Jockey Michael Mitchell is prospering this summer at the flat tracks, and Bernie Dalton—always a force in the summer—isn’t doing badly, either.
Mitchell, the English-born jockey who plied his trade in New Zealand before landing in the U.S. last year, continued his productive summer season on Thursday with a victory aboard Thomas Hulfish’s Swellelegent in Monmouth Park’s $35,000 ratings handicap.
The pick of Monmouth’s bettors, Swellelegent went off as the 1.30-to-1 favorite and paid $4.60 to win after prevailing by a nose over Rosbrian Farm’s late-charging Cheers to Us, the 7-to-2 second betting choice.
Dalton struck for two victories in a split maiden hurdle with horses trained by his wife, Kate. Virginia Lazenby’s Dancin in the Rain danced on the lead to an easy victory at 8.10-to-1, and 7-to-5 favorite Belisarius scored a confident two-length win for owners Gary Barber, Brous Stable, and Wachtel Stable.
Monmouth, the gem of the New Jersey Shore, staged three jump races on its eight-race Thursday program.
In the ratings handicap, Dalton rode Sarah Sheila Stables’ Wild Dynaformer and gave every indication that he wanted to sweep the afternoon’s jump races. He established the lead from the start on Monmouth’s backstretch, and Wild Dynaformer jumped well while his jockey choked down the pace.
Mitchell found early position in the 10-horse field before backing off the pace slightly while Gillian Johnston’s Ack Feisty and Irv Naylor’s Stormy Alex pressed Wild Dynaformer’s pace. Swellelegent, trained by Neil Morris, edged closer as the field passed the finish line the second time, and Mitchell signaled his six-year-old Pure Prize gelding that it was time to go as the field approached the last fence on Monmouth’s backstretch.
Swellelegent surged to the lead on the final turn, but Wild Dynaformer wasn’t finished, and Cheers to Us was moving forward under Ross Geraghty as the field entered the stretch. Swellelegent led by two lengths over Cheers to Us in midstretch, with Wild Dynaformer only a length farther back.
Mitchell said he was aware that he was going to have competition through the final furlong and kept his mount moving forward. Ricky Hendriks-trained Cheers to Us dug in and just missed by a nose in the photo finish. Wild Dynaformer also kept running and was 5 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Eve Ledyard’s Quarla, also trained by Hendriks, finished fourth.
Swellelegent, winner of a flat race for hurdlers at Suffolk Downs on July 8, was the ratings handicap’s 158-pound highweight and ran the 2 3/8-mile distance in 4:31.30 on firm turf.
The ratings handicap was Mitchell’s third consecutive feature-race victory. On July 30, he won Saratoga Race Course’s A. P. Smithwick Memorial (Gr. 1) aboard Mark Buyck’s Show Court, and two days later he was astride Carrington Holdings’ Boss Man for a win in a Saratoga allowance hurdle. Arch Kingsley Jr. trained both Saratoga winners.
The Daltons, based in Camden, S.C., along with Kingsley, have a reputation for racking up victories at Saratoga, including Diplomat’s win in last summer’s New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1).
Dancin in the Rain, a four-year-old Get Stormy gelding bred by his owner in Louisiana, went to the lead at the flag drop and jumped well as he set all the pace in the first $30,000 division of the maiden hurdle. He was never in trouble and drew away to win by 5 3/4 lengths in 4:27.66, the fastest time of the afternoon for the 2 3/8-mile distance. Sent to the starter at 8.10-to-1, Dancin in the Rain paid $18.20 for a $2 mutuel.
Christina Moseby’s Foxhall Drive, a 19.90-to-1 longshot, finished well to be second for trainer Jimmy Day. Storm Team, the 19-to-10 favorite, shadowed Dancin in the Rain and appeared ready to make a move but jumped awkwardly at the last fence. He made a modest move toward the leader on the turn but tired in the stretch to finish third.
In the second division, Riverdee’s Motivational set most of the pace until Belisarius took over on the last run down Monmouth’s backstretch. Ballybristol Farm’s Alshibaa, trained by Leslie Young, made a late run under Kieran Norris to be second, a neck ahead of Motivational.
An Irish-bred seven-year-old, Belisarius ran the 2 3/8-mile distance in 4:29.46.