Eye Witness holds off Inflation Nation to win the $150K Paradise Creek (NYRA/Coglianese)
By Keith McCalmont – NYRA Press Office
ELMONT, N.Y.— New York-bred Eye Witness, expertly handled by Jose Ortiz, notched a second consecutive open-company stakes score, staving off the late charge of Inflation Nation to capture Saturday’s $150,000 Paradise Creek, a seven-furlong Widener turf sprint for sophomores, at Belmont Park.
Trained by Wesley Ward for owners Westerberg, Mrs. John Magnier, Jonathan Poulin, Derrick Smith and Michael B. Tabor, the City of Light bay rallied to the lead through the driving rain at the top of the lane before digging in gamely to fend off the late bid from a surging Inflation Nation to win by a head.
“Oh, I felt him coming and said, ‘Oh here he is.’ I’m just glad we got there first,” Ortiz said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity from Wesley and the ownership.”
Eye Witness, a debut third in September in a state-bred maiden special weight over the Belmont at the Big A turf, entered from a pair of open-company scores over the Turfway Park synthetic topped by a five-length romp last out in the six-furlong Animal Kingdom on March 25.
Charging was hustled out of the inside post by Manny Franco to set swift splits of 21.76 seconds and 45.03 over the good going with Son of a Birch and Devils Only Friend pressing to his outside.
Inflation Nation, who was last-of-8 under Dylan Davis in the opening strides, was urged up the rail and into contention down the backside to stalk from fourth position to the inside of Eye Witness as Charging continued to dictate terms.
Eye Witness made his bid first, angling wide around the tiring pacesetters late in the turn to get the jump on the ground-saving Inflation Nation. Eye Witness appeared to be home and cooled out with a furlong to run, but Inflation Nation refused to give up and maneuvered into contention to make a late surge in the final strides as Eye Witness stopped the clock in 1:25.32.
It was a further 5 1/2-lengths back to Vacation Dance in third with Hey Eugene, Joey Freshwater, Son of a Birch, Charging and Devils Only Friend rounding out the order of finish. Golden Nugget was scratched.
Ortiz, who entered the card as the Belmont spring/summer meet’s leading rider, said he felt he had a winning position behind a torrid pace.
“I knew the first quarter was very fast, and those three horses on the lead were almost impossible to get to with that soft ground,” Ortiz said. “From that point on, I was very confident in my horse and I was just worrying about Dylan to the inside of me. But he was following the right horse which was the one horse [No. 1, Charging]. So, I said ‘I’m just going to go around – I feel like I have enough horse to kind of block them and make them wait longer than they wanted to.’ I did, and my horse responded so well when I put him in the clear.”
Ortiz, aboard Eye Witness for the first time in the afternoon, said he was intent on keeping his horse in the clear.
“I didn’t want to take the momentum away from him, and I felt like I probably moved a little sooner than I wanted to, but with the soft ground, sometimes if you stop the momentum, it’s very hard to get it back,” Ortiz said. “I almost paid the price in the end, but I’m just glad we held on.”
The Irish-bred Inflation Nation hit the board in a turf stakes for the third consecutive start under Davis, following a third-place finish in the six-furlong Atlantic Beach in November and a runner-up effort last out in the one-mile Woodhaven – both at the Big A for trainer Christophe Clement.
Davis, who guided Inflation Nation a second-out maiden score over good going in September at Saratoga Race Course, said his horse ran a credible race.
“Once we got to the turn, he got himself gathered and he was on the bridle nicely saving all that ground. I just had to wait my turn to get through,” Davis said. “Once he did come through, he was grinding it out. He was the only one running there at the end. That last sixteenth of a mile I thought he was going to get up, it just didn’t quite go our way. I thought he still ran a great race.”
Bred in the Empire State by Anlyn Farms, Eye Witness banked $82,500 in victory while improving his record to 4-3-0-1. He paid $7.70 for a $2 win ticket. The $650,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, a half-brother to stakes-winner More Mischief, is out of the Mr. Greeley mare Gracilia, who is a half-sister to graded-stakes winner and sire Sharp Humor.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Belmont with a nine-race card. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.