New York invader El Kabeir, a 7-1 shot ridden by local hero and three-time Kentucky Derby winner Calvin Borel, led from the start and dug-in to hold-off late surges by Imperia and Eagle to score a narrow head victory in Saturday’s 88th running of the $233,000, Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs.

Owned by Zayat Stables LLC and trained by John Terranova, El Kabeir carried a two-length lead halfway through the homestretch and held on as the advantage was whittled in the final yards to turn back 10 rivals and earn the first stakes victory of his career. El Kabier covered the 1 1/16-mile distance over a fast track in 1:44.82 and returned $16.60, $7.40 and $5.60 for the victory. Godolphin Racing’s Imperia, making his first race on dirt after three starts on grass, just missed under jockey Robby Albarado and paid $$4.60 and $3.20 as the runner-up. Eagle, who rallied strongly in the final eighth of a mile under Brian Hernandez Jr. and was beaten by less than a length by the winner in third, returned $5.60 to show.

The Kentucky Jockey Club was a “Prep Season” race on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” point system that will determine the 3-year-old Thoroughbreds that will participate in the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) on May 2 at Churchill Downs. El Kabeir earned 10 points for the victory along with Imperia (4), Eagle (2) and fourth-place finisher International Star (1). Lord Nelson, the 7-5 favorite trained by Bob Baffert, bobbled at the start and never threatened on his way to a fifth-place finish in the race.

The victory was the fourth Kentucky Jockey Club victory for Borel, who scored back-to-back wins aboard eventual Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver in 2009 and Beethoven in 2008 after scoring his initial victory aboard Dollar Bill in 2000.

“At the finish I knew it was getting tight because he had never been this far and the track is a little heavy,” Borel said. “With everything put together it was a matter of who could out grind the other one.”

A gray/roan Florida-bred son of Scat Daddy, El Kabeir won for the second time in five races, but he had run well against highly-regarded New York-based 2-year-olds Daredevil in the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park, where he finished fourth, and Blofeld in the Nashua (GII), where El Kabeir ran second, five lengths behind the winner. The Kentucky Jockey Club victory lifted El Kabeir’s career record to 2-1-1 in five races and the winner’s share of $135,792 boosted his earnings to $265,892.

El Kabeir and Borel sprung quickly from the starting gate and established a 2 1/2-length lead down the backstretch with Sky Hero and Lucky Player in closest pursuit through fractional times of :23.62 for the quarter mile, :47.50 for a half-mile and six furlongs in :1:12.48. Imperia, five-wide and settled in seventh on the run down the backstretch, and Eagle bided his time in the middle of the field. The favored Lord Nelson got a way last after his poor start and was far back early. El Kabeir disposed of Sky Hero and Lucky Player on the far turn as Imperia gathered steam and circled the field and Eagle, forced to check in traffic midway through the turn, got free and took aim on the leader. Borel and El Kabeir maintained a clear advantage through mid-stretch until late-charging Imperia and Eagle began to chip away at that margin through the final eighth of a mile, although neither could do enough to catch the winner.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was disappointed by the narrow loss by runner-up Imperia, but his first on dirt after three turf starts was a strong effort. McLaughlin said the Kentucky Jockey Club was run over the “important dirt”: the Churchill Downs main track over which the 141st Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands will be run on Saturday, May 2, 2015.

“One more jump and he had it, but he ran great and we’re tickled with the way he ran,” McLaughlin said. “We belong with the 3-year-olds moving forward to the first Saturday in May.”

International Star finished 5 ¾ lengths behind the top trio in fourth and 1 ¼ lengths in front of favorite Lord Nelson.  Flashaway finished sixth and was followed by Lucky Player, Sky Hero, Majestico, War Point and Jumpin Frac Flash. Moonlight Bandit was scratched.

KENTUCKY JOCKEY CLUB QUOTES

CALVIN BOREL, jockey of EL KABEIR (winner): “I had never been on the colt, and he got in about five days ago. We took him to the gate, stood him, and took the blinkers off of him and that was his [trainer John Terranova] idea to get him to relax. As a matter of fact I was out here watching him and everything and he did everything was perfect and it was just a matter of getting the distance and getting him to relax. We did our job; we got him to relax and we we’ve got to keep going forward. I was feeling very good.

“At the finish I knew it was getting tight because he had never been this far and the track is a little heavy. With everything put together it was a matter of who could out grind the other one. I think he did. It was the first time going this far. Truly, after this race it’ll tighten him up real good.”

JOHN TERRANOVA II, trainer of EL KABEIR (winner): “He came out of the last race a little tired so I went easy with him the first couple of weeks, and we actually missed a work coming in here and I knew we were coming in a little on the short side. I got one good work into him since then. He ran on a real deep and tiring track that day in the Nashua and ran into a real strong head wind up the backstretch and got a little keen with (jockey) Irad (Ortiz Jr.) up the backstretch with the blinkers on first time so I pulled those right off. I went easy for the first couple of weeks because he was a little tired after that last race. He was a lighter colt and he’s put on weight and looked good so I got a good work in him the other day so I decided to ship him down here to see how he handled the two turns.”

