HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Calling on the generous reserve of grit and determination that has defined his career, Jackson Bend overcame a little bobble at the start and a lack of racing room at the top of the stretch and willed his way to victory in Saturday’s $100,000 Hal’s Hope (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
The diminutive 4-5 favorite, who emerged as one of the country’s premier sprinters in 2011, got off to an impressive start for his 2012 campaign in the one-mile stakes, closing from far off the pace to score by a length under jockey John Velazquez.
“He stumbled leaving there, then had to sit there with nowhere to go until he found a place to run in the stretch, He’s got a tremendous heart. He’s very special,” trainer Nick Zito said. “He has the guts of a lion.”
Jackson Bend settled into stride quickly after a hesitant start, as Will’s Wildcat set the pace along the backstretch. The Zito trainee advanced along the rail on the far turn, only to be blocked by a wall of horses leaving the turn into the homestretch, forcing Velazquez to bide his time before swinging his mount outside to find room. Once clear, Jackson Bend kicked in powerfully to prevail over Sangaree, who also overcame a slow start to finish second under Rajiv Maragh.
“I’ve been watching replays of his races and he can be a little bad (at the start). He didn’t really stumble, but he didn’t break that well. I was sort of biding my time around the turn,” Velazquez said. “I didn’t know if I should go inside or outside. But then I took the easy way out and said, ‘I’ll just take him outside.’ It worked out great.”
Jackson Bend, who ran the mile in 1:38.19, earned $60,000 for owners Robert LaPenta and Fred Brei with his 8th victory in 23 starts. Cool Blue Red Hot, ridden by Manoel Cruz finished third, a neck behind Sangaree and four lengths clear of Soaring Empire, the 2011 Hal’s Hope winner who took a brief lead in the stretch before fading to fourth.
“He just got tired after 5 ½ months off. He hasn’t run in a long time. Julien said he felt good though. He was a little closer than I wanted but they were going slow. I was hoping for more pace in the race,” said Cam Gambolati, trainer of second-choice Soaring Empire. “As long as he comes out OK, we’ll race another day.”
Jackson Bend was a force on the 2010 Triple Crown trail, finishing third in the Preakness Stakes after runner-up finishes in the Wood Memorial and Fountain of Youth. The 5-year-old son of Hear No Evil has raced primarily in route races thereafter until Zito switched him back to one-turn races. Jackson Bend responded with a victory in the Forego (G1), a runner-up finish in the Kelso (G2) and a third-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup.
“I’m going to suggest to Mr. LaPenta that we keep him in races up to a mile. That’s what he’s happy doing. He ran so good to be third in the Preakness you could think he liked the distance, but I think that was just on class,” Zito said. “I’d like to take a shot at the Met Mile (at Belmont in May) with him. I’ve been second in it a couple times. We’ll probably run him here one more time.”