Michele and Cliff Love’s Xtra Luck grabbed the lead from pacesetter Majestic Harbor on the final turn and drew away in the stretch to beat For Greater Glory by 1 ½ lengths in Saturday’s 78th running of the $100,000 Louisville Handicap (Grade III) at Churchill Downs.
Xtra Luck, ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr. and trained by Neil Howard, covered 1 ½ miles over a firm Matt Winn Turf Course in 2:28.24.
Majestic Harbor, last year’s Gold Cup at Santa Anita (GI) winner, led the field of nine older horses through the first 1 1/16 miles of the grass marathon through fractions of :24.62, :48.73, 1:14.23 and 1:40.34 with Xtra Luck about two lengths back. Entering the final turn, Xtra Luck angled off the rail to engage the laboring Majestic Harbor. Runner-up For Greater Glory made a bid in the stretch but could not out-kick Xtra Luck for the win.
“The race set up perfect for us,” Hernandez said. “Neil and Mr. Love did a great job of figuring this horse out. We had a great trip. We just sat behind the speed and when they came to us at the head of the lane, he went on and he finished up the job for us.”
The victory was worth $59,520 and improved Xtra Luck’s earnings to $154,644 with a record of 20-3-4-3.
The Lou ’Cap was Xtra Luck’s first stakes triumph. Previously, he was the runner-up to Innovation Economy in a second-level allowance at Keeneland over 1 ½ miles on turf four weeks earlier on April 23.
“He’s kind of a galloper,” Howard said. “I had an idea [that he was a marathon horse] when he was second going a mile-and-three-eighths in an allowance race last fall, so we figured if the opportunity ever presented itself we’d go for it and I’m glad we did it. We’ll maybe go to Chicago with him.”
Xtra Luck, a 4-year-old gelded son of Exchange Rate out of the Kris S. mare Miu Miu, was bred in Florida by Haras Santa Maria de Araras S.A.
Xtra Luck, who carried 115 pounds, returned $11.60, $5.80 and $4 as the 9-2 third betting choice. For Greater Glory, under Joe Rocco Jr. and 117 pounds, paid $13 and $7.40. Golden Soul, the 2013 Kentucky Derby runner-up ridden by Robby Albarado at 117 pounds, was another 1 ¾ lengths back in third and returned $4.60.
The 5-2 favorite Patrioticandproud was another neck back in fourth and was followed by Calvados (ARG), Layton Register, Cozy Kitten, Royal Blessing and Majestic Harbor.
LOUISVILLE HANDICAP QUOTES
NEIL HOWARD, trainer of XTRA LUCK (winner): “Obviously these horses are in a little bit of an element, the ones that want to go the marathon distances so that probably helped him a little bit. You don’t get these kinds of races that often so it was nice to get a prep in an allowance race at Keeneland to prep for this. If you look at his shorter races, he’s kind of a galloper. I know it’s easier to say it now but it probably helped him for races like this. He [Hernandez] rode him beautiful. I had an idea [that he was a marathon horse] when he was second going a mile-and-three-eighths in an allowance race last fall, so we figured if the opportunity ever presented itself we’d go for it and I’m glad we did it. We’ll maybe go to Chicago with him.”
BRIAN HERNANDEZ JR., jockey of XTRA LUCK (winner): “The race set up perfect for us. Neil [Howard] and Mr. [Cliff] Love did a great job of figuring this horse out. They gave me the patience and figured out what he really wanted to do, but today we had a great trip. We just sat behind the speed and when they came to us at the head of the lane, he went on and he finished up the job for us.”
STEVE HOBBY, trainer of FOR GREATER GLORY (second): “I was very happy. He was trying a new surface and a new distance and everything, so I thought he did great.”
JOE ROCCO JR., jockey on FOR GREATER GLORY (second): “He ran awesome. It worked out how we thought it would. A couple of speed horses went out and he settled off of them, and he did everything well.”
ROBBY ALBARADO, jockey on GOLDEN SOUL (third): “It was a very encouraging race for him, coming back and seeing him finish to the wire. He did that with me last year. He ran a huge race and finished something like fifth, and his next two were big. So I was expecting a big one from him today.”
Q: There wasn’t a contested pace, so it didn’t really seem to set-up for his late run … “He was squeezed a little further back than I would have liked for him to have been, but I wanted him running at the wire. I wanted him to make a nice run and not flatten out with me.”
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, jockey of PATRIOTICANDPROUD (fourth as 5-2 favorite): “They came at the half-mile pole and I wasn’t going to give my spot up, so I had to go on.”
PAUL McGEE, trainer of MAJESTIC HARBOR (9th as the 4-1 second choice): “He looked comfortable on the backstretch and Corey (Lanerie) said he handled the grass fine, but he just didn’t quicken in that last three-eighths or half-mile. He just doesn’t have that turf turn-of-foot that you need in in the last three-eighths of a mile turf racing. Corey said he felt good. He said that for running last he didn’t really chuck-it that bad. But I think it’s all about the grass with him, and it’s in black-and-white now.”
COREY LANERIE, jockey on MAJESTIC HARBOR (9th as the 4-1 second choice): “I had a good trip. I thought he’d be in front. I watched his races out in California and they kind of let him clip along there and he seemed to get the distance. I was going a little faster than I wanted, but I was never concerned. I thought I had a big shot at the half-mile pole, and they came by me so fast they caught both me and him off-guard. From then on they just out-footed us to the wire and that was it.”