OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable and Gainesway Stable’s Wit rallied gamely down the lane to reel in a stubborn Highly Respected and capture Saturday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Bay Shore, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomores at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, who earlier on the card captured the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino with Mo Donegal, Wit was sent to post as the lukewarm 2-1 mutuel favorite in his seasonal debut and did not disappoint.
“The wins get better every year,” said co-owner Mike Repole. “It’s a track I’ve been coming so since I was 13-years-old, and 40 years later, winning graded stakes here is really special. I –100 percent – thought we lost; it was a special win. Todd and I have been friends for a long time now. It’s a lot of fun.”
Jose Ortiz, a three-time winner on the card including with Nostalgic in the Grade 3 Gazelle, guided Wit into a stalking position in fifth as Fromanothamutha led the field through a half-mile in 22.21 seconds and the half-mile in 45.55 over the fast main track.
Wit made a menacing wide move approaching the turn to the outside of Scaramouche and Highly Respected, the latter of which spurted between rivals mid-turn to take command from the fading leader with a bold move under Manny Franco.
Highly Respected opened up a two-length advantage at the stretch call as Ortiz went to work aboard a determined Wit, who found another gear late and closed to notch a nose win in a final time of 1:23.27.
Ortiz said Wit, who was hampered by slow starts last year, has improved his gate habits.
“Off the bench, Pletcher had him ready, which was the most important thing. I went to Palm Beach Downs last week to work him out of the gate,” Ortiz said. “His problem last year was he was immature inside the gate and he would stand there awkwardly and break slow. As a 3-year-old, he’s more mature and he’s breaking better. He was sitting in a beautiful spot today. Approaching the quarter pole, Manny slipped through the hole and I thought he got me. But my horse showed his class. He was well trained and he was ready.”
Byron Hughes, Pletcher’s New York-based assistant, praised the winning ride from Ortiz.
“He broke well today and Jose kept him in the clear and was very patient at the top of the stretch,” Hughes said. “He was able to get the nose down in the last jump. It looked like he got a good bob but I wasn’t 100 percent sure that we got the win.”
Franco said the lightly-raced Highly Respected can only improve.
“My horse ran really well second time out. He’s still a baby and I think he has a bright future ahead of him,” Franco said.
It was a further 4 1/2-lengths back to Life Is Great in third with Dean’s List, Scaramouche, Juggler, Fromanothamutha and Outkissed rounding out the order of finish. Runninsonofagun and Doctor Jeff were scratched.
Wit, by Practical Joke, was purchased for $575,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He graduated on debut in June at Belmont Park and followed with an eight-length romp in the Grade 3 Sanford at Saratoga Race Course. The talented dark bay closed out his juvenile campaign with on-the-board Grade 1 efforts in the Hopeful in September at Saratoga and the Champagne in October at Belmont.
Bred in Kentucky by Rosilyn Polan, Wit banked $110,000 in victory while improving his record to 5-3-1-1. He returned $6 for a $2 win wager.
Live racing resumes Sunday at the Big A with a nine-race card headlined by the $100,000 Top Flight Invitational. First post is 1:20 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the spring meet at Aqueduct Racetrack on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA PRess OFfice
Photo: Wit (Francesca Le Donne Photo)