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2006 Poker Handicap and Astoria Stakes

Edgar Prado and Rebel Rebel return after the Poker Handicap (G3)

Date: 7/03/06

Independence Day weekend stakes action at Belmont Park continued on Sunday with the $110,900 Poker Handicap (G3), a 1 mile trip over the Widener Turf Course. Seven older horses went to the post, with Remarkable News sent off as the 2-1 favorite over 5-2 second choice Rebel Rebel. Remarkable News came into the race off a 3-race winning streak, including the Connaught Cup at Woodbine last time out. Rebel Rebel was fifth in the Dixie Handicap at Pimlico in his previous start.

T.D. Vance, the longest shot on the board at 12-1, was quickest out of the chute and into the backstretch, and he battled for the lead with 9-2 third choice Around the Cape through fractions of 23.11, 46.57, and 1:10.29 over the firm course. Remarkable News settled in good stalking position in fourth, 2 lengths back of the pace. Entering the stretch, the pacesetters both tired and dropped from contention, setting up the race for the closers. Rebel Rebel, who had raced out wide and back in fifth place early, closed well from the top of the stretch, took command with a furlong to go, and drew away to win by 2 1/4 lengths over the late-charging favorite Remarkable News. The time for the mile on turf was 1:33.34. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to 10-1 shot Vicarage in third.

Pgm  Horse              Jockey         Win   Place  Show
 3   Rebel Rebel        Prado         7.00    3.50  2.80
 2   Remarkable News    Castellano            3.30  2.40
 7   Vicarage           Velazquez                   4.30

Winning Time:  1:33.34

$2 Exacta 3-2                24.20
$2 Trifecta 3-2-7           157.50
Results Chart from DRF.

Rebel Rebel in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said, "(Edgar) Prado called me last night and told he wanted to take this horse off the pace. He usually lies close, but I told him to go on ahead and do it. I thought it was a great idea. He really likes this course. The only two times he's won in this country have been here. He's just getting a little bit better. There was never anything wrong with him, we were just trying to pick the right spots."

Winning jockey Edgar Prado said, "We switched it up a little today. The last time he won, he was a little further back and he had a nice kick. It worked out beautiful. I saw Javier (Castellano aboard Remarkable News) was behind horses."

Second place finisher and beaten favorite Remarkable News gallops out after the race. His trainer Angel Penna Jr. said, "He was trapped all the way around and couldn't come out. The winner was good and I don't want to take anything away from him. He only got clear the last eighth of a mile. I would like to keep him at a mile or a mile and a sixteenth and probably point him for the Fourstardave (Saratoga, August 6)." Jockey Javier Castellano added, "He ran hard once he was clear. The winner had a jump on us, but my horse still finished up well."

Third place finisher Vicarage in the post parade.

On the undercard of the Poker was the $109,500 Astoria Stakes. A field of seven 2-year-old fillies entered this 5 1/2 furlong sprint on the main track, with Octave sent off as the heavy 9-10 favorite over 3-1 Cool the Economy.

9-2 third choice She's Roughin It battled on the front end down the backstretch and around the far turn with 24-1 longest shot Desire to Excel, and the pair went the first quarter mile in a brisk 22.46 and a half in 45.73. Octave stumbled at the start but hustled up to stalk the pacesetters on a ground-saving trip in third. Turning for home, jockey Mike Smith asked Desire to Excel for her best and got it, as she surged ahead, drawing clear by 2 lengths in mid stretch and extending her lead to prevail by 5 lengths over the favorite Octave at the line, completing the trip in 1:04.33. It was just 1/2 a length more back to pacesetter She's Roughin It in third, while Cool the Economy faded on the turn finishing last.
Results chart from Equibase

Desire to Excel in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Kelly Breen said, "She didn't have a workout for three weeks after she ran, but that was because I didn't have any place to run her. We gave her a month to develop and it looks like everything we did worked. She's pretty high on herself. We took a shot today and it worked. We'll probably look at some races at Saratoga for her."

Winning jockey Mike Smith said, "Kelly (Breen) told me she was training great. He said she had been working with his older horses because she keeps beating the younger ones. She had a great disposition. Everybody else was washing out and she didn't raise a hair. I was more nervous than she was."

Second and third place finishers Octave and She's Roughin It cross the finish line. Todd Pletcher, trainer of second place finisher and beaten favorite Octave said, "The inside post might have hurt her a little bit. She got some good experience and she'll move forward." Her jockey John Velazquez added, "If she didn't have the inside post, she wouldn't have had to wait for everyone to get into the gate. She broke okay, but I had to hustle her to get in position. I was stuck behind them, and then it was. `There they go!"

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