Rosbrian Farm’s established star Optimus Prime and rising star Markhan signaled their readiness for Saratoga’s hurdle races with impressive victories in Parx Racing’s two $25,000 flat races for hurdlers on Monday.
Both of George and Mandy Mahoney’s Rosbrian runners are trained by Ricky Hendriks and were ridden by Ross Geraghty. Both were favored in their divisions, with Optimus Prime going off at 2.10-to-1 and Markhan at 9-to-5 based on his five overseas flat victories.
Optimus Prime, who made his U.S. debut last year with a victory in Saratoga’s New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) and is currently the National Steeplechase Association’s top-rated hurdler, paid $6.20 to win.
Markhan scored his maiden victory over fences at the Iroquois Steeplechase in his final start for top Irish trainer Gordon Elliott and paid $5.60 to win at the suburban Philadelphia track.
Hendriks credited his Morning Star Farm staff for applying the polish to the winners’ preparations, and with good reason. He and George Mahoney were in Florida for five days preceding the races. (The trainer boated a tarpon.)
Optimus Prime and Markhan boated two wins that should set them up well for their Saratoga races, first Markhan is an allowance hurdle on July 17 and Optimus Prime eight days later in the A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1).
Optimus Prime, coming off an easy victory in the Virginia Gold Cup’s David Semmes Memorial (Gr. 2) on May 4, drew into the tougher division, with Mark Buyck Jr.’s Grade 1 winner Show Court and accomplished flat horse Belisarius among his opponents.
Whitman’s Poetry took the early lead but owner-trainer Jonathan Sheppard’s Wigwam Baby swept to the lead after a half-mile of the 1 ½-mile race on firm turf. Optimus Prime, in midfield early, gradually moved forward on the run down the backstretch and moved for the lead on the final turn.
Wigwam Baby, beginning to tire, ran with Optimus Prime for a few strides but could not match the winner’s pace. Belisarius mounted a challenge in the early stretch but soon faded. Alone at the furlong pole, Optimus Prime received a hand ride from Geraghty to the finish line and won by three lengths.
Whitman’s Poetry finished second, a half-length ahead of Irv Naylor’s Elucidation, a Virginia Gold Cup allowance hurdle winner. Wigwam Baby finished fourth in a full field of 10 starters. Optimus Prime ran the 1 ½ miles in 2:36 2/5.
Markhan showed off an explosive acceleration in his victory in the second division. Bullet Star set the early pace with Boss Man, while Markhan was well back before gradually moving forward on the backstretch run. He was fifth with a quarter-mile remaining before exploding to the lead and topping the field by two lengths a furlong later.
Like Optimus Prime, he came home under no pressure and won by 3 ½ lengths in 2:39 3/5 for the 1 ½-mile distance.
Ho-Dee Boy Stable’s Gotta Get Away, who has been running regularly at Parx and Monmouth Park, finished second, 1 ½ lengths ahead of owner-trainer Kathy Neilson’s Soluble. Carrington Holding’s Boss Man finished fourth, a neck farther back in a capacity field of 10.