Awakened Emerges Victorious in the Jonathan Sheppard Steeplechase Handicap
Saratoga Springs — Racing Triumph
In a remarkable ascent, Awakened transitioned from the novice ranks to secure victory in the prestigious $150,000 Grade I Jonathan Sheppard Steeplechase Handicap, one of the co-featured events at Saratoga.
The regally bred son of the two-time Horse of the Year, Curlin, demonstrated his prowess by defeating nine formidable rivals in a challenging race spanning 2 3/8 miles and featuring nine imposing national fences.
A Tactical Display
Under the expert guidance of jockey Tom Garner, representing the River Dee and Ten Strike Racing, Awakened adopted a patient strategy by lingering towards the rear in the ninth position for the initial two miles of the race. Garner then unleashed the 6-year-old gelding’s speed after smoothly clearing the ninth and final fence, navigating the challenging Union Avenue turn. As they entered the home stretch, Awakened closed the gap to within a length of Jimmy P, ridden by jockey Danny Mullins, who ultimately secured the second-place finish.
A Winning Surge
With the first fence in the home stretch removed for safety considerations, Awakened seized the opportunity for a clear path to the finish line. In a spirited sprint to the wire, Awakened and Garner triumphantly crossed the line with a one-length lead over Jimmy P. Notably, McTigue, the victor of the Jonathan Kisor Stake three weeks prior, where Awakened had finished second, secured the third position, just a neck behind Jimmy P.
Surprising the Betting Public
The betting public had reservations about Awakened’s transition from being a novice horse to competing at the highest echelon of steeplechasing. Consequently, he embarked on this challenging endeavor with odds of 6-1, defying the skeptics with a resounding victory. Awakened’s win returned a rewarding $14.40, with place and show payoffs of $4.90 and $3.40, respectively. In contrast, Jimmy P’s valiant performance yielded place and show payoffs of $7.70 and $5.30. McTigue, the race favorite at 3-1, offered a show payoff of $3.20.
Trainer’s Confidence and Jockey’s Delight
Hall of Fame trainer Jack Fisher expressed his unwavering confidence in Awakened’s capabilities throughout the race. Fisher stated, “I was pretty confident, just because I knew he’d like the distance and I knew he’d like the ground being firm. I thought he was too far back and it would be tough to get through, but knowing here it opens up in the stretch so he could just wait. You take what you can get.”
An exuberant Tom Garner commented on Awakened’s remarkable performance, saying, “He’s just got that one gallop and he galloped all the way to the line and could’ve gone another half-mile.”
A Race with a Storied Legacy
Previously known as the New York Turf Writers Handicap, this race pays homage to the esteemed Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan E. Sheppard, renowned for his remarkable record of training at least one race winner at Saratoga each year from 1969 to 2015.
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