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HOT SPRINGS, AR – The third straight showdown between local legend Whitmore and the magically revitalized C Z Rocket saw the latter best the former for the second race in a row as he won Saturday’s $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) at Oaklawn Park.
C Z Rocket was the 2/1 second choice as he broke from post 6 under Florent Geroux and raced next to last in the field of seven while No Parole led Strike Power through opening fractions of :21.92 and :45.35.
Strike Power ranged up to take a narrow lead at the top of the stretch, but the rest of the field was charging hard after him. Geroux tipped C Z Rocket out to the center of the course and commenced a rally that put him on the lead a furlong out.
With Whitmore struggling to split horses after saving ground off the corner, the Peter Miller trainee drew off late before crossing 2 lengths clear, stopping the clock for the 6-furlong fast dirt sprint in 1:09.62.
“I got him again,” Geroux said. “Great trip. All the speed was what it looked like on the Past Performances. Tried to find a nice rhythm with him, and when he was ready to go, I just tipped him out and tried to run everyone down.”
Empire of Gold rallied to take third by a neck over Strike Power. Behind them came Mojo Man, Mr. Jagermeister, and No Parole to complete the order of finish.
C Z Rocket’s win was his seventh in 8 starts since Miller claimed him for $40k out of a local 6-furlong sprint last April, with his lone defeat coming as runner-up to Whitmore in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Now co-owned by Tom Kagele, Madaket Stables, and Gary Barber, the 7-year-old Florida-bred City Zip gelding’s overall record to 25-11-2-2 with $1,311,641 earned.
“Very similar race (to the Hot Springs),” Miller said. “We were behind Whitmore again and we had to give up a lot of ground, but we didn’t get stopped, either. You trade one for the other. Whitmore’s a great horse and ran a great race, as always. He’s a champion. I think that race (the Hot Springs) tightened him up good. I think that definitely set him up good for this.”
C Z Rocket returned $6 to win, $2.60 to place, and $2.20 to show. Whitmore brought back $2.60 to place and $2.20 to show. Empire of Gold paid $4.60 to show.
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