Major Dude finds new home on turf in G2 Pilgrim
by NYRA Press Office
Spendthrift Farm’s Major Dude sprung a mild upset on Sunday at Aqueduct Racetrack in the Grade 2, $200,000 Pilgrim for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles on turf, gamely holding off odds-on favorite I’m Very Busy to give trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. their second consecutive graded stakes win on the card.
Making his turf debut in the Pilgrim, Major Dude had previously raced three times on dirt and failed to distinguish himself on the surface. The $550,000 yearling purchase by Bolt d’Oro won his debut going five furlongs on June 18 at Monmouth Park before finishing sixth in the Grade 3 Sanford at Saratoga Race Course and third in the one-mile Sapling at Monmouth last out, topping out at a Beyer Speed Figure of 69.
While the Pilgrim represented a question mark for his connections given the challenging conditions, it was evident as soon as the field left the gate that at the very least Major Dude’s early speed had transferred to the new surface. Movisitor broke sharply from outermost post 11 and then ceded the lead to Fly Right, who shot through on the rail into the clubhouse turn to take control. Major Dude sat just off those two in an ideal stalking position under Ortiz, Jr., the meet’s leading rider.
“You're always concerned when you're running on ground that you haven't been on before,” said Pletcher. “When we worked him on the turf, it was pretty firm ground, so we knew he liked that. We were hoping he'd like [softer ground] today. It seemed like he was always traveling really well.”
Fly Right, with Hall of Famer Javier Castellano in the irons, led the field through honest splits of 24.10 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 49.73 for the half, and 1:15.84 for three-quarters over the yielding outer turf course at the Big A, as Movisitor sat just off his flank and longshot Noble Huntsman raced in tandem with Major Dude. I’m Very Busy, meanwhile, broke slowly from post 9 under Flavien Prat and found himself near the back of the pack in the nascent stages of the race.
I'm Very Busy picked things up around the far turn while racing four-wide as Major Dude slipped through on the inside into the stretch. With full momentum on the outside, it appeared as though I’m Very Busy was destined to win easily, however Major Dude dug in gamely over the rain-soaked course and battled back to prevail by a length. He completed the distance in 1:46.60 and returned $22.40 on a $2 win wager as the 10-1 fourth choice in the wagering.
Ortiz, Jr. said Major Dude was full of run throughout.
"At the half-mile, I think I can go by those horses whenever I want to," said Ortiz, Jr. "I feel like my horse switched off on the backside and saved a lot of energy for the end and I took some time.
"I worked the horse and I thought he loved the grass," added Ortiz, Jr. "He felt really good on it and worked really well on the bridle. He handled [softer going] really well. He got the job done, so I can't complain."
“He's a colt that we've really liked from the very beginning,” said Pletcher. “He was one of the first to come in [this year]. He was training well on the dirt and we gave him a couple opportunities and we just kind of got the feeling that we weren't getting everything that we thought we had. So, I saw a couple of Bolt d'Oros were running well on the turf and said, 'Let's work him on the turf.' Then it was like, OK, that's what we were hoping to see. I'm not surprised he stepped up today. He's always been a very professional, straightforward colt. I'm happy he found what he was looking for."
In addition to taking home the winner’s share of the purse of $110,000, which bumped his bankroll to $165,250, Major Dude also received an all-expenses paid trip to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, as the Pilgrim is a designated ‘Win And You’re In’ event. The $1 million Juvenile Turf is scheduled for November 4 at Keeneland.
The Chad Brown-trained I’m Very Busy - owned in partnership by Team Hanley, Richard Schermerhorn, and Paul Braverman - had to settle for second after a less-than-ideal trip, while still finishing 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Lachaise in third, who was followed by Noble Huntsman in fourth.
“I got wide in the last turn and that draw was difficult to get a really good trip,” said Prat. “I didn't have a bad trip, but not a great trip compared to the winner. I came really easy, it looks like I'm going to win by two or three lengths and I just hooked up with that horse [Major Dude] and couldn't go by him. I think the ground is a bit too soft.”
Ramblin' Wreck, Dataman, Battle of Normandy, Movisitor, Bramble Blaze, Fly Right and Torigo completed the order of finish. Vacation Dance was scratched.
Live racing resumes Thursday at the Big A with a nine-race program. First post is 12:35 p.m. Eastern.
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