Proven Innocent Bests The Mean Queen in William Entenmann
OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Keystone Thoroughbreds’ Noah And The Ark, sent to post at odds of 41-1 under Harrison Beswick, drew off to a nine-length score in Thursday’s Grade 1, $150,000 Lonesome Glory Handicap, a 2 1/2-mile inner turf test over the jumps for older horses on Opening Day of the Belmont at the Big A fall meet.
Thursday’s card was billed as a preview for the Grade 1, $250,000 Grand National slated for October 15 at Far Hills with reigning Eclipse Award-winner The Mean Queen returning off an 11-month layoff in the $75,000 William Entenmann Novice in Race 1 and Snap Decision looking to secure a fourth Grade 1 score in the Lonesome Glory one race later. Both steeplechase stars went off at odds of 1-5 but were found second best on a day of upsets.
Noah And The Ark, trained by Todd McKenna, was making his first appearance since his Carolina Cup day score in May 2021 at Camden. The 8-year-old Vinnie Roe gelding, carrying 140 pounds, tracked in third position as Snap Decision, assigned a field-high 168 pounds under Graham Watters, led the field through the first two circuits of firm Big A turf.
Beswick gave Noah And The Ark his cue approaching the final turn and advanced with purpose, vaulting beyond Snap Decision to open up a 6 1/2-length lead at the stretch call and widening to the wire in a final time of 4:34.83. Snap Decision completed the exacta by three-quarters of a length over Ask Paddington, who was a nose better than Song for Someone. Rounding out the order of finish were Amschel, Redicean, Belfast Banter and Iranistan.
“We went a Grade 1 pace but if you’re traveling comfortably, you’re sat on a pretty good horse. He did it all so well,” Beswick said. “His jumping is out of this world. He’s so quick and always, in my mind, been a Grade 1 horse, but it’s just taken this amount of time to get him to that stage. To have done that off the layoff he had is a remarkable training feat.
“We’re only a small operation,” Beswick added. “We’ve had huge help from Todd’s daughter, Skylar, and Liam McVicar, who’s an ex-jockey. It makes it all that much sweeter. He’s a horse of my lifetime. I’ve won on him all across England and the Carolina Cup last year. They don’t come around too often.”
Beswick guided the Irish-bred Noah And The Ark to victory in the Tiddesley Wood Handicap Hurdle in July 2019 at Worcester in his final European start.
The chestnut made his stateside debut in September 2020 at Saratoga and notched his first U.S. win at Camden before taking time off due to tendonitis.
McKenna said he wasn’t surprised to see Noah And The Ark set sail after racing in sixth position early on.
“I saw him come from the clouds at a racetrack in England and thought if he could do it there, he can definitely do it here,” McKenna said. “Was I surprised he caught Snap Decision? I guess so. Harry made the right move when he did. He made up a ton of ground here this last time under the wire. It was perfect. He got the horse in winning position.”
Noah And The Ark, bred in Ireland by J. A. Slattery, returned $84.50 with his earnings now totaling $136,338 through a 15-6-0-1 record.
Fisher said he was pleased with the effort from Snap Decision, who entered from a dominating performance in the Grade 1 Jonathan Sheppard Handicap on August 17 at Saratoga Race Course where he overcame 164 pounds to come home an impressive 13 1/4-length winner in the 2 3/8-mile test.
“He ran well. I told him he [Watters] could do whatever he wants to do,” Fisher said. “If they’re going fast, he can sit back. Or he can go to the front.”
While Fisher settled for second in the Lonesome Glory, he did saddle the winner of the $75,000 William Entenmann Novice as Proven Innocent, owned by Bruton Street – US, arrived in the final stride under Jamie Bargary to collar The Mean Queen.
State of Affair led the field of six older horses through the early stages of the 2 3/8-mile inner turf test over the jumps as The Mean Queen, assigned a field-high 158 pounds as the lone mare in the field, stalked outside in fourth position after getting away last at the start under Parker Hendriks.
The Mean Queen, a three-time Grade 1-winner racing off an 11-month layoff, advanced into third position the second time past the wire and was in command down the backstretch for the final time.
Bargary and Proven Innocent rallied stoutly down the lane to the outside of The Mean Queen and the rivals battled to the wire with the former prevailing by a head in a time of 4:25.26. Howyabud, Going Country, Booby Trap and State of Affair rounded out the order of finish. Bandua was scratched.
Fisher said the 4-year-old Blame gelding, who carried 149 pounds and returned $19, may have benefitted from recency of form over the returning Champion mare.
Proven Innocent, a maiden winner on the flat at Belmont in September, had posted a record of 4-2-1-0 over the jumps heading into Thursday’s test, including a last out allowance score at the same distance on August 31 at Saratoga Race Course.
“She’s had a year off and that helped. He’s a nice horse, though,” Fisher said. “He won at Belmont on the flat and then he won over jumps at Saratoga. That’s how he won at Saratoga too, he just got up at the last minute.”
Bargary tipped his cap to both halves of the photo finish.
“We battled the whole way up the straight with the champion that the mare is and my lad was just very tough and he got it done in the end,” Bargary said.
Hendriks said he was proud of the effort from The Mean Queen.
“She ran well. She jumped great. She’s good and slick. She just got tired,” Hendriks said. “Fair play to Jamie, he nailed her right on the line which is what he had to do. She was fending him off but just got nailed at the wire. She hasn’t run in 11 months and just needed the run.”
Keri Brion, trainer of The Mean Queen, said the difficult break hampered her mare’s chances.
“I’m super proud of her. She ran a gallant race,” Brion said. “She spotted the field four or five lengths, carried top weight and hasn’t run in 11 months – I couldn’t be happier with her. Of course, you’d love to win but she’ll be prepped and primed for Far Hills off of this.”
Brion said she’s hopeful The Mean Queen and Snap Decision will battle for redemption in the Grand National on October 15 at Far Hills.
“We’ll go to the big one. The American Grand National is where you’ll see her next,” Brion said. “The two stars will hopefully be back together and show everybody that those are the two best horses in the country.”
Live racing resumes Friday at Belmont at the Big A with a nine-race card. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present live coverage and analysis of every day of Belmont at the Big A on the networks of FOX Sports. For the broadcast schedule and channel finder, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.
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By Keith McCalmont – NYRA Press Office
Main photo: #4 Noah And The Ark wins the Grade 1 Lonesome Glory (NYRA/Coglianese)