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Justin Phillip Gets His Due in G1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap

By Jon Forbes | 08/04/2013 06:58 PM ET
Justin Phillip
PHOTO/Adam Coglianese

One year after falling a neck short when second in this very race, Justin Phillip posted his first Grade 1 victory by taking the 29th edition of the $400,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on Sunday at Saratoga Race Course.

Off as the 3-1 third choice, Justin Phillip raced in fourth as Gentlemen's Bet ran the opening quarter mile in 22.00 seconds while by pressed by 8-5 favorite Delaunay. The winner began his advance while racing in the clear through a half in 44.46, claimed the lead with a furlong to travel and drove clear to a two-length win under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.

Bahamian Squall got up for second by a neck over Gentlemen's Bet. Delaunay faded to fourth and Caixa Eletronica trailed throughout.

Justin Phillip's final time for six furlongs was 1:08.59.

"The speed developed the way I expected it would," said Velazquez, who on Saturday won the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap with Cross Traffic. "I was right behind those two horses [Gentlemen's Bet and Delaunay], and I was aware of the horse that was inside [Bahamian Squall], so I kind of got him pinned down inside there. I made my move around the three-sixteenths pole, and he responded. When you ride these kinds of horses, and they respond to the things you want to do, it makes me look good."

Justin Phillip, winner of the Grade 2 Woody Stephens in 2011 at Belmont Park, was part of a three-way photo finish when he was runner-up in last year's Vanderbilt. This year, the 5-year-old snapped a seven-race losing streak when he won an optional claimer by 4 ½ lengths in March at Oaklawn Park, then added his second graded stakes victory when he took that venue's Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap by three-quarters of a length in April.

He entered this year's Vanderbilt off a second to fellow Zayat Stables color-bearer Fast Bullet in the Grade 2 RTN True North Handicap in June at Belmont and a fourth in the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap on July 6 at Calder Race Course.

Overall, Justin Phillip is 7-5-7 in 29 starts. The $240,000 winner's share of the Vanderbilt purse pushed his earnings into seven figures at $1,118,437.

"Last year's Vanderbilt was a good opportunity for him, and I thought he was unfortunate not to win that day," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "For everything to work out, to have him in this position today - a good draw, a good set up - was very rewarding.

"I can't say enough about how much respect I have for Justin Phillip as a racehorse," he added. "He hasn't held any of the mistakes we made with him against us. We were trying to win the Derby with him when he was three! He has a lot of talent, and you want to get that done. For him to travel as much as he has, run as fast as he has, and probably put up his best race today - 1:08 2/5 in a Grade 1, put him over a million dollars - it's very rewarding."

David Fawkes, trainer of Bahamian Squall, was pleased with the way his colt ran on for second after racing along the inside.

"He ran a great race," said Fawkes. "He was pinned down inside. The jock [Luis Saez] said he didn't like the fact that he was pinned down in there, and Johnny [Velazquez on the winner, Justin Phillip] didn't let him out. He said if he gets a clean outside trip, he thinks he might have run the winner down. I don't think he got clear until the eighth pole, and when he did get outside he made a huge run. I'm happy."

Delaunay's trainer, Tom Amoss, offered no excuses.

"I thought he broke sharp and had very good position," said Amoss. "They were going fast, but he's used to that. When he hadn't separated himself from the field by the eighth pole, I knew we were in trouble. I'm going to give him a little time. His last two races weren't good, and he's telling us something."