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Hot Springs, AR (Friday, April 15, 2016) – In the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn Park, Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Counterforce was the force to be reckoned with as he came flying late from far off the pace to capture the 29th running of the six furlong test for 3-year-olds.
In only his third start and first try in stakes company, the Steve Asmussen trainee bided his time under Florent Geroux as pacesetter Will Munnings led the seven-horse field through sprite fractions of :21.2 :44.4, and :57.3 into the stretch. I Will Score, the 3-2 favorite who was ridden by Martin Garcia and is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, took over in the lane and looked like the winner until Counterforce caught him at the 1/16th pole and went on for the 2-length score in 1:10.3 on a fast track.
I Will Score was second and 14-1 Texas Chrome staged a mild rally to be third, another length back.
“He broke very sharp and I was able to save ground and save some horse. They went plenty fast early on. My horse just kept following them. When I tipped him out turning for home, he kicked on very nicely,” said Geroux, who rode champion Untapable in the $600,000 (G1) Apple Blossom for the same connections later on the card.
Asmussen, who won the Bachelor last year with Holy Boss and now for the fourth time overall, said, “He’s a very talented horse. We put three races in him a little close together, but obviously he’s going to have a nice future. We’ll give him a little break of this.”
Sent off at 7-2, Counterforce returned $9.00, $4.60 and $3.20 and the son of Snaret Strike out of Achieving by Beranardini upped his lifetime earnings $93,500 from two wins and one second in three outings.
Live racing returns tomorrow on the closing day of the 2016 meet with an 12-race card highlighted by the 80th running of the $1 million (G1) Arkansas Derby, which is the final major prep race for the Kentucky Derby May 7.
Other stakes races on the Oaklawn card include the $150,000 Instant Racing Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, the $150,000 Northern Spur Stakes for 3-year-olds, and the $750,000 (G2) Oaklawn Handicap for older horses.
First post is 12:35 p.m. and the probable post for the Arkansas Derby is 6:18 p.m.
Winning rider Florent Geroux, Counterforce: “He broke very sharp and I was able to save ground and save some horse. They went plenty fast early on. My horse just kept following them… When I tipped him out turning for home, he kicked on very nicely.”
(Geroux had never even worked horse before) “I never seen him in my life,” he said, adding of the race, “Very good impression. I’d seen his two previous races on TV. He seemed a very nice horse and number-wise he was almost the fastest in there. Looks like he’s got a bright future.”
Winning trainer Steve Asmussen on next start: “He’s a very talented horse. We put three races in him a little close together, but obviously he’s going to have a nice future. We’ll give him a little break off of that. He’ll go to Churchill right away. He won’t run Derby Week, but there are a lot of good races for him this summer.
“I would expect him to run further next time. I say that knowing that there’s a possibility that he’d show up three-quarters Preakness Week” in the Chick Lang. “There or a race between now and the Woody Stephens (on Belmont undercard). I think it would be hard to go from here to the Woody Stephens without a little more seasoning.”
(Note: Asmussen said Counterforce didn’t race until March 5 because of “a little shin. We had him Churchill last fall and he was showing a ton of ability, and he just had a little shin. As always, Ron (Winchell) chose to do the right thing.”
On fast pace: “It set up really well for him; it did.”
David Fiske, racing and bloodstock manager for Winchell, said Counterforce was a post-sale purchase after he failed to sell in the ring. (Note: He was a $310,000 RNA at Keeneland’s September yearling sale)
“He looked pretty good,” Fiske said. “You’d think he’d go a little farther. It’s a little surprising he’s got as much speed as he has.”
Assistant trainer Dan Ward, second with I Will Score – “Good run. Very good. Good race. He kind of came from a little off the pace. I like that. Knew there was a lot of speed in there. I’m very proud of him.”
Jockey Martin Garcia, second on I Will Score – “For his first start over this track, he put in a great effort. We just sat off the pace and when I asked him for run, he gave it to me. He’s been running against some tough horses in California and got beat today by a nice horse.”
Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., third on Texas Chrome – “He’s a really nice horse that got tired at the end. He’s got a big future and ran a great race for his first start of the year. He ran a game race today and I’m proud of his effort.”
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