LEXINGTON, KY – Woodford Racing’s Engage made it two-for-two with new trainer Steve Asmussen on Friday, striking the front in mid-stretch before fighting gamely late to win the $250,000 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (G2) at Keeneland.
The Phoenix is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” event, with Engage receiving an automatic berth in the Sprint at Santa Anita Park this November.
Breaking from post 8 under Jose Ortiz, Engage sat off the early pace toward the rear while the 9/5 favorite Promises Fulfilled and the 84/1 longest shot Zipp On By dueled up front. The pair set an opening pace of :22.22 and :45.43 while behind them, Ortiz had Engage moving wide through the far turn.
Hitting the top of the stretch running five-wide, Engage dug in and began grinding away toward the front. After taking the lead near the 1/16 pole, Engage continued fighting and refused to let anyone gain ground before he crossed a 1/2-length ahead.
The winner posted a final time of 1:10.21 for the 6-furlong sprint over the fast main track.
“He’s a very game horse,” said Ortiz, who rode Engage for nine of his ten starts when he was with original trainer Chad Brown. “I know him very well and I appreciate the opportunity they gave me to ride him back. (The race unfolded) very good. I was expecting an honest pace, but they weren’t going that fast, so I was able to lay close. The last 1/16, he felt some horses coming – he pins his ears back and keeps going.”
After bobbling at the start, Whitmore came rallying down the middle of the track and nipped Lexitonian by a wire at the nose for second. Recruiting Ready nosed out Hog Creek Hustle for fourth, while behind them came Promises Fulfilled, Zipp On By, Cove Blue, and American Pastime to complete the order of finish.
Diamond Oops and Heartwood were scratched.
Engage’s win was his second in as many starts since changing to the Asmussen barn, having taken the Bensalem Stakes at Parx on September 2. The 4-year-old son of Into Mischief improved his record to 12-5-4-0 with $649,080 earned.
“We’re very pleased with the outcome,” Asmussen said. “It’s great to see this horse dig in. Quality field, rush to the wire, and he found enough. He’s always been a quality horse. Belmont Futurity (G3) winner as a 2-year-old, fresh horse, very sound horse. Loved the opportunity for him. We felt good about our chances when we saw him over the race track here at Keeneland. This is a big win.”
Engage returned $21 to win, $8 to place, and $6 to show. Whitmore brought back $5.40 to place and $4.40 to show, while Lexitonian paid $12.60 to show.