Daniel Alonso’s Skippylongstocking parlayed a dream trip into a solid victory in Saturday’s $150,000 Harlan’s Holiday (G3) at Gulfstream Park, virtually clinching a berth in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at the Hallandale Beach track Jan. 28.
O’Connor, a stablemate in the Saffie Joseph Jr. stable who was favored at 6-5 in the stakes for 3-year-olds and up, finished a disappointing fourth.
Skippylongstocking ($8.40) provided jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. with a record 50th graded-stakes victory in 2022 on the New Year’s Eve card that included six stakes (five graded), co-headlined by the Harlan’s Holiday, a prep for the Pegasus World Cup, and the $200,000 Fort Lauderdale (G2), a prep for the $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1), also on Jan. 28.
“It was a game effort by Skippy. He’s a horse that tries and he runs hard,” said Joseph, who is training Florida Derby (G1) winner White Abarrio up to Pegasus. “O’Connor disappointed. He’s better than that. He’s much, much better than that. Seeing how the race unfolded and the speed kept going around, maybe that was it, but I can’t really buy that. He made up ground and hit a flat spot. Hopefully, he comes out well, and we’d like to give him a chance in the Pegasus also.”
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Skippylongstocking broke alertly to closely monitor the pace set by Pioneer of Medina around the first turn before bobbling briefly at the top of the backstretch. The son of Exaggerator recovered quickly to put pressure on the Todd Pletcher-trained pacesetter, who put of fractions of 23.75 and 47 seconds for the first half-mile. Irad Ortiz Jr. asked his long-striding mount for a kick, and the Kentucky-bred 3-year-old obliged with a steady run through the stretch to score comfortably by two lengths..
Pioneer of Medina hangs on For Second
Pioneer of Medina fought back after being passed in mid-stretch by a stalking Simplification to finish second by a neck. O’Connor, who raced in fifth on the backstretch was eased off the rail by jockey Edgard Zayas in the backstretch to launch a bid, but the Chilean Group 1 winner never made an impact while settling for fourth, beaten by 4 ¼ lengths by his stablemate.
“I was planning to break out of there running because of the post position and try and get a good position, and then when it was time to make a move try to make it on the outside. Everything worked out perfect, but the race wasn’t for him today. It wasn’t his day,” Zayas said. Maybe next time he can get a little bit of pace to run at. I don’t think he wants to be rushed to his feet. Hopefully he finishes strong next time.”
2022 Harlan’s Holiday Replay
Skippy Longstocking ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.76 to collect his second graded-stakes victory of the year while beating older horses for the first time. Earlier this year he finished third in the Belmont Stakes (G1), fifth in the Preakness (G1), and won the West Virginia Derby (G3).
“The trainer told me just ride him wherever he’s comfortable. He broke in a good position. I was in a good forward place — good position — and I go from there,” Ortiz said. “When I asked him, he had plenty in the tank.”
While Skippylongstocking was pretty much on cruise control in the Harlan’s Holiday, he did provide an anxious moment for his trainer when he bobbled in the backstretch.
“He had a perfect trip, except when he went to switch leads in the backstretch. It looked liked something went wrong. Irad said that there was poop on the track and he jumped it,” Joseph said. “It scared me.”
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher was pleased with the effort put forth by Pioneer of Medina.
“I thought he ran great, broke really sharply and Luis went ahead and took the initiative. I thought the fractions were reasonable and he fought hard for second. I’m proud of him. He’s probably a little better at a mile and an eight,” said Pletcher, not ruling out a return in the Pegasus World Cup should an invitation be forthcoming.