Bruton Street-US’s Moscato closed relentlessly through Saratoga Race Course’s stretch to catch Optimus Prime in deep stretch and fought his way to a three-quarter-length victory in Thursday’s $100,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1).
Ridden by Michael Mitchell and trained by Jack Fisher, Moscato scored his second graded stakes victory of the pandemic-compressed jump racing season, after an 11-length romp in Middleburg Spring’s $50,000 Temple Gwathmey Handicap (Gr. 3) on June 13.
Benefiting from late money, Moscato went off as the Smithwick’s 1.70-to-1 favorite, narrowly ahead of Rosbrian Farm’s Optimus Prime at 1.95-to-1, and paid $5.40 to win. The Smithwick win gave Bruton Street and Fisher a sweep of Saratoga’s opening-week jump races after Snap Decision scored a deceptively easy 1 ½-length victory in Wednesday’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes.
Wendy Hendriks’ Surprising Soul, a Grade 1 winner last fall for trainer Ricky Hendriks, went to the early lead and set the pace despite nearly stumbling over the third fence. Jockey Ross Geraghty quickly righted Surprising Soul, and they continued to set the pace ahead of Sharon Sheppard’s Redicean and jockey Thomas Garner.
Well behind them in the back of the eight-hurdler field were Moscato and Optimus Prime, who was making his first start of the year for trainer Hendriks and was ridden for the first time by Darren Nagle.
Surprising Soul began to tire entering the backstretch for the final time, and Redicean jumped to the lead there. After the final fence on the backstretch, Garner attempted a breakaway with Redicean on the final turn, but Optimus Prime was moving effortlessly toward the leading group through the turn.
Fisher correctly perceived that Optimus Prime was going easily and that Moscato would have his work cut out for him. “I thought we were in serious trouble on the turn,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mitchell had to work to keep Moscato within striking distance. The leaders began to tire into the turn, “and we had to weave through a couple of horses,” he said.
Nagle rustled the reins near the three-sixteenths pole, and Optimus Prime swept to the lead just before the furlong pole, where Moscato was fourth, two lengths behind the new leader, and closing under a drive.
Mitchell pushed Moscato toward the finish line and gradually closed the margin on Optimus Prime. Under a vigorous hand ride, Moscato took the lead in the final 70 yards and was beginning to draw clear after hitting the line in 3:47.51 for the Smithwick’s 2 1/16 miles on firm turf. “His stamina kicked in, and really went well to the line and got his head in front at the right time,” Mitchell said.
Riverdee Stable’s Gibralfaro, also trained by Fisher, was always prominent and finished third, 2 ½ lengths behind Optimus Prime. Leslie Young-trained Redicean checked in fourth, and Irv Naylor’s Chief Justice ran evenly to finish fifth.
Fisher said that both Moscato and Snap Decision would be pointed toward Saratoga’s $100,000 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) on Thursday, Aug. 20.
With his second win of the year, Moscato leads the year’s standings with $90,000 in purse winnings. He was the novice champion in 2017, missed the 2018 season, and won last year’s edition of the Temple Gwathmey. A nine-year-old by Hernando, the British-bred gelding is from the prominent breeding operation of Kirsten Rausing.