Thin White Duke and Jose Lezcano post a neck score in the Harvey Pack (Chelsea Durand)
By Mary Eddy – NYRA Press Office
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— Multiple graded stakes-placed Thin White Duke successfully defended his title in Saturday’s $150,000 Harvey Pack, a 5 1/2-furlong Mellon turf sprint for older horses at Saratoga Race Course that was previously run as the Lucky Coin.
Trained by David Donk for breeder and former trainer Phil Gleaves, who co-owns with Steven Crist, Ken deRegt and Bryan Hilliard, Thin White Duke scored his first win since an October optional claimer at Belmont at the Big A with a last-to-first rush under Jose Lezcano to pick up the fourth stakes triumph of his career.
The win was especially meaningful for Crist, who was one of the first guests the late Pack invited onto his popular daily recap show at NYRA in the 1980s.
“It’s tremendous. The second we heard that this was the race they were going to name for Harvey and we had won it last year, I didn’t care what else we do this year I just wanted to be in the Harvey Pack and try to win it,” Crist said. “I spent some time with his family before the race, you just can’t make this stuff up.
“When I was a cub reporter in the early 80s, that’s when Harvey started with the replay show and he put me on,” Crist continued. “He was very helpful to a guy that was just getting his feet wet. He was a loyal friend the whole time that I was a working journalist. We became good friends. To win this, there’s some magic left in the world.”
The 5-year-old son of Dominus emerged well from post 3 and settled at the rear of the six-horse field as Dancing Buck broke sharpest of all to his inside and marked an opening quarter-mile in 22.42 seconds over the firm footing.
Our Shot and Chess Master battled for second position on the outside down the backstretch while post-time favorite Big Invasion kept close watch in fourth under Joel Rosario. Approaching the turn, Big Invasion advanced up the inside before angling around a stubborn Dancing Buck, who dug in under steady urging from Manny Franco as Our Shot came up to challenge in the three-path with the half-mile in 45.36.
Big Invasion attempted to split his two foes near the eighth pole and appeared poised to draw clear from a retreating Dancing Buck with Our Shot putting in a brave bid to his outside, but a loaded Thin White Duke made up ground with giant strides down the center of the course and ran down his remaining rivals to post the neck score in a final time of 1:02.18.
Big Invasion held place honors by a head over Our Shot, who finished three lengths ahead of fourth-place Dancing Buck. Chess Master completed the order of finish with Mister Mmmmm pulling up out of the race in the early stages and provided with a precautionary van ride back to the stable area. NYRA Veterinarians reported no apparent injury to Mister Mmmmm. Main track-only entrants Willy Boi, Sheriff Bianco and Jake Rocks were scratched.
It was the second stakes win on the card for Lezcano, who piloted Alva Starr to a dominant score in the Grade 2 Prioress three races earlier. Lezcano said Thin White Duke does his best running with a target.
“He broke pretty good and I sat behind the speed,” said Lezcano. “I’ve been watching his replays and he’s kind of a horse who likes to be outside, this is who he is. I let him go, relaxed in the back [of the field], and when I made my move, I go around and he gave me the kick – the kick I needed to win the race.”
Bred in New York by Gleaves, Thin White Duke entered from a fourth in a local optional claimer on August 23 where he was defeated just two lengths when rallying from 5 1/2 lengths back. The bay gelding adds to a resume that also includes back-to-back third-place efforts in the Grade 3 Troy in 2022-23, as well as state-bred stakes scores on dirt as a juvenile in the local Funny Cide and the Aspirant at Finger Lakes Racetrack. He earned $82,500 in victory and returned $20.40 for a $2 win ticket.
Donk, who won his first stake of the Spa meet, said he was not concerned about bringing Thin White Duke back on 10 day’s rest.
“It’s been a slow meet not having any live ones to lead over,” said Donk. “This horse likes it here and I thought his races earlier in the year were really good and I thought the course played to him more this week where you can close on it more than you could earlier in the meet. He’s done really well and I wasn’t afraid to run him back, he’s been kind of full of himself. I’m just happy that he ran so well and for Phil, Steve, Ken and Bryan. I know it means a lot to these guys that the race is named after Harvey. It was appropriate.”
Donk added Thin White Duke will make his next start sometime during the Belmont at the Big A fall meet and that a trip to the Breeders’ Cup is unlikely due to the gelding not being nominated. A potential target could be the six-furlong Grade 3, $200,000 Belmont Turf Sprint on October 7.
The Christophe Clement-trained Big Invasion made his first start since a distant off-the-board finish in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee on June 24 at Royal Ascot and suffered his first defeat at Saratoga after winning the Grade 3 Quick Call presented by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and the Mahony last year.
Rosario said he expects Big Invasion to improve with a race now under his belt.
“I had a good trip,” Rosario said. “Turning for home it looked like I had a big shot, but the other horse came and beat us on the outside. He was fighting but it’s his first time back after his trip. He ran good.”
Live racing resumes Sunday at Saratoga with a 10-race card featuring the Grade 1 Spinaway in Race 9. First post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern.