OCEANPORT – Trainer Frank Russo finally found the extra half-furlong he has been looking for with Belgrano, and the 8-year-old gelding took full advantage of it.
Able to sit a stalking mid-pack trip behind dueling speedsters The Critical Way and Carotari, Belgrano found a seam in mid-stretch and then was able to hold off the fast-charging Proven Strategies to score a neck victory in the $100,000 Select Stakes at Monmouth Park on June 19. The Father’s Day crowd of 20,687 was a season-high for the Jersey Shore thoroughbred track, according to a press release.
After being winless in five starts this year, the last four at five furlongs on the turf, Russo was confident coming into the five-and-a-half-furlong turf feature because of that added distance.
Belgrano finished four-and-one-quarter-lengths behind The Critical Way when the latter won the Get Serious Stakes at Monmouth Park on May 22, but turned the tables on the 2-1 second choice in the field of 11.
The winning time over a firm turf going was 1:02.12
“The extra half furlong made all the difference,” said Russo. “We have been waiting for a five-and-a-half-furlong grass race after his last four races were at five furlongs. He is a closing sprinter. He needs that little extra distance to do what he does. At five furlongs if there is any disorder in the race it’s hard to get up if you are a closer like he is.”
The Critical Way and Carotari, the 13-10 favorite, ripped through early fractions of :21.97 for the opening quarter and :44.38 to the half.
Jockey Jorge Vargas Jr., who had Belgrano in fifth on the rail then, eased outside slightly in mid-turn and then found room between the tiring duo of The Critical Way and Carotari in mid-stretch.
Proven Strategies closed for second, one-and-a-quarter-lengths ahead of High Limit Room, as The Critical Way and Carotari finished off the board.
“He loves five-and-a-half furlongs,” said Vargas, who celebrated his first Father’s Day with his 19-day-old daughter, Camilla, in the winner’s circle. “Coming out of the chute you can feel he is not forcing things and is able to get into a good stride and get comfortable. He can be fast, but going five furlongs the turn is right there and it seems to hurt him just a little bit. But going five-and-a-half he has time to get into a nice rhythm.
“I knew there was a lot of speed in here. I was where I wanted to be. I hustled him a little bit to keep in contact with the speed. Once I got there I was happy with my position. I know the two horses that were on the front dueling will give a little bit in the stretch, especially with that extra half-furlong. I wasn’t panicking. I found my room in the stretch and went through it. I had plenty of horse.”
A gelded son of War Front owned by Peace Sign Stables, Belgrano has now won a stakes race at Monmouth Park for three straight years. It was his ninth victory in 41 career starts and he improved to 5 for 13 at five-and-a-half-furlongs on the grass.
Belgrano paid $18.40 to win.