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Agate Road got up in time to win the 2023 Pilgrim Stakes (G2) at Belmont at the Big A, a “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, to give trainer Todd Pletcher & jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. their 3rd straight wins in this race.
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Agate Road provided Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. with their third straight collaborative score in Wednesday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Pilgrim when making a sweeping wide move in the stretch to capture the 45th running of the 1 1/16-mile test for juveniles over the outer turf at Belmont at the Big A.
Pletcher and Ortiz, Jr. found previous Pilgrim success with Annapolis  and Major Dude . In capturing the Pilgrim, a “Win And You’re In” event, Agate Road earned an automatic entry into the Grade 1, $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on November 3 at Santa Anita.
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Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable’s Agate Road, a bay son of Quality Road, entered from a triumphant turf debut on September 2 at Saratoga Race Course, where he was placed toward the rear, went seven wide exiting the far turn and avoided a traffic jam when ninth at the stretch call, but was able to secure a neck victory. This came following his first career start, which was a late-closing second beaten a nose to Trade Imbalance in an off-the-turf maiden special weight on August 5 going one mile at Saratoga.
Breaking from post 2, Agate Road was seventh-of-8 entering the first turn as graded stakes-placed Spirit Prince, who broke from the outermost post, cleared the field and took command through an opening quarter-mile in 23.51 seconds and a half-mile in 47.34 over the firm footing with Get Spooled in second to the outside of Tifareeh in third.
Around the far turn, Ortiz, Jr. tipped his charge wide and off the rail with Spirit Prince still to catch through three-quarters in 1:11.64. Spirit Prince maintained his advantage through the stretch drive, but was getting leg weary as ground saving runners Liam’s Journey and Fulmineo launched menacing bids with Agate Road mowing down rivals through the lane. Under Ortiz, Jr.’s left-handed encouragement, Agate Road took command at the sixteenth pole, drifting in slightly as Liam’s Journey took up, but proved superior and won by 1 1/4 lengths in a final time of 1:42.83.
Fulmineo, who was pinched between rivals in late stretch, nabbed second from Liam’s Journey and Spirit Prince, who dead-heated for third. Triple Espresso, B D Saints, Tifareeh, and Get Spooled completed the order of finish. Tropandhagen was scratched.
There was a general stewards’ inquiry into the stretch run as well as a claim of foul launched by Flavien Prat, the rider of Fulmineo, against Ortiz, Jr. for alleged interference in the stretch, which was ultimately dismissed.
Ortiz, Jr., who piloted Agate Road to his maiden score, said his horse showed improvement from the gate.
“He broke much better today than last time – that was the key,” Ortiz, Jr. said. “After that, I just bided my time to go. Before the quarter-pole, I hit the clear outside. I went a little wide, maybe four or five wide and he kept coming. Last time, he had too much to do and he still got there. That gave me a lot of confidence. It was a beautiful trip and I just lost a couple lengths in the last turn and I was comfortable with that. I trust the trainer– he told me the horse was ready.”
2023 Breeders’ Cup
Prat stood by his claim of foul and said Agate Road halted Fulmineo’s momentum. Fulmineo, a son of Bolt d’Oro, entered from a second out triumph going the Pilgrim distance on September 2 over the Colonial Downs turf.
“I was going to make a run. I was making a run and when he saw me, he squeezed everybody out inside of him and I took the worst of it on soft ground like this. From what I felt, it was the outside horse,” Prat said. “We had a good trip. We saved ground the whole way. I wanted to be close up, but the pace was pretty strong, so I gave him a chance and he made a good run.”
Manny Franco, the rider aboard Liam’s Journey, said his horse reacted to the onrushing Agate Road in deep stretch.
“When the winner blew by me, he was drifting a little bit and my horse just shied from him and I grabbed as soon as possible,” Franco said. “I had a beautiful trip. I saved all the ground, tipped out in the stretch and he gave me all he had.”
After banking $110,000 in victory, Agate Road over doubled his lifetime earnings to $188,750 through a 3-2-0-1 record. He returned $6.90 for a $2 win wager as the post time favorite.
Bred in Kentucky by CHC, Inc., Agate Road was bought for $650,000 at the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He is out of the Grade 1-winning Gemologist mare Yellow Agate, who captured the 2016 Frizette at Belmont Park.
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