Gary Barber’s African Oil established himself as a rising star over fences when he overhauled a quality field on the final turn in Saratoga Race Course’s $75,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes and drew away Monday to his third straight victory.
Trained by Kate Dalton and ridden by Bernie Dalton, African Oil went off as the 4.10-to-1 second pick in the Kiser, which was postponed from Thursday when a downpour drenched the upstate New York track and quickly turned a firm turf course to yielding.
Undeterred by the delay, the five-year-old French-bred gelding by Royal Applause (GB) galloped to the finish line as Selection Sunday drove through the stretch to get second money. The winner ran the Kiser’s 2 1/16 miles in 3:49.40 on firm turf.
Gil Johnston’s Syros, the 1.25-to-1 favorite, lathered up before the start and jumped out to a quick lead after Orchestra Leader broke on top. Dalton placed African Oil at the back of the seven-horse field through the early going.
Passing under the finish line for the second time, Stonelea Stable’s Balance the Budget took the lead, but Syros fought back, and Orchestra Leader rallied again to take the advantage at the next to last fence.
Dalton put African Oil into the race approaching the final turn and took the lead as the field bent toward the final fence. The veteran jockey kept African Oil in check over the fence, and the first-year competitor quickly drew away from his opponents.
“He’s a horse that likes to be held up, so I dropped him in [early],” jockey Dalton said. He said he feared African Oil would not fire after making a brief advance and then dropping back again to last at the third to last fence.
“But once I pulled him out and showed him a little bit of light at the second to last, he just came back on the bridle, and it was just a matter of not getting there too soon, which I nearly did,” Dalton said. “Once he gets to the front he kind of waits on another horse. When he felt another horse come up to him after the last, he just picked right back up again.”
While Dalton was giving African Oil congratulatory slaps on the shoulder approaching the finish line, Selection Sunday cut into the winning margin to 1 3/4 lengths but never was in danger of catching the winner.
Stone Farm’s Mandola closed late to take third money from Syros by a nose.
African Oil had two victories on the flat but appeared to sour on the racetrack game in his first 2015 start at Golden Gate Fields near San Francisco. Turned over to Kate Dalton, African Oil finished third in his first start over fences at the Queen’s Cup on April 25 and then won an Iroquois Steeplechase maiden hurdle by 11 3/4 lengths.
In his start prior to the Kiser, he won a Monmouth Park optional allowance hurdle by 4 1/2 lengths on June 19. The Kiser’s $45,000 first-place purse raised his 2015 earnings to $93,000 and placed him at the head of the class among this year’s novices.