Prince Lucky crowned in State Dinner
by NYRA Press Office
Daniel McConnell's homebred Prince Lucky won an early tussle for the lead with Sunny Ridge and stayed the course to capture Closing Day Sunday's $100,000 State Dinner at Belmont Park.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, the 4-year-old Corinthian gelding entered the 1 1/16-mile trip over a fast main track from a pair of disappointing efforts at Belmont, when sixth in the Grade 3 Westchester and last-of-nine in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap.
With Hall of Famer John Velazquez in the irons, Prince Lucky battled with Sunny Ridge, who marked the quarter-mile in 22.97 seconds, before taking control to reach the half-mile in a swift 45.75 as Candygram, who was slow away from the gate, applied additional pressure in third.
Prince Lucky led the field to the turn with Candygram advancing three-wide and Backyard Heaven inching up the rail as the main dangers. Prince Lucky turned for home with a two-length advantage, and as Backyard Heaven and Sunny Ridge flattened out, the pacesetter stayed off the belated charge of Candygram, securing the win by 1 3/4-lengths in a final time of 1:41.23.
Candygram completed the exacta, 3 3/4-lengths in front of Backyard Heaven. Sunny Ridge and Multiplier rounded out the order of finish. Just Whistle was scratched.
Byron Hughes, assistant to Pletcher, said he was impressed by Prince Lucky's rebound effort.
"This was a nice rebound for him coming off the Met Mile," said Hughes. "He didn't have a lot of excuses in there and got a bit of class relief in this race, but it was still a solid group of older horses. He was able to break on top and Johnny got him in a good rhythm. He was able to pull away there at the end."
Velazquez said the key to victory was allowing Prince Lucky to dictate his own terms.
"He broke well and I got the position I wanted, so I just put my hands down," said Velazquez. "They went a little quick, but he was doing it easily. Last time I tried to rate him behind horses, he threw his head up and started getting out. So today, I just let him do what he was happy doing."
The Pennsylvania-bred Prince Lucky banked $55,000 in victory while improving his record to seven wins and two thirds from 13 starts. He paid $13 for a $2 win ticket.
Live racing now shifts to Saratoga Race Course for the 40-day meet featuring 76 stakes, highlighted by the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers and the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney as the anchors of two of the biggest racing days in North America.
Thursday's Opening Day card at Saratoga is highlighted by the Grade 3, $150,000 Schuylerville and the Grade 3, $100,000 Quick Call. Friday's card is headlined by the Grade 3 Forbidden Apple and Saturday will mark Saratoga's first Grade 1 of 2019 with the $500,000 Diana for turf fillies and mares on a card that also includes the Grade 3 Sanford for 2-year-olds. Sunday of Opening Weekend will be highlighted by the $100,000 Coronation Cup.
Following Opening Weekend, racing at Saratoga will be conducted five days a week, Wednesdays through Sundays. Closing week will run Wednesday, August 28 through Labor Day, Monday, September 2.