By Tod Marks
Talk about a wake-up call. Riverdee Stable and Ten Strike Racing’s Awakened, sent off at 6-1 under Tom Garner, rallied from ninth to first to capture Wednesday’s Grade 1 $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard hurdle stakes by a length over a gutsy Jimmy P. The victory was the first stakes score for Awakened and the first Grade 1 for his ownership.
Trained by Hall of Fame conditioner Jack Fisher, the six-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Curlin lagged near the back of the field of 10, saving ground on the inside, for the first mile and a half of the 2 ⅜-mile route. At the 2 mile mark, Tom Garner still had his mount in sixth as Upland Flats Racing’s West Newton, with Stephen Mulqueen, continued to set the pace as he had since the flag drop. Though West Newton remained on top, most of the field stayed in close contention, with Madaket Racing and Paul and Molly Willis’ Jimmy P, Irv Naylor’s recent Jonathan Kiser novice stakes winner, McTigue, Keystone Thoroughbreds’ Noah and the Ark, and Hudson River Farms’ L’Imperator taking turns breathing down the leader’s neck.
Heading up the backside the second time around the course, West Newton held a half-length advantage, but as the pace quickened and the field headed to the far turn, the leader began to falter as Noah and the Ark, under Harry Beswick, and Jimmy P, with Danny Mullins aboard, dueled for supremacy. At that point, L’Imperator, with Parker Hendriks, made his move on the outside with McTigue, and Gerard Galligan, gaining ground behind Jimmy P.
Straightening for home, Jimmy P was on top as McTigue drew nearer, but while those two dueled on the outside, Awakened launched his bid on the far inside, accelerating quickly as his two foes continued to dig in gamely. At the wire it was Awakened by a length over Jimmy P, with McTigue a neck behind in third.
For Awakened, it was his first stakes win, though he signaled his readiness for a big effort with a game second to McTigue in the Kiser, finishing 3 ¾ lengths behind. Under the Sheppard’s handicap conditions, McTigue picked up three pounds following his win in the Kiser while Awakened got a seven-pound drop in the weights. The winner carried 146 pounds.
After the race, Fisher was interviewed by the NYRA press office and had this to say:
“I was pretty confident, just because I knew he’d like the distance and I knew he’d like the ground being firm. I thought he was too far back and it would be tough to get through, but knowing here it opens up in the stretch so he could just wait. It is what it is. You take what you can get. I thought he’d run well. I thought he needed the last race. It was a little bit short and the added distance he would like.”