ARCADIA, Calif.—In a thrilling head and head battle to the wire, trainer Dan Blacker’s Hit The Road prevailed by a neck over 5-2 favorite Smooth Like Strait, in Saturday’s Grade I, $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita, providing Blacker, 38, with his first Grade I triumph. Ridden for the first time by eastern-based Florent Geroux, Hit the Road, 4-year-old colt by More Than Ready, out of the U S Ranger mare Highway Mary, got the mile on grass in 1:34.48.
With longshot Flying Scotsman hustled from his outside post, Smooth Like Strait fell into a stalking trip second, while Hit the Road was at joint third at the rail with Casa Creed to his outside and about three lengths off the lead heading into the far turn.
Leaving the quarter pole, Smooth Like Strait, under Umberto Rispoli, assumed command while Hit the Road was forced to wait for racing room behind a three-horse spread that included Smooth Like Strait, Flying Scotsman and Casa Creed. Full of run, Geroux found a seam two from the rail a furlong out and from there, it was game-on between Hit the Road and the runner-up.
“I was pretty anxious, but I thought if he can get through, he’s got a good chance,” said Blacker in recanting the final quarter mile. “Luckily ‘Flo’ found a gap and he proved he’s the best today. I gave myself 10 years to win a Grade I and luckily we got it done in year nine. I don’t want to make this all about me. It’s all about the horse, he’s such a professional animal, he is a true racehorse. He was born that way, he’s just a true athlete and so mentally focused on racing.”
With Rispoli opting to stay with multiple graded winner Smooth Like Strait over recent Grade III Thunder Road Stakes winner Hit the Road, Geroux was more than happy to take the Kilroe call and Hit the Road was off at 4-1, returning $10.40, $5.40 and $4.20.
“The trip made the difference, we got very lucky with the trip,” said Geroux. “It opened up at the right time and the horse got the job done. It was all heart. Sometimes when you have to go through a tight spot, the horse doesn’t necessarily cooperate, but he did great and did everything I asked him to…I liked my horse and the one horse (Smooth Like Strait), and I thought it was going to be very tough between those two. I was able to follow him all the way around and got through on the inside.”
Owned by D K Racing, LLC, Radley Equine, Inc., Taste of Victory Stables, Rick Gold, Tony Maslowski and Dave Odmark, Hit the Road, in taking his first Grade I stakes, improved his overall mark to 9-6-0-0 and with the winner’s share of $240,000, increased his earnings to $494,751.
In a huge effort, Smooth Like Strait, who finished a neck better than a flying Count Again, paid $4.40 and $3.40.
Ridden by Juan Hernandez, Count Again rallied from far back and paid $6.60 while off at 16-1.
Fractions on the race were 23.17, 47.32, 1:11.28 and 1:22.91.
Frank E. Kilroe Replay
Santa Anita Press Release
Photo: Hit The Road (inside), (Benoit)