Rosbrian Farm’s Swansea Mile chose the perfect time to figure out American jump racing and collected his first U.S. victory when he pulled away in Saratoga Race Course’s stretch to score a 28.50-1 upset win in Thursday’s $150,000 A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1).
Robert Kinsley’s Modem, an unknown factor in his first American start, ran big to finish second, two lengths behind the winner. Flying Elvis Stable’s Diplomat, who took the lead after the last of eight fences, finished third, 14 3/4 lengths farther back.
Portrade, the 2016 New York Turf Writers Cup (Gr. 1) winner, finished fourth in a field of 10 after setting the early fractions.
Swansea Mile, who was deservedly the longest price on the board based on his past performances, ran the Smithwick Memorial’s 2 1/16 miles in 3:48.37 on turf rated as good under rainy skies and paid $59 to win.
The Smithwick provided a Saratoga double for jockey Michael Mitchell, who won Wednesday’s Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes aboard Mark W. Buyck’s Show Court.
Despite his odds, Swansea Mile filled the eye as he warmed up for the Smithwick. Trainer Ricky Hendriks, endowed with his strongest team in many years, has made the most of his opportunities and now is in second place by trainer purse winnings behind Jack Fisher.
Acquired by George Mahoney Jr.’s Rosbrian Farm last year, Irish-bred Swansea Mile showed promise in his first U.S. start, Belmont Park’s Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1), but regressed when seventh against novices in Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle and was pulled up in Montpelier’s Noel Laing Handicap.
He showed some improvement in his first 2017 start, a good second in the Steeplechase of Charleston’s featured optional allowance hurdle on April 8, but took another step back when a well-beaten fourth in the Temple Gwathmey (Gr. 3) behind division leader Scorpiancer.
Against horses he should have dominated, he weakened in the stretch to finish third in High Hope’s featured optional allowance hurdle in May. He did nothing to bolster confidence when seventh in his tightener, a Parx Racing flat race for hurdlers, on July 8.
But looks can tell the tale, and Swansea Mile had the look of a winner when he went to the starter for the Smithwick. Mitchell broke him sharply and took up a position at the back of the stalking cadre through the first 1 1/2 miles.
The Fields Stable’s Portrade was in his accustomed spot on the lead early with jockey Gus Dahl, while Stonelea Stables’ Balance the Budget and Mark Watts kept them company. Portrade backed off slightly and ceded the lead to Balance the Budget after the sixth fence in front of the Saratoga clubhouse. At that fence, Buttonwood Farm’s All the Way Jose stumbled over the obstacle and dumped apprentice jockey Keri Brion.
As the field approached the last, Bernie Dalton kicked Flying Elvis Stable’s Diplomat into gear, and they jumped to the lead over that fence. Mitchell applied moderate pressure to Swansea Mile, and they ranged up to seize the lead early in the stretch. Modem and jockey Jack Doyle joined them but were unable to make any progress on the leader.
Mahoney, a member of the National Steeplechase Association’s Board of Directors, led Swansea Mile into a Saratoga winner’s circle well populated with relatives and friends of Hendriks, the well-liked Pennsylvania-based trainer.
“We took a shot and got in with a light weight [140 pounds, at the bottom of the handicap], and he ran a great race,” Hendriks said. “Mikey [Mitchell] gave him a wonderful ride. He’s a great horse and we’re lucky to have him.
“We ran him at Parx just to get a good flat race for him and have Mikey get a feel for him. He’s an excellent rider. He gallops him [Swansea Mile] every day. He knew what he was doing today. He did a great job.
“We’ll have to come back for the Turf Writers [on August 24],” the trainer said. “It’s very hard to win a Grade 1 over jumps; we only have about five or six races. Hopefully we’ll keep him in one piece, and we’ll be back in about a month.”