ELMONT, NY – Donegal Racing’s Ballagh Rocks picked up the first stakes win of his career with a hard-fought score over even-money favorite Projected in the Grade 3, $300,000 Poker for 4-year-olds and up at Belmont Park.
Under Jose Lezcano, Ballagh Rocks settled close to the pace on the outside of Projected, while a frontrunning Catapult took the field of five through opening fractions of :23.03 and :46.12. Projected, ridden by Joel Rosario, was checked in the middle of the turn as Catapult gave up the lead, leaving Ballagh Rocks alone to seize the lead near the 1/4 pole.
Lezcano kept close tabs on Projected, fully regrouped and now charging down by the rail, and angled the Bill Mott trainee to the inside to hold off the favorite for a neck victory.
Off at 3-1, Ballagh Rocks completed the mile in 1:34.98.
“I had a terrific trip,” said Lezcano. “He really came into the race fit and in great shape today. I was able to stalk out a perfect trip, and in the lane, he just had a great run. Towards the wire, I knew the 2 horse (Projected) was close, but I was confident I had enough horse. I was just focused on riding through to the finish.”
The victory was the first in three stakes attempts for the 4-year-old colt by Stormy Atlantic, who finished a close fourth in the Grade 1 Makers 46 Mile in April and a troubled seventh in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on May 6. The win was the fifth overall for Ballagh Rocks. The $180,000 winner’s share of the Poker purse nearly doubled his lifetime earnings, which now stand at $376,910.
“Bill Mott and I were talking about whether to run the horse in a $100,000 stakes at Canterbury or the Poker, and Bill said we’re running in the Poker,” said Donegal Racing’s Jerry Crawford. “So I thought, ‘OK, I’m buying a plane ticket if he’s that confident.’
“Bill did a great job getting this horse ready,” he added. “Jose Lezcano did exactly what we talked about in the paddock. (He had) a brisk warmup. We thought he’d be laying closer to the pace today, because there wasn’t a great deal of speed, and that’s exactly what he did. Ballagh Rocks still came with it at the end.”
Night Prowler finished third, 4 lengths behind the top pair. Catapult and Bolting completed the order of finish. Weekend Hideway, entered for the main track only, and Lubash were scratched.
Ballagh Rocks returned $8.20, $3.20, and $2.30. Projected brought back $2.60 and $2.10, while Night Prowler paid $2.40 to show.