Harpers First Ride
Harpers First Ride won an allowance race at PImlico. Photo Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.

GMP Stables, Arnold Bennewith and Cypress Creek Equine’s Harpers First Ride, reunited with trainer Claudio Gonzalez and jockey Angel Cruz for the first time in six months, returned to the winner’s circle with a 1 ¼-length victory in Sunday’s feature at historic Pimlico Race Course.

Under a patient ride from Cruz, Harpers First Ride ($3.20) rated in fourth off the early leaders, split horses midway around the turn and steadily gained through the stretch before drawing off for his 11th career win in 1:43.45 for 1 1/16 miles over a fast main track in the third-level optional claiming allowance.

The triumph completed a hat trick for jockey and trainer, who also teamed up with Mit Mazel ($7.40) in Race 2 and Ink ($3.20) in Race 3. Gonzalez, Maryland’s leading trainer the past four years and again atop the Preakness Meet standings, had his family with him in the winner’s circle.

“It’s a lot of pressure because they come for the picture. They think it’s easy,” Gonzalez laughed. “I was very confident today with the three horses. It’s a good feeling, especially with this horse. He came back and all the time I love this horse. He’s a good horse.”

Harpers First Ride won nine of 15 starts for Gonzalez including the Pimlico Special (G3) last fall at Pimlico and the Deputed Testamony, Richard W. Small and Native Dancer at Laurel Park, all in 2020. Gonzalez sold the horse prior to his 2021 debut in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) Jan. 23 at Gulfstream Park.

Following the sale, Harpers First Ride raced three times for Midwest-based trainer Robertino Diodoro. He finished fourth in the Essex Handicap and third in an optional claiming allowance at Oaklawn Park this spring and ran 10th in defense of his Pimlico Special title May 14.

“When a horse moves to another trainer, they don’t know the horse. It’s not because the other trainer is not good, but sometimes you have to know the horse,” Gonzalez said. “I know him, I know what he likes. It’s not because they didn’t do a good job. He came back really good and looked the same. The only thing I had to do was what he likes.”

Harpers First Ride had three breezes at Pimlico since rejoining Gonzalez. Breaking from the rail in a field of five as the 3-5 favorite, the 5-year-old Paynter gelding was content to led the speed go as 18-1 long shot Workin On a Dream led the way through fractions of 25.40 and 49.77 seconds with Zoomer and Hockey Puck alternating for second.

Cruz began to make his move leaving the backstretch and split Zoomer and Gonzalez-trained stablemate Tybalt to work his way into the clear three wide. Set down for the run home, he quickly closed in on the leaders and edged clear for his first win since the Native Dancer Dec. 26.

Gonzalez said Harpers First Ride will be again pointed to the $100,000 Deputed Testamony for 3-year-olds and up, contested at 1 1/8 miles Saturday, July 31 at Pimlico.

“We’re going to be ready for that one,” he said. “I want to stay here in Maryland. He loves it here. He loves Pimlico.”