Virsito, well placed on the inside by reigning champion jockey Paddy Young, advanced into contention entering Saratoga Race Course’s stretch, seized the lead shortly after the final fence, and held safe Charminster for a neck victory in Wednesday’s $65,000 optional allowance claiming hurdle.
The Elkstone Group’s Bodie Island finished third, 1 1/4 lengths farther back, and El Season was fourth in a field of seven.
Owned by Sheila J. Williams and Andre Brewster, Virsito went off at 3.65-to-1 and ran the optional claimer’s 2 1/16 miles in 3:52.89 on a firm inner turf course. The victory gave trainer Jack Fisher the undisputed lead in the year’s trainer standings and marked a remarkable comeback from the Dynaformer gelding’s last start, when he was pulled up before the final fence in the $150,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) on May 10.
Virsito’s presence in the Nashville race was a clear indication that Fisher believed he had come back well from a long respite dating back to a Saratoga optional claimer score in August 2012, and Saratoga bettors took him at his word, making Virsito the co-second choice.
Dr. David Richardson’s Harrods Creek, a Saratoga stakes winner on the flat who won his maiden victory over fences at Parx Racing on July 1, went off as the 1.65-to-1 favorite, and jockey Ross Geraghty placed him just off the pace of Bill Pape’s El Season, a two-time winner this year in starter allowances.
Harrods Creek began to tire near the end of the backstretch, and current leading jockey Willie McCarthy started to scrub on El Season approaching the final fence. By then, Young had moved Virsito into second, and Irv Naylor’s Charminster was surging under Carol-Ann Sloan.
El Season landed first over the last, closely followed by Charminster and then Virsito. Benefiting from his inside position and a strong jump at the last, Virsito grabbed the lead and held sway over Charminster, who was making his first start in more than a year and finished gamely. Harrods Creek, who was bumped on the final run down the backstretch, finished sixth.