SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – Al and Michelle Crawford’s El Deal showed that he was indeed the real deal, taking an early lead all the way to the end while dominating Saturday’s Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap.
Breaking alertly from the gate, El Deal and jockey Javier Castellano showed the way through solid fractions of :22.50 and :45.28 before opening up on the stretch run to take the 6-furlong event by 8 lengths in a final time of 1:09.26.
“He’s a fast horse and I took advantage,” said Castellano. “Try to put him in the lead and don’t look back and let him roll, that’s his style. He’s one-dimensional. I just bore down a little bit and used my best strategy for that race, and it work great and it paid off. That’s the way it is supposed to be. The horse is a fast horse and I think he ought to be on the lead.”
After winning only twice in his previous nine races, El Deal moved to trainer Jorge Navarro, where the Vanderbilt marked his third straight win in as many attempts from the Navarro barn.
“I respect all the horses in the race,” said Navarro. “That’s why we were here: to see what kind of horse he is. I called the owners and said I thought it was time to see what we have, and he proved it.”
It was a tight race for second before Awesome Banner and jockey Jose Lezcano closed late for the runner-up position, a head in front of Limousine Liberal. Bird Song, Spartiatis, Ready for Rye, and Green Gratto completing the order of finish.
“He broke good, but I think when the dirt started hitting him in the face, he started backing up a little bit in the middle,” said Lezcano. “I never rode him before. He kept running a little bit past the wire, but I think without backing up in the middle, since he wasn’t 3 or 4 lengths closer, he wasn’t going to be the winner.”
With the $210,000 winner’s share, the 5-year-old son of Munnings increased his career earnings to $505,025. It was his first time hitting the board in a graded stakes race, with his only other attempt coming in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream Park, where he finished fourth.
“We’re getting ready for the Breeders’ Cup and big races at the end of the year, so I wanted owners to have fun,” said Navarro.
Morning line favorite A. P. Indian, who won the 2016 edition, was a late scratch by trainer Arnaud Delacour, who said that the 7-year-old gelding appeared to be lame in his left front ankle. A. P. Indian had jogged over the Saratoga main track earlier that morning with no apparent issues.
El Deal returned $7.10 to win, $4.80 to place, and $3 to show. Awesome Banner brought back $9.50 to place and $4.50 to show, while Limousine Liberal paid $2.40 to show.