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HOT SPRINGS, AR – The anticipated rematch between last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) champion Whitmore and runner-up C Z Rocket culminated in the latter barely denying the former from a record fifth straight score in Saturday’s $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Whitmore and C Z Rocket were the 8/5 favorite and 5/2 third choice, respectively, and trailed the seven-horse field early as Firecrow set the early pace ahead of Mr. Jagermeister and Flagstaff, the 2/1 second choice.
Whitmore was the first of the pair to move from the rear when Ricardo Santana Jr. sent Whitmore four-wide in the far turn and straightened for home on the lead.
C Z Rocket was slow to find his stride under Florent Geroux, who had to work his horse nearly every step of the stretch, but after catching Whitmore inside the 1/16 pole, C Z Rocket inched ahead late to find victory by a neck.
The Peter Miller trainee completed the 6-furlong fast dirt sprint in 1:09.04.
“Going down the stretch, I thought we were going to get there,” Miller said. “It was tough. He was a little further back than I’d thought he would be, honestly. I did see pace was hot. Flo knows what he’s doing; horse runs really well for him. Pace was fast, so we were where we were supposed to be and it worked out.”
Flagstaff was 1 1/2 lengths behind in third after being unable to keep pace with the top pair in the stretch. Firecrow, Boldor, Engage, and Mr. Jagermeister completed the order of finish.
C Z Rocket’s win was his sixth in his past 7 starts and came in his first appearance since finishing 3 1/4 lengths behind Whitmore at the Breeders’ Cup last November. The Florida-bred 7-year-old City Zip gelding’s record now stands at 24-10-2-2 with $1,011,641 earned for co-owners Tom Kagele, Madaket Stables, and Gary Barber.
“I didn’t think we would be behind Whitmore, but it kind of worked out,” Miller said. “Might have been a blessing in disguise to track Whitmore. He’s such a great horse, Whitmore, and so is C Z Rocket. I just can’t say enough about both of these horses. My congratulations to the connections of Whitmore on having this horse ready to rock and roll.”
C Z Rocket returned $7.20 to win, $3.40 to place, and $2.40 to show. Whitmore brought back $3.20 to place and $2.20 to show. Flagstaff paid $2.40 to show.
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