Zanjabeel solidified his position atop the National Steeplechase Association’s championship ladder on Thursday with a hard-fought victory over a resurgent Hinterland in Belmont Park’s $175,000 Lonesome Glory Handicap (Gr. 1).
The 2 1/2-mile Lonesome Glory was Zanjabeel’s second Grade 1 victory of the year, following his easy five-length score in the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois at Nashville on May 12 and increased his 2018 earnings to $265,500. He has finished no worse than second in his five U.S. starts.
Owned by Rosbrian Farm and Meadow Run Farm, Zanjabeel would have no easy time in the Lonesome Glory, for which he was third in the weights at 156 pounds, two behind Clarcam, also owned by Rosbrian and Meadow Run, and Rosbrian’s Optimus Prime, winner of Saratoga Race Course’s $175,000 New York Turf Writers Cup Handicap (Gr. 1) on Aug. 23.
Irish-based jockey Jack Kennedy, who rode Zanjabeel in his U.S. debut last fall in Far Hills’ Foxbrook Champion Hurdle for novices, received the call from trainer Ricky Hendriks after Ross Geraghty remained on Optimus Prime.
Clarcam, trained by leading Irish horseman Gordon Elliott, went to the lead and set a moderate pace under Jack Doyle, with Optimus Prime close to his pace and Zanjabeel flowing easily over his fences in third or fourth position.
Clarcam retained his lead at the last fence, located on Belmont’s backstretch, and briefly opened a daylight lead on the final turn. But Kennedy was moving Zanjabeel forward on the outside, and they seized the lead early in Belmont’s stretch. Meanwhile, Gregg Ryan’s Three Kingdoms launched a big move on the turn as Clarcam weakened.
Three Kingdom’s move fell short, but Sonny Via’s Hinterland accelerated from the back of the field under Sean McDermott and was closing ground on Zanjabeel with a sixteenth-mile remaining. McDermott was getting everything from Hinterland, and Kennedy, sensing the challenge, went to work on Zanjabeel.
As the finish line approached, Zanjabeel kept his challenger at bay and won by 1 3/4 lengths as the 1.70-to-1 favorite. Jack Fisher-trained Hinterland finished second at 33-to-1, a neck ahead of Optimus Prime. Three Kingdoms finished fourth.
The five-year-old Zanjabeel ran the Lonesome Glory’s 2 1/2 miles in 4:50.24 on yielding turf. “I was a little concerned with the ground coming in,” said Hendriks, who extended his lead in the trainer standings by wins and purse earnings. “You never know which horses are going to take to the soft going, but usually with the European breeding they like the softer turf,” he said.
Zanjabeel had been given the summer off after his Iroquois victory, with the Lonesome Glory and the Far Hills Races’ $450,000 Grand National (Gr. 1) on Oct. 20 on his dance card.
“We were tickled to death with Zanjabeel coming off the layoff,” Hendriks said. “You just never know how horses are going to run coming off the layoff. We’ve only had him for about a year, so we don’t know him as well as some of the other horses, but he ran a super race.”
Hendriks also is getting to know Optimus Prime, who came into his Pennsylvania yard in May and made his first U.S. start in the New York Turf Writers. “Optimus Prime ran a very good race,” he said. “He ran his race. He picked up a lot of weight coming off his win at Saratoga, which when you’re getting that close towards the finish, that probably cost him a little bit.”
Kennedy said he was impressed both with how Zanjabeel has developed and how he ran in the Lonesome Glory. “He seems to have improved since the last time I rode him a year ago at Far Hills,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it when I went out for the parade at how strong he’s getting.”
In the race, Zanjabeel ran maturely behind the early pace. “I had a lovely position,” Kennedy said. “He jumped great and traveled very well. He kicked on well off a steady pace. He did everything very well.”