ELMONT, NY – Ivan Rodriguez’s Sharp Azteca looked sharper than ever, wiring a field of six with ease in Saturday’s Grade 2, $300,000 Kelso Handicap at Belmont Park.
Cleanly breaking from the 5th post under Paco Lopez, Sharp Azteca led the field through splits of :23.50, :46.86, and 1:10.24 while Bird Song and Divining Rod kept him honest. Angling out off of the far turn, Sharp Azteca kicked into gear and kicked away from his competition, finishing the mile-long main track event under a hand ride and gearing down in the final jumps. The Jorge Navarro-trained colt hit the wire in a final time of 1:34.12 by 4 lengths.
“It was a nice race, he’s a nice horse,” Lopez said. “He got the leap out front and I let him go. He was very comfortable. I waited as long as I wanted, and when I asked him, he ran very good. He’s a very good horse. Anybody could ride that horse.”
Divining Rod separated from the rest of the field, taking second by 5 1/4 lengths. Tom’s Ready won a three-horse photo for third by a head over Tommy Macho, with Ross a neck back in fifth. Bird Song tired in the stretch and finished sixth to complete the order of finish.
It was the fourth graded stakes, following the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup and Grade 2 Hardacre Mile Gulfstream Park Handicap this year and the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile last year. With career earnings now at $1,136,740 with a record of 14-7-4-1, the newly-minted millionaire looks like a juicy choice in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar on November 3.
“We’re going to see how he comes out first,” Navarro said. “Step by step, and then hopefully we’ll get there.”
Sharp Azteca returned $3 to win, $2.30 to place, and $2.10 to show. Divining Rod brought back $3.50 to place and $2.50 to show, while Tom’s Ready paid $2.70 to show.