Copper seizes his chance to shine in Lure
Shining Copper, the 2-1 favorite, didn’t accomplish the feat by controlling the pace. Instead of blasting out from his rail post and playing catch-me-if-you-can, he forced Solemn Tribute early. As Solemn Tribute was carving out an opening quarter in :24.30, jockey Jose Ortiz eased Shining Copper back, and then came around to the outside to vie for the lead turning into the backstretch. Solemn Tribute held a tenuous advantage through splits of :47.82 and 1:11.31, but Shining Copper pounced entering the stretch.
But Full Mast, who had been well placed in third, was also serving up a stiff challenge, and wider out, Jay Gatsby was rolling from well back. On the inside, French Group 1 veteran Ectot was finishing with some interest as well in his U.S. debut.
Shining Copper fought on determinedly and got his nose down at the right instant on the wire, completing 1 1/16 miles on the firm Mellon turf in 1:40.80.
Jay Gatsby ran a mighty race to rally so boldly while swinging wide off a moderate tempo. A Giant’s Causeway half-brother to smash hit sire War Front, the Joe Allen homebred has sire prospect written all over him. He’s bound for a (graded) stakes breakthrough, especially since he’d beaten two subsequent stakes winners in his recent allowance victory – runner-up Long on Value went on to win Saratoga’s Lucky Coin, and third Blacktype garnered the Oceanport (G3) on Haskell Day. No wonder Jay Gatsby was bet down from his 20-1 morning line to 9-1 here.
Full Mast probably didn’t realize he was only third, since the Juddmonte homebred was beaten all of two noses. He had the right trip, with no visible excuse.
Ectot didn’t match the late kick of the top three, and settled for fourth. This was a solid enough premiere for Todd Pletcher, since he wants to go further, this was the quickest surface he’d ever encountered, and the Lure was a back-up plan after his allowance comeback was rained off the turf last weekend. The Al Shaqab runner was also maneuvered over to the inside, where he had to wait for a seam. He got a dream opening in plenty of time, but couldn’t make the most it. Perhaps Ectot would feel more comfortable being on the outside in the clear too. In any event, he’s got back class in spades and is worth following on a presumed step up in trip.
Offering Plan, Solemn Tribute, and Conquest Typhoon, who saw daylight too late, rounded out the order under the wire. March and Bigger Picture were scratched.
Shining Copper’s resume now reads 28-6-4-6, $557,529. The son of Aragorn placed in the 2012 Generous, 2013 Jersey Derby and James W. Murphy, and 2014 Remington Green prior to being claimed at Churchill in May 2015. Thrown straight into the United Nations (G1) as Big Blue Kitten’s pacemaker, he held on admirably for fourth. Shining Copper also exceeded expectations when saving third in the Arlington Million (G1), but he was well beaten in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
Allowed to perform on his own in the February 6 Gulfstream Park Turf (G1), Shining Copper was just denied by a neck by Lukes Alley. He was freshened following a tired seventh in the April 15 Maker’s Mark Mile (G1) at Keeneland.
Quotes from Saratoga
Winning trainer Chad Brown on Shining Copper: "We talked about [potentially rating just off the lead] in the paddock - initially no [that wasn't the plan], but Jose [Ortiz] told me, 'I know that horse Solemn Tribute a little bit, I've been watching him, and if he's very aggressive I'd like to slip outside of him if you'll let me.' I said 'if the opportunity comes up on the first turn, you can,' and that's the plan he wanted to use, and he executed it beautifully.
"It was a tight finish there. I know this horse, and when he gets hooked in deep stretch, he's tough. We used him as a pacemaker last year and we learned that about him. He gives way grudgingly if he ever gives way. If you're ever going to have a horse on the inside fighting with good horses down to the wire, he's the horse you want."
Winning rider Jose Ortiz: "The No. 4 horse [Solemn Tribute] broke better than I did and I think that was key to winning the race. In the first turn, I swung to the outside and got a good position. He was a bit keen on the backstretch but when I set him down, he gave me a good run. I talked about it with Chad and I told him the No. 4 horse had speed too and we agreed we were going to play the break. He can sit [back], but he's not a horse that can sit in a pack and explode in between horses. He can be on the lead or second in the clear and he'll make a run."
Photo of Shining Copper (right), the gray Jay Gatsby, and Full Mast (center) courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Chris Rahayel