Jockey Luis Saez, who visited the Calder Casino & Race Course an all-time best 118 times during the Tropical Meet, put an exclamation point on his record-breaking season when capturing the final stake of the year, guiding Brushwood Stable’s Philly Ace to a half-length victory in the Grade 3 Tropical Turf Handicap.
Philly Ace was never hurried when breaking from post one in the Tropical Turf as Saez chose to keep the gelding covered up, saving ground while tracking the early leader Hollinger from fifth through opening fractions that went in :24.57 and :50.19.
“The trainer told me that the horse liked being along the rail,” Saez said of his pre-race instructions. “So I broke good and I took him right there.”
Content to hug the hedge throughout, Philly Ace was angled to an opening three-wide at the top of the stretch and quickly gained ground on Hollinger before passing that rival in the final yards to claim victory, stopping the timer in 1:49.22 for the nine-furlong trip.
“Going down the backstretch I had a lot of horse and was just waiting for the stretch,” Saez said. “When (jockey) Elvis (Trujillo aboard a tiring Sleepless Knight) came out, that was good for me because I was able to get in the clear, and my horse passed them all with no problem.”
Trained by Christophe Clement, who won the 1999 Tropical Turf with Hibernian Rhapsody, Philly Ace returned $8.60, $4.00, and $2.60 for the win. Hollinger paid $3.40 and $2.60 when holding on for third, 1 ¾ lengths better than third-place finisher Empire Builder, who paid $5.20.
With his victory in the Tropical Turf, the first graded-stakes triumph of his career, Philly Ace has now prevailed in seven of 14 starts with earnings of $356,966.
Earlier in the afternoon, St. George Farm Racing, LLC’s 3-year-old homebred filly Closing Range took the lead early and never looked back en route to a 2 ¾-length victory in the Grade 3 La Prevoyante Handicap, covering the 1 ½-mile trip over firm turf in 2:27.54.
“That was the plan, to put her on the lead,” winning rider Elvis Trujillo said after the race. “She broke sharp and I got her to relax as best she could.”
Closing Range galloped along unchallenged through leisurely splits of :24.40, :49.66, and 1:15, before her challengers ratcheted up the pressure a bit after a mile that went in 1:39.79.
“Past the three-eighths, the lead got a little shorter and the others started coming to me,” Trujillo said. “So I waited just a little bit more, and when she changed leads and got in the straight, it was time to go. She finished strong.”
Ignored by the betting public and sent from the gate at odds of 19-1, Closing Range returned $41.80, $7.80, and $2.60 for her upset win. Ciao Bella, who chased Closing Range from second for much of the race, paid $3.00 and $2.20 as the runner-up, while odds-on favorite Havant, who broke a step slow before being rushed to contention, brought back $2.10 in third.
Trained by Phil Oliver, Closing Range has now found the wire first in four of her six lifetime starts with career earnings of $149,898.