Little Mike holds off Big Blue Kitten, Real Solution to upset Joe Hirsch Turf Classic
By Jon Forbes | 09/28/2013 08:25 PM ET
Returning to top form and employing new tactics, Little Mike rallied from midpack and then held off Big Blue Kitten and Real Solution to win by a nose in the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational for 3-year-olds and up on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Little Mike, a 6-year-old gelding who typically races on or just off the lead, settled in fifth early in the 1 ½-mile race under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, advanced into fourth entering the backstretch, and commenced his run to the lead following one mile in 1:35.70 from pacesetter Joes Blazing Aaron.
With five-sixteenths of a mile to travel, Little Mike struck the front as Big Blue Kitten and Real Solution, who with Joes Blazing Aaron formed a Ken and Sarah Ramsey coupled entry that went off as the 4-5 favorite, began their charges from the back. Real Solution drew on even terms with a furlong to travel, but Little Mike rebuffed that challenge and then fended off a furious late charge from Big Blue Kitten. Third-place finisher Real Solution, who reported home a length behind the winner, finished a head in front of Slumber.
Little Mike completed the distance in 2:25.00, the fastest Turf Classic since Sky Classic established a stakes record of 2:24.50 in 1992. Off at 7-1, Little Mike returned $16.80 for a $2 win wager.
It was the first triumph in five starts for Little Mike since his victory in the 2012 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf.
"I was handicapping the race and after looking at it I told [trainer] Dale [Romans] that Little Mike's best race, in the Breeders' Cup Turf last year, was when he was off the pace," said Smith. "So I decided I was going to ride this horse the way Ramon [Dominguez] rode him [in the Breeders' Cup]. I can mimic all these jocks; I know how they all hold their hands. Ramon always puts one on the neck and one way out, and he's brilliant at it. So I did it, and he kept running and running and running. It worked! My hat's off to Ramon Dominguez."
Little Mike was fifth in the 2012 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, his final race prior to the Breeders' Cup Turf. Romans said Little Mike will aim for a title defense in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Turf in November at Santa Anita.
"This is a big win for this horse and for the barn," said Romans. "We've had kind of a rough year, and this is our first Grade 1 of the year. He's finally rounding back into form. His form hasn't been that bad, if you analyze it. They've gone after him early in his last two races. We needed to change tactics and come from off of [the pace]. Nobody was giving us easy leads like they were last year. He just proved how versatile he is. I knew we needed to try something different to get him back to the level where he was last year. It worked, so I want to thank Mr. Ramsey for putting the rabbit [Joes Blazing Aaron] in there and changing things around."
Both Big Blue Kitten and Real Solution are sons of Kitten's Joy, whom Romans trained to victory in the 2004 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic on behalf of the Ramseys.
The $360,000 winner's share of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic purse lifted Little Mike's earnings to $3,483,012. His record now stands at 26-13-2-1. Earlier this year, he was eighth in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge and 11th in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free in March at Meydan Racecourse, fourth in the Grade 1 United Nations won by Big Blue Kitten in June at Monmouth Park, and sixth in the Grade 1 Arlington Million won by Real Solution via disqualification in August at Arlington Park.
Twilight Eclipse finished fifth and was followed home by Imagining, King Kreesa, Nutello, and Joes Blazing Aaron. Boisterous was scratched.