Thunder Moccasin powers home for Hutcheson triumph
By Laura Villasana
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL- Favored Thunder Moccasin thundered down the stretch to pull away to a 6 ¾-length score in the 7-furlong $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes (G2) over a good track, scoring his first graded stakes victory in his second start and remaining undefeated.
“He broke half a step slow but it worked out perfectly because I was able to get great position outside of the other speed. I wanted to make a quick move on the turn to try to surprise the other horse and it worked,” jockey John Velazquez said. “He runs so hard every step of the way.”
Il Villano, second-choice at 4-1, easily settled into the lead from the gate under jockey Elvis Trujillo, while longshot Wildcat Creek took second. Thunder Moccasin, the 1-5 favorite quickly passed Wildcat Creek and fought to grab the lead from Il Villano, who sat on the inside. Thunder Moccasin easily moved ahead of Il Villano approaching the final turn. Velazquez looked back once and together they pulled away down the stretch.
Fractional times for the race were 23.34, 46.89, and 1:11.17, with a final time of 1:24.16.
In his career debut on December 24 over a fast main track in a 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight race, Thunder Moccasin set the pace, going wire-to-wire in 1.15:81. Second-place finisher Ender Knievel, third-place finisher Panthro, and fourth-place finisher Stealcase all won their next races out, now matched by Thunder Moccasin’s stakes victory.
“He’s a very talented colt,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “His first race was so impressive with the move he made we thought we’d take a shot and go right into the Hutcheson. The race came up just the way we talked about where we sat just off the five (Il Villano), a horse with more seasoning, and he handled it beautifully.”
In 2011, Pletcher sent Travelin Man to a second-place finish in the Hutcheson, bringing him back in the seven furlong Swale Stakes (G2) for a 2-length victory. He has a similar plan for Thunder Moccasin.
“If he comes back all right, the logical spot next would be the Swale (Mar. 10). Right now, my inclination is that he’ll be best staying in one-turn races,” Pletcher said.
The win with Thunder Moccasin in the Hutcheson marks the seventh time Pletcher has won the Hutcheson, with previous victories coming in a dead-heat in 2000, and five straight from 2003-2007. In 2011, Pletcher finished second in the Hutcheson with Travelin Man, who returned to win the Swale Stakes.
Velazquez and Pletcher are no strangers to the winner’s circle for the Hutcheson, having teamed up to win the race five times previously. The first time came in a dead-heat in 2000, while they won four-straight 2003-2006. Pletcher also won an additional Hutcheson in 2007.
The victory became career win no. 3,002 for Pletcher, who earlier in the card earned his 3,000th career victory when Triple Crown nominee Spring Hill Farm dominated the third race going wire-to-wire to remain undefeated and sent Majestic Number to victory in the race right after. He is also well on his way to his ninth-straight Gulfstream training title.
Quick Wit, who dropped to last out of the gate, past his rivals to take the third position heading into the final turn, contending with Il Villano down the stretch, with Il Villano holding on by a half-length for second.
“He ran well. The other horse (Thunder Moccasin) just went by me in hand,” Trujillo said of Il Villano.
Romans was happy with Quick Wit’s performance.
“He looked good. He just got shuffled back a little early but I thought he ran well,” Romans said.
Ever So Lucky, second-choice on the morning line at 2-1, was scratched the morning of the race by trainer Jonathan Sheppard. The Hall of Fame trainer instead opted for a potential run in the $150,000 Swale Stakes (G2) on March 10 for the graded stakes-placed colt’s 3-year-old debut.
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