OCEANPORT, NJ – Dennis Drazin’s homebred Sunny Ridge, third in this race a year ago, slipped through along the rail in midstretch to take Saturday’s $150,000 Salvator Mile Stakes (G3) at Monmouth Park.
Breaking from post 2 as the 8/5 favorite under Jose Lezcano, Sunny Ridge soon crossed over to save ground while Jeezum Jim and Diamond King raced ahead by a considerable margin up front. Together, the pacesetting duo posted opening fractions of :23.45, :46.82, and 1:11.38. Heading into the far turn, the field closed the gap completely, and at the top of the stretch, there was a five-wide wall of horses all trying to get to the front.
“He broke running, so I took him in hand a little bit and tried to get him to settle in,” Lezcano said. “He really settled in nicely. He’s a quality horse. Sometimes it takes him a while to get into stride because he’s such a big horse, but when he gets running, he can be really good. I waited as long as I could to make my move, and when I saw an opening on the rail, I asked him to go. He’s such a strong horse. He’s a Jersey-bred, but he shows good horses can come from anywhere.”
Seeing an opening along the rail as he straightened for home, Lezcano steered Sunny Ridge into the gap and he began quickly gobbling up ground. Under only a mild drive, the Jason Servis trainee passed Diamond King inside the final 1/16 to hit pay dirt in a final time of 1:37.17 for the mile-long event over the fast main track.
Diamond King, trained by Jason’s brother John, was 3/4 of a length behind the winner but 2 1/4 lengths clear of third to give the Servis brothers the exacta. Speaking of third, Bal Harbour may have run the best race in the field to finish there, all things considered. When the gates popped open, he completely missed the break and immediately fell behind by double-digit lengths. He was able to sustain a furious rally in the far turn and get past Hoffenheim for third by 3/4 of a length.
Just Call Kenny made a mild bid but never improved past fourth, which is how he finished. Nanoosh and a spent Jeezum Jim were strung out far behind to complete the order of finish. Forewarned was a late veterinarian scratch and California Night was a trainer scratch.
Sunny Ridge’s win was his second in a graded stakes event, having taken the Withers Stakes (G3) in 2016 early in his 3-year-old season. The now 6-year-old New Jersey-bred gelded son of Holy Bull improved his record to 25-7-6-5 with $1,338,577 earned.
“He had a great trip,” Servis said. “He broke super. I was glad Jose Lezcano kind of let him float. Once he made his move, he really took off. I told Dennis Drazin, ‘One of these days, they’re going to come back to him and he’s going to win a really big race.’ He has been so close so many times. He’s a poor man’s horse. He bangs away every race and makes money. I never even thought about him as Jersey-bred. When I got him as a 2-year-old, I told Dennis, ‘I am going to make $1 million with this horse.’ Look at him. He’s a big, beautiful horse. And he’s a gelding, so he could have another good three years in him. He might hit $2.5 million. I’m thrilled to death with his performance.”
Sunny Ridge returned $5.20 to win, $2.80 to place, and $2.20 to show. Diamond King brought back $3 to place and $2.40 to show, while Bal Harbour paid $2.60 to show.