SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – Juddmonte Farms’ homebred Hofburg marked himself a prime contender for the Grade 1 Travers next month after storming home to a resounding finish in Friday’s $100,000 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga.
Breaking from the rail as the 1-5 favorite under Irad Ortiz, Jr., Hofburg tussled briefly with Madison’s Luna to his immediate outside before settling in the rear of the five-horse field while American Lincoln set initial splits of :23.25, :47.81, and 1:11.94. Hofburg spent the backstretch run still in fifth but within only a handful of lengths. Heading into the far turn, Hofburg began picking off rivals along the outside, and by the time the field exited onto the front stretch, Hofburg emerged with the lead. Needing only a brief urging from Ortiz, Jr., Hofurg drew off with ease in the final furlong, crossing with a 5-length advantage in a final time of 1:50.18 for the 9-furlong event over a sloppy main track.
“He really was much the best in this field,” said Ortiz, Jr. “He came from the Belmont Stakes, came back good, and if he came back 95%, 90%, he was going to be tough in the race, and he was 100% today. He looked awesome. He’s a nice horse.”
After holding the lead briefly through the far turn, Nicodemus was unable to hold off the winner but still took second by 9 lengths over Zing Zang. American Lincoln and Madison’s Luna were unable to keep pace and tired to finish fourth and fifth, respectively. Reride was scratched and will instead run tomorrow in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes.
Hofburg’s win was his first in a stakes event and improved his overall record to 6-2-1-1, which includes a second in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and a third in the Belmont Stakes. The Bill Mott-trained 3-year-old son of Tapit increased his lifetime bankroll to $432,950.
“You’ve got to let them have their own style of running,” Mott said about his star pupil that has won both times from sitting closer to the lead than in his other starts. “We didn’t want to get too far back. As you could see, we were within 5, 6, 7 lengths all the way down the backside until (Ortiz, Jr.) got him moving and got him running toward the middle of the turn a little bit. In the mud, you don’t want to get too far back in a small field.”
Hofburg will attempt to become only the second horse since V. E. Day in 2014 to win the 10-furlong Travers after taking the Curlin, which was first run in 2009.
“I think the timing (of the Travers) is right,” Mott said. “He’s had a race over the track, a win over the track and it gives the trainer some confidence. I don’t know if the horse needed it, but the trainer did.”
Hofburg returned $2.50 to win, $2.10 to place, and $2.10 to show. Nicodemus brought back $4.50 to place and $3.20 to show, while Zing Zang paid $3.20 to show.