Francesco Clemente Makes the Grade in $200,000 McKnight (G3)
Among Five Graded-Stakes on Pegasus World Cup (G1) Undercard
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Peter Brant’s Irish-bred Francesco Clemente, beaten a neck in his North American graded-stakes debut in November, swept to the lead on the far outside in mid-stretch and powered home a popular winner of Saturday’s $200,000 William L. McKnight (G3) presented by Florida Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Association at Gulfstream Park.
The 57th running of the McKnight for 4-year-olds and up going 1 ½ miles on the turf was the second of seven graded-stakes worth $5.2 million in purses on a blockbuster 13-race program headlined by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) presented by Baccarat, $1 million 1/ST BET Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and $500,000 TAA Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G2).
Francesco Clemente ($6.40), favored at 2-1 in a field of 11, completed the distance in 2:22.64 over a firm course to give jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. his fourth victory of the afternoon including impressive debut winner Speak Easy in a second race maiden special weight for 3-year-olds.
Ortiz and Francesco Clemente were unhurried trailing all but 35-1 long shot and 2023 McKnight runner-up Value Engineering as F Five led the way through a quarter-mile in 23.88 seconds and a half in 47.99 pressed to his outside by Grade 3 winner Cellist. The top two were joined by Verstappen midway around the turn after going a mile in 1:36.22 when Ortiz gave Francesco Clemente his cue.
A 5-year-old son of Dubawi that ran second in the 1 ½-mile Hollywood Turf Cup (G2) Nov. 24 at Del Mar, Francesco Clemente began to gain on the leaders racing widest of all on the turn and came with a steady drive through the lane to take the lead inside the sixteenth pole and edge clear.
Starting Over, sent off at 40-1, edged F Five by a neck for second, with Cellist fourth and Verstappen fifth. Palazzi, Grand Sonata, Rockemperor, Red Run and Catch That Party were scratched.
$200,000 William L. McKnight (G3) Quotes
Winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. (Francesco Clemente): “He had everything against him and he still won easy. He opened up on the end. He missed the break, tight turns, short stretch and he still got there. I moved wide early to try and get him there, (get him) right in the track. He made it look easy.”
On the break – “He always miss[es] the break. He missed the break with me, he missed the break with [Umberto] Rispoli too, so I was ready for that. So I tried to travel with him and he was responding, every time I asked him. In the middle of the race, he was responding and he kept responding at the end. I was very impressed.”
Winning trainer Chad Brown (Francesco Clemente): “He ran great. He did go wide that last turn, but he saved so much ground in the first two turns that you are able to lose some significant ground in the last turn if you have a horse that is good enough, and he is.”
“He’s a serious horse. We haven’t been able to run him that much. He was an unlucky loser the last time out in California. He had a really troubled trip. That’s horse racing. Particularly when you are running mile and a half races on turf, you are trip-dependent a lot of times. Thankfully, he was good enough to go past all those horses and power away. An exciting horse.”