Two weeks ago at Pimlico, Force the Pass ran gamely but could never quite get to Woodwin W, who won the James Murphy Stakes on the Preakness undercard.
Today in the Grade 3, $500,000 Penn Mile, for sophomores, there was no stopping the chestnut son of Speightstown, who found a seam and rallied sharply to post a head win over Night Prowler in a swift 1:34.03 for one mile on the grass. That was .04 seconds slower than the stakes record set by Rydilluc in the race’s inaugural running in 2013.
It was a thrilling conclusion to a terrific sequence in which three turf stakes were decided by a combined total of less than one length. In the Penn Mile, the top eight finishers were within two lengths of each other, and the top 10 were within four.
“He got it done,” said trainer Alan Goldberg, who had watched the race from his New Jersey home. “He’s really a pretty good horse. We thought highly of him from Day 1.”
A pair of longshots, Comanche’s Storm (24-1) and Gallery (71-1), dragged the field through zippy opening fractions, with Comanche’s Storm holding a head lead after six furlongs in 1:10.27, but the cavalry was arriving.
Night Prowler was the first to do so, grabbing the lead outside of that pair.
But Force the Pass, in between horses and struggling to find a spot, was just revving up.
“I was between horses the whole time,” said rider Joel Rosario. “It’s not easy sometimes when you have nowhere to go.”
“I figured he would know him now after the last race,” Goldberg said of rider and horse, who first had teamed up for that runner-up finish in the Murphy.
Given a seam, Force the Pass accelerated sharply to get a head win over Night Prowler. Granny’s Kitten was another three-quarters of a length back in third. Papacoolpapacool, the lukewarm 3-1 post-time favorite, finished seventh. Woodwin W, previously undefeated and sent off at 5.40-1, finished tenth.
It was the second stakes win and third win overall for Force the Pass, who has not finished worse than second in five tries. He has now earned just over $360,000.
Looking ahead, Goldberg said he has his eyes on the 1 1/4 mile Belmont Derby over July 4 weekend.
“He doesn’t train like he just wants to go a mile,” the trainer said. “He trains like he wants to go all day.”
PENN MILE NOTES
The start of the evening’s card, the biggest on Penn National’s calendar, was delayed because most of the gate crew and valets refused to work, citing what they called management’s intransigence in negotiating with them. A handful of gate workers declined to join the action and were joined on the crew by several horsemen…
All four open stakes were won by horses shipping into Grantville and ridden by jockeys who also traveled here for the day…
Rain storms dotted the area and threatened the card but for the most part did not hit the track. The Mountainview was run on a sealed main track, but by the time the Penn Mile went off, the skies had cleared…