Favored General Election navigated traffic in mid-stretch and rallied under jockey Joe Rocco Jr. to catch Redwood Kitten in the final strides to win the 36th running of the $110,400 Jefferson Cup (Grade III) by a neck on Saturday night at Churchill Downs.
The Jefferson Cup, a one-mile race for 3-year-olds on turf, shared the spotlight on the track’s “Downs After Dark” night racing program with the $175,000-added Homecoming Classic, which was won by Fort Larned, the defending winner of the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI).
The versatile General Election, who won his second stakes race on grass and also has won over dirt and a synthetic course in his four career victories, paid $6.20, $3.40 and $2.10 as he defeated a pair of horses owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Runner-up Redwood Kitten, trained by Wesley Ward and ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., returned $3.20 and $2.40 as the second betting choice. Gentleman’s Kitten, ridden by Norberto Arroyo Jr., finished 2 ¼ lengths behind the top pair and paid $3 to show.
General Election, who rallied from fifth at the head of the stretch to snap a two-race losing streak, covered the mile over firm turf in 1:35.96. Owned by WinStar Farm LLC, the 3-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday won his career debut on the dirt course at Churchill Downs last November and his Jefferson Cup victory was his first race at the track since then.
Trainer Kellyn Gorder, who collected his first stakes victory at Churchill Downs, felt his stretch-running colt needed a fast pace to set-up his late charge, and said he smiled when he saw early pacesetter Tate’s Landing being pushed by Redwood Kitten through a quarter-mile in :22.80 and half-mile in :46.28.
“I thought they were going fast enough to set up his run,” Gorder said. “I thought the one-horse (Redwood Kitten) was the horse to beat. I was little nervous because he was sitting off the pace – he didn’t go to the lead. I was a little worried that he would get stuck in traffic, but he got through.”
The victory was the third in eight starts in 2013 for General Election, who now has a career record of 4-2-0 in 10 races and the $67,079 winner’s share of the purse boosted his career earnings to $285,189.
Miceli finished fourth and was followed by One More Cat, Tate’s Landing and Balino.
The field for the Jefferson Cup was reduced to seven with the late scratches of Rapscallion and Ray’s Away.
The Jefferson Cup and the Homecoming Classic were the final stakes races of the September meet at Churchill Downs, which ends its 12-day run on Sunday.
JEFFERSON CUP QUOTES
KELLYN GORDER, trainer of GENERAL ELECTION (winner): “I was smiling when I saw the :46 (half-mile). I got a little nervous around the far turn, but he got through. He came into this race doing well.”
Q: Were you nervous at any point? “No, I thought they were going fast enough to set up his run I thought the one-horse (Redwood Kitten) was the horse to beat. I was little nervous because he was sitting off the pace – he didn’t go to the lead. I was a little worried that he would get stuck in traffic, but he got through. It was nice.”
Q: What’s next for General Election? “We’ll see. The horse is entered in the November Sale at Keeneland.”
Q: He won his first race on dirt on the last ‘Stars of Tomorrow’ day last fall at Churchill …“First time out he won on dirt at seven furlongs. At that time we really thought we had a nice baby – a Derby horse, maybe.”
Q: Is it a thrill to win a stakes race at Churchill Downs? “It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable.”
JOE ROCCO JR., rider of GENERAL ELECTION (winner): “When I found a seam to run, I said, ‘OK, now we’re OK.’ But as I got closer to the one (Redwood Kitten), I thought, ‘Oh, man – I might not go by him.’ I didn’t think I was going to have to hit my horse again, but I gave him just one more tap and he spurted on by him.
“I had just a little hiccup of confidence when first I got to the horse (Redwood Kitten), but then he ended up running by him with no problem. Obviously they went really fast up front and it worked out for us. It set up like it looked like it would on paper, and you know how often that happens.”
WESLEY WARD, trainer of REDWOOD KITTEN (second): “We were trying to bring the cup home for my boss (owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey) but we fell a little short. But the horse ran a great race. Hopefully, he can come back and get ’em. ”
RICARDO SANTANA JR., rider of REDWOOD KITTEN (second): “He’s a beautiful horse. He broke and relaxed. At the three-eighths pole, he opened and went by himself. He went when I asked him, but the five-horse (General Election) ran great and came and got us.”