LEXINGTON, KY (April 16, 2016) – W.S. Farish’s homebred Eagle pulled away in the last 100 yards to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths over pacesetting Noble Bird to win the 86th running of the $200,000 Ben Ali (G3) for older horses, the first of four stakes on an 11-race Saturday afternoon program before 38,863 fans.
Saturday’s attendance was the largest Coolmore Day figure in track history and third-largest non-Breeders’ Cup mark at Keeneland. The record of 40,617 was established on Toyota Blue Grass Day on April 14, 2012, with the second-largest (39,722) coming on April 12, 2014, also a Toyota Blue Grass Day.
Trained by Neil Howard and ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., Eagle covered the 1 1/8 miles on a fast main track in 1:48.57 to win the Ben Ali.
It was the fifth victory in the race for Howard. His previous victories came with Jazz Club (1999), Horse of the Year Mineshaft (2003), Midway Road (2004) and Alumni Hall (2005). It was the first win in the race for Hernandez.
Noble Bird went right to the front under Julien Leparoux and led the field of eight through uncontested fractions of :23.58, :47.76 and 1:11.86.
In the run down the backstretch, Hernandez had Eagle next to the rail and steadily moved up from the back of the pack into third approaching the far turn. At the head of the stretch, Eagle tipped off the rail and went after Noble Bird, drawing even past the eighth pole before pulling away in the final sixteenth of a mile.
Eagle is a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Candy Ride (ARG) out of the Mineshaft mare Sea Gull. The Ben Ali win marked the first graded stakes victory for Eagle, who improved his record to 13-6-3-2 with earnings of $395,406. Saturday’s check was $120,000. He has won all three of his Keeneland races.
Eagle, sent off as the favorite, returned $6, $3 and $2.40. Noble Bird returned $4 and $3.60 with Breaking Lucky finishing 4 ¾ lengths back in third under Elvis Trujillo and paying $7.20 to show.
Doyouknowsomething finished fourth and was followed in order by Neck ‘n Neck, General a Rod, Hawaakom and J S Bach.
Quotes from the $200,000 Ben Ali (G3)
Will Farish (winning breeder and owner of Eagle)
“This is a horse (trainer) Neil (Howard) and I thought so much of, and he’s just getting better and better. Today he switched leads, he got through and it all worked.”
Neil Howard (winning trainer)
“It was a great ride and it was a great effort by the colt. He’s a result of what these people do on (Farish’s) Lane’s End Farm every day.”
Brian Hernandez Jr. (winning rider)
“We had a beautiful trip. Neil (Howard), Mr. Farish and the whole team did a great job having him ready for us. We got lucky and were able to follow the fence the whole way. When we turned for home, Noble Bird sprinted away from us, but our little horse dug in, laid his life on the line and ran him down. He had to run hard to run him down, but he got the job done for us.”
Julien Leparoux (rider of runner-up Noble Bird)
“He ran a huge race. The winner has been running all winter so he probably had a little edge fitness-wise. (Noble Bird) fought back and tried hard. We got pretty good fractions and he was comfortable and relaxed. I watched all his races and felt like you had to try and get along with him so I just wanted to be a passenger and get him to relax. He ran a big race.”
Elvis Trujillo (rider of third-place finisher Breaking Lucky)
“I had a perfect trip. Two horses went in front and we sat behind. He’s a pretty nice horse. He tried all the way. He ran very good.”
Flavien Prat (rider of fourth-place finisher Doyouknowsomething)
“He broke in the air, so after that I tried to save ground and stay on the inside. He still was running good. He’s just one pace, so it’s so much better for him if he’s right on the lead, but the way he broke we couldn’t get to the lead. But he still was running good.”