ELMONT, N.Y. — Three Diamonds Farm’s Fire At Will utilized a frontrunning approach under Kendrick Carmouche to capture Saturday’s Grade 2, $150,000 Pilgrim, a 1 1/16-mile inner turf test for juveniles at Belmont Park.
The Pilgrim was the second of five graded stakes on Saturday’s card that also included the Grade 2, $150,000 Gallant Bloom for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up won by Frank’s Rockette; the Grade 1, $250 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at 12-furlongs on turf for 3-years-old and upward; the Grade 2, $250,000 Kelso Handicap, a one-turn mile on Big Sandy for 3-year-olds and up; and the Grade 1, $250,000 Belmont Derby Invitational, a 10-furlong inner turf test for sophomores offering a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf on November 7 at Keeneland.
Public Sector, the 4-5 favorite, broke sharply under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, who elected to settle along the hedge as Fire At Will battled his way to the front over a game Zippy Baby to set the opening quarter-mile in 25.58 seconds.
Fire At Will, who graduated last out in the off-the-turf With Anticipation at Saratoga, maintained his lead down the backstretch as Zippy Baby tracked in second outside of Step Dancer with Public Sector saving ground in fourth through a half-mile in 50.35.
Step Dancer, piloted by Dylan Davis, angled off the rail through the turn with Public Sector following suit, but Fire At Will surged away from his rivals at the top of the lane and continued to find more en route to a two-length score. Fire At Will stopped the clock in 1:43.46 on the firm inner turf.
Public Sector rallied resolutely to complete the exacta, two lengths in front of a game Step Dancer who just held off the late-closing inside charge of Shawdyshawdyshawdy.
Rounding out the order of finish were Zippy Baby and American Monarch. It’s a Gamble and Nathan Detroit were scratched.
Carmouche said his goal was to set a measured pace.
“I left there running and he already had his ears pricked before we turned on the backside,” said Carmouche. “I wanted to keep him on the left lead where he wouldn’t get so aggressive on the backside. I finally popped him over and he sat so nicely in my hands. I just had to make sure I waited as long as I can, because when you have Chad Brown horses chasing you in the stretch, you know you have to make sure to keep going faster.”
Fire At Will finished sixth in his August 8 debut in a 1 1/16-mile turf maiden won by Pilgrim-rival American Monarch. The Declaration of War bay followed with a half-length score in the off-the-turf With Anticipation over a sloppy Saratoga strip under Irad Ortiz, Jr. on September 2.
“My horse ran a monster race on the dirt last time,” said Carmouche. “I just figured, let me run away from there. He was in hand the whole way. I was just waiting to push the button. Mike Maker gets these horses ready the right way. He’s one of the best trainers in the country with grass horses. I just appreciate the opportunity from Mr. Kirk [Wycoff of owner Three Diamonds Farm].”
Bred in Kentucky by Troy Rankin, he banked $82,500 in victory while improving his record to two wins from three starts. Out of the Kitten’s Joy mare Flirt, Fire At Will’s second dam produced Grade 1-winning turfer Decorated Invader.
Fire At Will, a 97,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, returned $29 for a $2 win ticket.
Live racing resumes Sunday with a 10-race card highlighted by a trio of graded events including the Grade 2, $150,000 Miss Grillo at 1 1/16-miles on turf for juvenile fillies; the Grade 2, $150,000 Beldame at nine furlongs on Big Sandy for fillies and mares 3-years-old and upwards; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational at six furlongs for 3-year-olds and upward. First post is 12:50 p.m. Eastern.
Photo: Fire At Will. Credit: NYRA/Susie Raisher