by NYRA Press Office
L and N Racing's Echo Town, a tough-luck runner-up against a familiar cast of rivals last time out, swept to the lead on the far outside and powered down the center of the track to earn his first career stakes triumph in Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 H. Allen Jerkens presented by Runhappy at Saratoga Race Course.
The 36th running of the seven-furlong Jerkens for 3-year-olds was the third of five stakes, three of them Grade 1, worth $2 million in purses on a spectacular 12-race Whitney Day program highlighted by Improbable's victory over Tom's d'Etat in the 93rd renewal of the historic Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney for 3-year-olds and up, a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Also on Saturday's card were the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign presented by NYRA Bets for older females, a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Distaff where champion Midnight Bisou was upset as the 1-5 favorite by Calumet Farm's Vexatious; the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green for older turf horses; and the $200,000 Caress for older female turf sprinters.
Echo Town's drama-free triumph in 1:22.53 over a fast main track under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen came three hours after the same duo finished ran second with Midnight Bisou and had the outcome confirmed by a steward's inquiry following the jockey's objection.
A bay son of champion sprinter Speightstown that went unraced at 2, Echo Town had alternated wins and losses through his first six starts this year, capturing his January 18 debut at Fair Grounds and a March 13 open allowance at Oaklawn Park. Second by a head in the six-furlong Bachelor in April, he stretched out to seven-eighths for the first time last out, the Grade 1 Woody Stephens on June 20 at Belmont Park, where he overcame some early trouble to be second behind No Parole, the Jerkens' 2-1 favorite.
"It was great to see him put it all together when it matters so much on this stage. He ran solidly here. He ran really well into the Woody Stephens, but I thought the timing of this race was better," Asmussen said. "He's run hard all year. He's run consistently all year. Now, he will be noticed."
No Parole, seeking his third consecutive victory, found himself in familiar front-running fashion pressed by Grade 1 winner Eight Rings through a quarter-mile in 22.67 seconds and two-time Grade 3 winner Mischevious Alex after a half in 45.31. Tap It to Win, last seen running fifth behind Tiz the Law in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 20, moved up into a contending position with the leaders on the turn from his far outside post while Echo Town remained unhurried in fifth.
"He broke really sharp today and when the dirt started hitting him in the face, he was jumping a little bit but he was really comfortable," Santana said. "I took him outside and he gave me a nice kick at the end. He was travelling really well. I knew there was plenty of speed today and I just wanted to sit behind the speed. I'm really happy with the horse."
The top three turned for home together when No Parole along the rail began to drop back, leaving Mischevious Alex and Tap It to Win in a duel. Santana put Echo Town in a drive midway around the far turn, tipped furthest outside once in the straight and came with a steady run to catch the leaders and surge past for a 3 ½-length victory. Tap It to Win, with Hall of Famer John Velazquez up, held off Echo Town's late-running stablemate Shoplifted by a half-length for second.
"I had a perfect trip. I broke on the outside and let him get his position going into the turn. I gave him his head but the other horse passed him easily. He put in a good run," Velazquez said. "I think he's probably best going a flat mile. Today, he ran a really good race but because we had such a bad post, I had to let him burn a little bit so we could save a little ground into the turn."
It was 1 ½ lengths back to 28-1 long shot Captain Bombastic in fourth, followed by Sonneman, Mischevious Alex, Eight Rings, Hopeful Treasure, No Parole, Three Technique and Liam's Pride.
In giving both Asmussen and Santana their first career Jerkens victory, Echo Town returned $16.40 for a $2 win bet.
Purchased for $100,000 at Keeneland's 2018 September Yearling Sale, Kentucky-bred Echo Town earned $165,000 for the victory to push his career bankroll to $375,320.
Live racing returns Sunday to Saratoga to wrap up the second full week of the summer meet with a 10-race program featuring the $100,000 Birdstone for 4-year-olds and up going 1 ¾ miles in Race 9 at 5:46 p.m. First post is 1:10 p.m.