Pioneering Spirit secures first stakes score in $150K Bernard Baruch H.
by Christian Abdo
A. Bianco Holding Limited’s Pioneering Spirit stalked and pounced to a 2 3/4-length victory in Closing Day Monday’s 65th running of the listed $150,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap for 3-year-olds and upward going 1 1/16 miles over the firm inner turf, at Saratoga Race Course.
Trainer by Linda Rice and piloted by Jose Lezcano, the 4-year-old American Pharoah gelding was claimed for $40,000 in March and has now won five of his last six starts, with his only miss coming just nine days ago in a respectable third-place effort versus Grade 1 company here in the Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer.
Pioneering Spirit put together a four-race win streak for Rice after being moved to the turf, beginning with a maiden claiming score in May at Belmont Park and extending through an optional-claiming win traveling 11 furlongs on July 27 at Saratoga ahead of his stakes debut in the Sword Dancer.
“The horse is just a dream. Every horse you claim should be that good. The ride Jose Lezcano put on him today was masterful and he’s such a good rider. I was thrilled with his position,” said Rice. “We talked about it in the paddock, he said ‘Linda, I need to be closer today’ and he was right.”
Pioneering Spirit broke from post 2 and settled at the rail in third position behind pacesetter Bring Me a Check, who marked the opening quarter-mile in 24.19 seconds with last year’s winner, Emaraaty, stalking to his outside in second. Wit, the 9-5 mutuel favorite, tracked in fourth with multiple graded stakes winner Public Sector, who stumbled at the start, last-of-5.
The order remained unchanged through a half-mile in 47.94 but the field became more compact down the backside with Emaraaty drawing up alongside Bring Me a Check as Pioneering Spirit continued to save ground along the rail.
After three quarters in 1:11.43, the real running began around the far turn as Flavien Prat launched an early bid aboard Emaraaty and Lezcano found room to get Pioneering Spirit off the rail.
"He broke a little slow but I got the position I want. He really ran on nicely. I had horse the whole way around. When I got to the quarter-pole, I had a lot of horse,” Lezcano said. “I didn't know how much the others had, but I had a lot of horse.”
Pioneering Spirit spurted down the center of the track to lead Emaraaty by a head at the stretch call as Bring Me a Check attempted to battle back at the rail under urging from jockey Tyler Gaffalione. Public Sector, who trailed the field since the break, rallied from off-the-pace under Irad Ortiz, Jr. with a sixteenth remaining and a mile in 1:34.77, a move that would be too late to catch Pioneering Spirit, whose lead extended to the wire in a final time of 1:40.69.
Bring Me a Check gamely held place honors by a neck over Public Sector, who was a neck better than Emaraaty in fourth. Wit, who was returning from a seven-month layoff, rounded out the order of finish.
Rice credited Lezcano for taking a more forward approach with the versatile Pioneering Spirit, who boasts wins ranging from one-mile to 11 furlongs.
“He [Pioneering Spirit] can switch it up from short to long, obviously this was a mile and a sixteenth. I had a little concern but I thought maybe they could set a fast pace and he can close into it,” Rice said. “Jose Lezcano came to the paddock, he changed it up, he convinced me that we were going to be closer. He’s a fantastic turf rider, so I just let him do his thing.”
Tyler Gaffalione said he was pleased with the Patrick Reynolds-trained Bring Me a Check’s effort for second as the longest price on the board at odds of 7-1.
"Mr. Reynolds brought him over here ready to run today. He ran a big race for us and I was very pleased. I thought we would get away a little more comfortably,” Gaffalione said. “There was a little more pressure than expected. He definitely found more coming into the stretch, and really fought on nicely."
Rice said she is considering a number of options for Pioneering Spirit, including the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic on September 30 at Belmont at the Big A.
Bred in Kentucky by International Equities Holding, Inc., Pioneering Spirit was a $144,315 purchase at the 2021 Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up Sale. He increased his lifetime earnings to $443,250 after banking $82,500 in victory and improved his lifetime record to 18-5-4-2. A $2 win wager returned $8.20.
Live racing resumes on Thursday, September 14 at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet which runs through Sunday, October 29. The 28-day meet offers a total of 44 stakes worth $9.275 million in total purses. The Belmont at the Big A fall meet will include four Grade 1 events and six Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifiers.
Opening Day September 14 will feature a pair of steeplechase stakes for older horses in the 2 1/2-mile Grade 1, $150,000 Lonesome Glory and 2 3/8-miles $75,000 William Entenmann Novice.
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