HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - After going six months and six starts without a victory, there was only one place Crossed Sabres Farm’s Lochte could fittingly return to the winner’s circle: Gulfstream Park. The 5-year-old gelding displayed a strong turn of foot, reminiscent of that which he used to win the 2014 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G1), to capture the $75,000 Mr. Steele Stakes on a mile turf course Sunday afternoon.
“I feel like I keep repeating myself,” winning trainer Marcus Vitali said, “but he’s definitely a horse for course. He loves Gulfstream.”
Lochte, a five-time winner at Gulfstream, had not won since taking an upper-level allowance at Tampa in March but was entering off a strong third-place finish in the Cliff Hanger (G3) at Monmouth Park on Aug. 23, a race in which Vitali said, “the trip just didn’t develop for him.”
On Sunday, things went entirely Lochte’s way, as the gelding was set up well by a quick early pace. The son of Medaglia d’Oro initially settled toward the back of the nine-horse field, as Padilla and Storming Inti set the tone with a sharp half-mile in :45.95 seconds. Miller Racing’s Golden Rifle, fresh off a victory in Gulfstream’s Eight Miles East Stakes on Aug. 8, sat just off the dueling pair, alongside Grupo 7C Racing Stable’s Siete C. There was a gap of four lengths to the rest of the field, and Lochte, under Matthew Rispoli, found himself at the head of that group, until Rispoli let him loose on the outside at the 3/8 pole. At the top of the stretch, Padilla shook loose from Storming Inti, but Lochte was locked in with dead aim on the leader. He quickly took over and drew off to a comfortable 4 ¼-length victory with a final time of 1:34.23.
“I told Matt, ‘He’s going to explode, but every time he explodes, it’s into traffic,’” Vitali said.“He had a good trip. It was a wide trip, but it was a good trip. It was a clear trip. He was lying where he was supposed to be. It’s all about the trip, trip, trip on the turf, and I think he had a good trip, and he beat some nice horses.”
The seasoned veteran also proved Sunday that, although he is getting older, he still has a few tricks up his sleeve, as he streaked to his first win in eight career starts at a mile.
“He never won going a mile before today,” Vitali said. “So to speak, he broke his maiden! He’s getting a little older, but he’s also getting a little wiser. He’s doing well, and if everything keeps going the way it’s been going, we’ll see a lot more of Lochte this year.”
Lochte’s victory capped an excellent weekend for Vitali and Rispoli, who also teamed up to win Saturday’s co-featured Groomstick Stakes with Valid ($3.60) and Saturday’s ninth race with Palace Gate ($16.20). Vitali also had success with his recent claims, as Claiming Victory and Dreams Cut Short each earned stakes placings in their first starts for the Vitali barn. Claiming Victory ($18.60, $10.80) was the runner-up in Saturday’s Panama City Stakes, while Dreams Cut Short ($7.60) was third in the Mr. Steele, two lengths behind Padilla ($5.20, $3.80). Both runners were claimed out of races at Saratoga in August.
“I made some nice claims at Saratoga,” Vitali said. “I sent [assistant Jennifer Young] for six weeks and we picked up some new acquisitions, and they seem to be working out well so far.”
Golden Rifle, the second choice in the field, was fourth in the Mr. Steele, followed by Starship Zorro. Gala Award, Father of Science, Storming Inti and Siete C completed the order of finish.