The Reds
The Reds (outside) couldn’t get past Excellorator in the Tesio but was put up via DQ. Photo by Allison Janezic.

As Pimlco track announcer Dave Rodman told the crowd that a claim of foul against Excellorator, first past the post in the $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes, had been disallowed, a big cheer went up around the winner’s circle at Pimlico Race Course.

Unfortunately for the cheering crowd — and for trainer Hugh McMahon, jockey Angel Cruz, and owner Phyllis Soboczenski — there were two claims of foul against the sophomore, and the stewards allowed the other, disqualifying Excellorator and placing him second, behind The Reds.

The DQ capped what’s been an up-and-down period for McMahon, as for all Laurel Park horsemen. A Covid-19 pandemic, equine herpesvirus outbreak, and a falling-apart racetrack at Laurel, well, that’ll give you some perspective.

“I’m not too disappointed, really,” McMahon said. “You know, the horse ran a wonderful race. And, you know, we’ve got a horse, and the lady’s dream is being fulfilled.”

Soboczenski, the octogenarian owner who races as Philmor Racing Stable LLC, paid $62,500 to claim Excellorator two races back out of an allowance/optional claiming race at Laurel Park. She and McMahon wheeled the sophomore Orb colt back in the $100,000 Private Terms Stakes, also at Laurel, and he ran a willing third at odds of 10-1.

“it’s either go to the sale and speculate, or go to the claiming ring and calculate,” McMahon said. “It was there; the horse was honest.”

Excellorator has now been in the money eight of nine starts — the lone exception coming on the turf — while generating earnings of $155,278.

While the outcome was a tough one for Team Excellorator, the folks behind The Reds, a Tonalist colt based in New York with trainer John Kimmel, were happy to be put up.

“I thought he showed tremendous courage, really,” Kimmel said in a release. “He got squeezed at the start so he ended up losing his spot. He should have been much closer. Then he had a terrible trip getting to where he was when the horse came out on him, which was a call I thought was deserved. We were just very fortunate.”

While the Tesio is a “win and in” race for the Preakness, The Reds is not Triple Crown-nominated. Nomination to the Preakness at this late date costs $100,000.

“I’m not sure if we’ll come back in three weeks but we’ll see how the Derby and the participants in the Preakness shakes out and we’ll go from there,” Kimmel said.

The Reds now has two wins from seven starts — he ran fifth last time out in the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct — and has earned $147,980.

Under jockey Angel Cruz, Excellorator was well placed in third in the early going of the Tesio, while eyeballing speed rivals Shackled Love and Maythehorsebwithu, who were one-two at each of the first three points of call. Those two, who ran one-two, respectively, in the Private Terms Stakes in which Excellorator finished third, navigated the opening half-mile in 48.12 seconds and three quarters in 1:11.50. The Reds, fifth early, was a couple of lengths farther behind Excellorator.

Cruz swung Excellorator wide for the drive, and that’s where the trouble began. As he made the front, he ducked towards the rail, and then he suddenly veered out several paths, complicating matters for both The Reds and Royal Number.

Straightened away, Excellorator held off the tenacious bid of The Reds, winning by a head, and even on the gallop-out, he would not let his rival by. Running time for the 1 1/8 miles over a fast main track was 1:49.98.

Both Julian Pimentel, on show horse Royal Number, and Victor Carrasco, on The Reds, objected the outcome to the stewards, with only the latter claim allowed.

Angel Cruz
Angel Cruz waits to hear his fate. Photo by Allison Janezic.

The Reds, off as the lukewarm favorite, paid $5.80 to win and topped an exacta that returned $16.70 for one dollar. Hello Hot Rod, the intriguing Maryland-bred making his first start since January, finished fourth, while Maythehorsebwithu and Shackled Love were fifth and sixth, respectively.

Excellorator is no stranger to trouble. McMahon said that the colt had other problems last out in the Private Terms.

“He lost both front shoes,” McMahon explained. “When he came out of the gate, he slid because he had no traction. He was compromised. And he was so sore for a week or so afterwards, I couldn’t walk him.”

He ran a big race that day, finding a new gear late to be third, and followed that up with an even bigger effort today, despite the disqualification.

Beyond the pandemic, racetrack, and herpesvirus challenges all Maryland trainers are facing, it’s all made McMahon take the long view.

“There’s just so much we can do in our operation,” McMahon said. “But there’s so many external variables that influence these kinds of outcomes.. Our owner paid a decent amount of money to get something, and this arrived on our doorstep.”