SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Burnishing the “Graveyard of Favorites” lore, Laoban went to the front at the start and never looked back en route to a shocking 27-1 upset of Saturday’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy at historic Saratoga Race Course before a crowd of 38,376.
Laoban was expected to set the pace in the $600,000 race – named for the horse who beat Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers at 100-1 – but it was expected he would eventually be set upon by the more accomplished members of the field and give up the ghost. Laoban had, after all, squandered leads in the Grade 3 Gotham, Grade 1 Blue Grass and Grade 3 Dwyer already, and he was arguably facing his worthiest opponents to date in Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner Creator, Belmont runner-up Destin, Belmont fourth-place finisher Governor Malibu, and four-time Grade 2 winner Mohaymen.
But nobody could get to Laoban, and the Uncle Mo colt persevered to garner his first career victory while dashing the hopes of many who played the day’s Pick 6 with a $502,797 carryover. Mohaymen, the 7-5 favorite, stumbled badly out of the gate, while Laoban broke without incident and was off to the races under Jose Ortiz through fractions of 24.56, 49.07 and 1:12.46 seconds.
Destin and Governor Malibu chased throughout and loomed menacingly in the stretch, but Laoban held firm to prove best by 1 ¼ lengths, as Governor Malibu edged Destin by a neck for second. It was another 4 ¼ lengths back to Mohaymen.
Race Me Home and Creator completed the order of finish in what is considered the key local prep for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes on August 27.
Laoban, trained by Eric Guillot, was notching his first career victory after seven defeats, the most recent a fifth-place finish in the Dwyer three weeks earlier. He ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.39 seconds and paid $56.00 to win as the rank outsider.
“The trainer had a lot of faith in the horse,” said Ortiz. “I’d never previously ridden the horse, but he broke great and they let me go easy enough. He was relaxed, pulling me a little bit with his ears prickling and when I asked him to go by the quarter-pole he really took off.”
Laoban unseated Ortiz while returning to be unsaddled and was briefly loose, but apprehended safely at the finish line as a chagrined Ortiz jogged back to remount. “We were coming into the turn on the gallop out, and when he switched to the right lead he stumbled and I came off. I’m okay though.”
Perhaps the least surprised person in the building was Guillot.
“I’ve always known the horse had talent, from Day 1,” explained the irrepressible Guillot. “And he was very, very physically immature. He’s a monster, he’s 17.1 hands. I’ve been shipping him across the country the last six, seven races, and when he got to the Preakness, he really didn’t like the mud, he stumbled in the gate, and didn’t like it in his face. I freshened him up, but he was too fresh for the Dwyer. I thought, ‘All the speed’s across town tomorrow, in the Haskell. I’m going to take a shot…we don’t dance to elevator music. We dance to Zydeco. Who wants to run in a maiden?”