by Najja Thompson
Making his stakes debut in only his third career start, Shadwell Stable's Haikal, under a confident ride from jockey Rajiv Maragh, found an opening along the rail in the final furlong, overtaking rivals Joevia and Tikhvin Flew to win the 35th running of the $150,000 Jimmy Winkfield on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Sent off as the 2-1 second choice from post 3 in the seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds, Haikal was in fifth-position early as Gates of Dawn led the field of seven, setting fractions of 23.13 seconds for the opening quarter-mile. Joevia, the longest shot on the board at 18-1 under Chris DeCarlo, surged up the rail to lead at the half-mile call in 46.67.
Even-money favorite Tikhvin Flew traveling three-wide, engaged Joevia at the top of the stretch as Haikal continued to travel along the rail in third. Set down in an all-out drive and finding room in the final sixteenth, Haikal rallied to surpass Joevia in the final jump to earn the victory by a neck.
His final time was 1:25.24 for the seven-furlong distance on the main track listed as fast.
"He showed a lot of guts to get through on the inside," said Maragh. "He fought hard. The way the track has been playing, I tried to use the rail to my advantage if I could. He won on the rail the last time, so I wasn't thinking it would hurt us if he sat on the inside and the race played out good for him.
"I think he's a horse that is learning," added Maragh. "The first two races he didn't show speed, not because he broke bad, I think he just likes to settle early. Today, he broke well and I gave him a chance to settle at the beginning because we didn't want to change his style too much because the track was playing favored to speed."
Returning $6.60 for a $2 win wager, the 3-year-old son of Daaher and half-brother to graded stakes winner Takaful, improved his record to two victories from three starts and boosted his earnings to $133,900.
"Rajiv [Maragh] knew that the track the last few days had been playing to speed and that the speed had been holding," said Joe Lee, assistant to winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "So, he wanted to lay a little closer and in doing so, he just rode the rail. He didn't have much of a choice at that point. Being a little inexperienced, Haikal didn't exactly shoot through there, but Rajiv said once he got his nose in there, he dug in and took off and finished full of run.
Looking ahead, Lee said the winning connections may next point the colt to the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham on March 9, which offers 50-20-10-5 points as part of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" qualifying series.
"This horse, if the track plays fair, I think he can sit where he wants to sit and make his move. Rajiv said he finished full of run. The [Grade 3] Gotham [March 9 at Aqueduct] could be next. Hopefully, he comes out of this in good shape. We'll obviously leave it up to the boss and [owner] Sheikh Hamdan, it's their decision."
Following Tikhvin Flew in third was Family Biz, Direct Order and Jump for Alex. Gates of Dawn was pulled up in the stretch run and vanned off.