Q: Why didn’t you decide to stay home [for the Remsen]? “A mile-and-an-eighth to a mile-and-a-sixteenth here. We just thought we’d ship to see how he shipped, first time going on the road. He’s a real talented colt. He’s just a little bit trying to find his balance.

“It [handling the surface] was great and he handled himself well in the paddock. He shipped in great and wanted to get over this surface and we wanted to get the two turns.

“I didn’t mind them going :47 and change. He’s a real fast colt, real relaxed with Calvin (Borel). Looks like Bob [Baffert’s] horse [Lord Nelson] didn’t break well and thought if they were going to leave him alone on the lead, that’s great. So we thought maybe somebody else would go out there, so I just told Calvin [Borel] to just try to get him to switch off and relax if he’s sitting off [the pace] or if he’s on the lead either way.”

Q: Take me back to when he broke his maiden by 10 ¾ lengths. “He ran a freaky race that day and a freaky number. When we ran in the Champagne it was just a mess the track that day. We broke from the rail and it was awful at Belmont at meet. The track, he just couldn’t take it.”

 

JUSTIN ZAYAT, son of owner AHMED ZAYAT of EL KABEIR (winner) via telephone from New Jersey: “It was actually pretty clear on the computer so I knew we won. Calvin [Borel] gave him an unbelievable ride from the beginning of the race. I thought that Bob Baffert’s horse [Lord Nelson] would be pretty close and I saw him break a little slow, so when we got the lead I felt pretty good going :23 and :47. We were pretty confident the whole way. For us, he’s actually a work short. We were kind of on the fence about coming to this race. We talked to John [Terranova] all week and debating back and forth, and we said ‘Why not take a shot?’ We knew he was a little short but he had the talent to do it.

“It was more fitness-wise than it was distance. Calvin came off and said he was kind of looking around at the shadows and everything so he’s kind of a little green still. He’s just a baby and is still learning. I’m very happy for John Terranova. He’s done a superb, superb job with him. He was confident coming into the race; he flew himself in for the race. There’s nothing like winning a Grade II.”

KIARAN McLAUGHLIN, trainer of IMPERIA (second) via telephone from New York:

Q: You were a little unlucky today, finishing second with Imperia here and in the Remsen with Frosted. But both ran very well …“We were a little unlucky, but we know we have two nice colts. We were unlucky not to win two races, but we ran very well in both.”

Q: I don’t think you had any question about his ability to handle dirt, but he certainly handled this dirt just fine … “That was good. That’s the important dirt. So we’re happy about that. One more jump and he had it, but he ran great and we’re tickled with the way he ran. We belong with the 3-year-olds moving forward to the first Saturday in May.”

Q: He was the favorite for a good while before the race. Did that surprise you? “(Laughing) I know. I said there’s a lot of McLaughlins around there if he’s opening up as the favorite.”

Q: So he goes back to Florida now. Then what? “We will obviously keep him on the dirt now and go from there.”

ROBBY ALBARADO, jockey of IMPERIA (second): “Nice colt. I had a great trip. It was his first time on the dirt and he took a lot of dirt. He was a consummate professional. He did everything I asked of him.”

NEIL HOWARD, trainer of EAGLE (third): “I thought he ran real well. You know you can’t even have the slightest little of traffic trouble to win a race like this. So he ran good and the winner and runner-up race great. I was happy. We’ll take him down to New Orleans and take it from there.”

BRIAN HERNANDEZ JR., jockey of EAGLE (third): “He ran good. Everything really set up pretty good for us but we got hung up a little bit coming off the second turn. But he was running. And I really liked his gallop out. It’ll be exciting to see him going a mile-and-an-eighth.”

JIMMY BARNES, assistant to trainer BOB BAFFERT of LORD NELSON (fifth as the 7-5 favorite): “He stumbled right at the start. He’s kind of a front runner and I think that kind of compromised all of our chances.”

               On Dortmund’s allowance win: “It was coming here and seeing how he travels. He needs a little experience, he’s still developing. Basically wanted to see how he handled Churchill. He handled it really well, didn’t he?”

MARTIN GARCIA, jockey of LORD NELSON (fifth as the 7-5 favorite): “The dirt broke out from underneath him. He just wasn’t ready. When the gates opened, the dirt just broke out and he stayed there. I sat and made one run but he likes to be free running. When that happened, that was that.”

On Dortmund’s allowance win: “I got the best trip. I couldn’t ask him for more.” Q: What about added distance? “The way he ran, I don’t see why not. We were just galloping. I just galloped to the outside and never asked for anything and then at the top of the stretch, I asked him a little bit. I wanted to make sure he was in control.”

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