SOUTH OZONE PARK, NY – WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International, and SF Racing’s National Flag overcame a troubled start to win going away in Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct.
Breaking from post 4 under Flavien Prat, National Flag was squeezed out of the gate by A Different Style and the 6-5 favorite Engage, forcing him to settle near the rear early while A Different Style led through initial splits of :22.82 and :45.77. Running four-wide through the far turn, National Flag hit the top of the stretch even wider. Under a full swing of momentum, National Flag passed his foes in mid-stretch and ran off with ease, crossing under a gallop by 4 lengths in a final time of 1:23.16 for the 7-furlong main track event.
“I was concerned after the rough start,” Pletcher said. “He had never really been in that position. He got hit pretty hard from both sides, and I was afraid at that point. You never know how a horse is going to react from getting bumped that hard in the beginning. It looked like he gathered himself up, and Flavien rode a smart race from that point. He didn’t panic and just gave him time to get his legs up and underneath him. He produced and put in a big run down the lane. He’s always been a beautiful horse and a fantastic looking yearling, you can tell by his price tag. He’s one that we’ve always liked and always shown speed. A little bit of it was us figuring out how he needs to be ridden and not rushing him. He showed promise last year and he benefitted from a little bit of a break afterwards.”
While no match for the winner, Engage finished well to take second over Aveenu Malcainu, the initial leader at the top of the stretch. I’m an Ocala Dude took fourth ahead of A Different Style, Aqua Bel Sar, and Justaholic.
National Flag’s win was his second straight to start 2018. The 3-year-old son of Speightstown now has a record of 5-3-0-0 with a career bankroll of $237,450.
“We had kicked around the idea of possibly going to the (Grade 3) Lexington, and then we just thought at the last minute that the horse is doing well and he was just coming off a big effort at 7 furlongs,” Pletcher said. “Let’s stick with what he knows. At some point down the road, we might stretch him out. We’ll probably look for a one-turn mile next or something like that. We’ll play it by ear and see how he comes out of this.”
National Flag returned $4.90 to win, $2.80 to place, and $2.30 to show. Engage brought back $2.70 to place and $2.20 to show, while Aveenu Malcainu paid $3.30 to show.