her first career stakes win in the $150,000 La Prevoyante (G3), leading all the way over 1 1/2 miles under Luis Saez.
Racing without blinkers for the first time since her maiden days, Alpha Bella maintained a short lead nearly the entire journey, but dug in late to repel an inside bid from R Calli Kim to win by three parts of a length.
An objection lodged against by the rider of R Calli Kim against Alpha Bella for interference in the stretch was disallowed.
“The strategy was to go to the front and take it from there. It worked out really well,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “She’s a filly that’s always been knocking on the door. I think stretching her out is what she’s been looking for.”
Alpha Bella lost four stakes last season by less than a length: the Sweetest Chant (G3), Florida Oaks (G3), Virginia Oaks, and Tropical Park Oaks.
A homebred racing for Don Alberto Corporation, Alpha Bella paid $19.20 after completing the 12 furlongs in 2:24.25. Runner-up R Calli Kim finished 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Anatolian, while 7-10 favorite Romagna Mia failed to fire after a slow start, finishing fifth in the field of seven.
A Kentucky-bred daughter of Justify, Alpha Bella is daughter of the stakes-winning Andina. The Singspiel mare has also produced Chilean champion Australia Mia and Grade 3 scorer Andina Del Sur.