SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Winchell Thoroughbreds and Willis Horton Racing’s Bankit, expertly handled by Joel Rosario, arrived in the final stride to collar defending race champ Sea Foam in Friday’s $125,000 Evan Shipman Handicap, a one-mile test out of the Wilson Chute for New York-breds 3-years-old and up, at Saratoga Race Course.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen applauded the New York-bred program from which Bankit has now amassed five state-bred stakes wins and more than $1.1 million in career earnings.
“It’s a great financial opportunity,” Asmussen said. “You see a horse like Bankit that has made over a million dollars and most of it has been in New York-bred races with a few wins and several placings. It’s good for him to get in the winner’s circle, but it’s made that amount of money possible for this horse.”
Sea Foam was guided to victory by Rosario in this event last year when run at nine furlongs, but was piloted on this day by Kendrick Carmouche, who hustled the Michelle Giangiulio-trainee to the front through an opening quarter mile in 24.55 seconds over the fast main track.
Bankit, carrying a field-high 124 pounds, saved ground in fourth position from his inside post, splitting Therisastormbrewin and Brooklyn Strong down the backstretch after the half-mile elapsed in 48.02 with Sea Foam and Market Alert battling into and through the turn.
Sea Foam put away Market Alert at the head of the lane as Rosario offered right-handed encouragement to Bankit, who responded to draw level outside the pacesetter. The two rivals battled head and head through the final sixteenth with Bankit prevailing by a nose in a final time of 1:39.24. It was a further 3 1/2-lengths back to Brooklyn Strong in third with Market Alert, Three Jokers, Tiergan and Therisastormbrewin rounding out the order of finish.
Bankit, a 6-year-old Central Banker bay, returned from a more than four-month layoff after an off-the-board effort in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on March 26 at Meydan Racecourse.
Asmussen was full of praise for the determined effort by Bankit off a layoff extended when the Commentator did not fill in May at Belmont Park.
“He gutted it out today. The race didn’t fill for him last time and he ended up having a trapped epiglottis and had that cured,” Asmussen said. “[He had] a couple breezes back and he’s all class. I can’t say how proud we are of him. Sea Foam has always run extremely well here at Saratoga and it was nice to come out on the right end of that.”
Rosario has 10 graded stakes wins at the current meet, one shy of the record 11 graded wins shared by Hall of Famers Javier Castellano and John Velazquez. The Evan Shipman score was the first ungraded stakes score at the meet for Rosario, who has teamed up with Asmussen for four stakes wins here this summer.
The reigning Eclipse Award-winner for Outstanding Jockey said he felt comfortable throughout.
“I expected these two horses on the outside were kind of sending and I was in a good spot and from there just trying to be easy after that and let him be,” Rosario said. “He did good. It was a good trip.
“There’s a little kickback,” he added. “I guess sometimes you have to deal with it, especially behind like that, but he did great. He was never bothered by the dirt. He was very professional.”
Bankit and Sea Foam are both finalists for NYTB Champion Older Dirt Male, with the winners to be announced on Friday evening. Last year, Bankit bested fellow state-breds in the Commentator at Belmont and defeated open-company in the John B. Campbell at Laurel Park.
Bred in the Empire State by Hidden Brook Farm and Blue Devil Racing, Bankit banked $68,750 in victory while improving his record to 34-7-10-5. He returned $6 for a $2 win ticket.
Live racing resumes Saturday at Saratoga with an 11-race card featuring the Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special in Race 4 and the Grade 1, $500,000 Fourstardave in Race 10. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
By Keith McCalmont
Main Photo: The two contenders dueling for the win. Bankit left, Sea Foam right. (NYRA/Coglianese)