Benefitting from a clean inside trip, Sheila Williams’ and Northwoods Stable’s Special Skills moved to the lead nearing Saratoga Race Course’s furlong pole and drew clear to a two-length victory in Wednesday’s $70,000 handicap hurdle.
Sue Sensor’s Top Striker, the 9-to-5 favorite in a field of eight, finished second, and Armata Stables’ Rudyard K finished third, a half-length farther back. Bruce Smart Jr.’s Orchestra Leader, who set the pace into the stretch, finished fourth in a photo-finish over Beverly R. Steinman’s Perfect Union.
Trained by Jack Fisher and ridden by Paddy Young, Special Skills completed the handicap’s 2 1/16 miles in 3:54.09 on firm turf.
Darren Nagle took Orchestra Leader to the front at the break, with Perfect Union and Top Striker in the second wave while Special Skills placed himself toward the back early. As Rudyard K moved into second position at the fourth fence, Special Skills moved forward and waited patiently in fourth position.
The six-year-old Bernstein gelding moved into the second spot on the final run down the backstretch. Bernie Dalton asked Top Striker to run on the final turn, and Young tipped Special Skills out slightly as the field approached the furlong pole.
As Orchestra Leader weakened, Special Skills quickly drew clear by a length at the furlong pole and gradually increased his advantage under moderate encouragement from Young.
Special Skills, a two-time winner last year, most recently had finished third in Saratoga’s Aug. 3 handicap, 8 1/4 lengths behind Top Striker, who was beaten a nose by Dr. Skip after a stretch-long battle.