SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Moribund on the tote board at 36-1, trainer Robert “Butch” Reid Jr.’s capable sprinter Poseidon’s Warrior held little traction in the minds of handicappers Saturday alongside fearsome Classic winner Shackleford and blazingly fast Emcee in the Grade 1, $400,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga Race Course.
Yet when the field moved inside the eighth pole for the stretch drive, Shackleford was laboring at the back of the field of eight, Emcee was wilting under the withering pressure of Rothko, and Poseidon’s Warrior was flying up on the outside. Drifting out under his terrific momentum, the 4-year-old son of Speightstown reached the front strides before the finish line.
Justin Phillip, also in full flight late, missed by a neck in second, and it was another neck back to Emcee.
On a track labeled muddy, Poseidon’s Warrior gave Reid the first Grade 1 victory of his career, running the six-furlong Vanderbilt in 1:09.40. The winner paid $74.50 for a $2 win bet.
Reid pulled off another stunner last fall when his Afleet Again, fourth in the 2010 Travers, won the Breeders’ Cup Marathon at Churchill Downs and paid a whopping $85.20 at odds of 41-1.
“This was a race we’ve been looking at for a long time,” said Reid, who is based at Parx Racing. “He was a notch below the top horses last year. If we had known Shackleford was coming, we’d probably have made other plans.”
Reid brought Poseidon’s Warrior to Saratoga last year, but the colt was no match for Caleb’s Posse, Uncle Mo and Justin Phillip in the Grade 1 Foxwoods King’s Bishop.
After a 3-year-old campaign in which he earned $244,937, Poseidon’s Warrior got the winter off and was eighth in his comeback, a five-furlong turf sprint. In the Mr. Prospector at Monmouth, the colt ran fifth behind the fast Royal Currier in a good effort, and Reid set his sights on a return to the Spa.
When the gate opened, Shackleford, off his scintillating score in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park , was pushed to get involved early from his inside post.
Emcee rocketed out to a fast first quarter-mile in 21.99 seconds and a half in 44.61 with Rothko tracking a length back in hot pursuit.
Poseidon’s Warrior settled off the leaders in fourth under 19-year-old jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who scored the second Grade 1 win of his career – and second of the meet along with the Grade 1 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks – in the Vanderbilt.
“I told the jockey to ride him out of the gate if he wanted because sometimes in New York they’ll give you the lead, but when he saw the others go out he did the right thing and laid back off them and let him settle,” Reid said.
Shackleford, tucked on the rail, began a steady retreat on the turn and when the field turned for home, Rothko drew even with Emcee and then began to fade when the leader resisted his attack. Ortiz launched his winning bid and Ramon Dominguez was close behind on Justin Phillip.
“When I turned for home, I asked my horse, and he had something,” Ortiz said. “I tried to do my best in the stretch, and he just kept going.”
Emcee was followed by Hamazing Destiny, Rothko, Jersey Town , Sloane Ranger and Shackleford.
The $240,000 winner’s share of the purse pushed Poseidon’s Warrior’s lifetime earnings to $634,337. He now has seven wins in 17 starts.
Shackleford’s trainer, Dale Romans, said he would just dismiss the effort by Shackleford and continue with plans to run in the Grade 1, $500,000 Forego at seven furlongs on September 1.
“Soon as he dropped his head, it was like he was spinning his wheels,” Romans said. “I asked [jockey John Velazquez] if he wanted to ride him back, and he said, ‘Keep me on. Just draw a line through the race. He never ran.’ We’ll try ‘em again in the Forego, but I don’t think I’ll ever run him back on a sloppy racetrack, no matter the circumstances.”
If Shackleford comes back for the Forego, he just might get a rematch with Poseidon’s Warrior.
“He’s earned the [right] to stay here the rest of the month,” Reid said of the winner.