Harpers First Ride
Harpers First Ride won the Deputed Testamony Stakes at Pimlico. Photo Maryland Jockey Club.

GMP Stables, Arnold Bennewith and Cypress Creek Equine’s Grade 3 winner Harpers First Ride coasted to an easy lead early then dug in under a late challenge from favored Magic Michael to defend his title by 1 ½ lengths in Saturday’s $100,000 Deputed Testamony at historic Pimlico Race Course.

Ridden by Angel Cruz for Maryland’s leading trainer, Claudio Gonzalez, Harpers First Ride ($7.20) completed the distance in 1:49.52 over a fast main track. Having also been contested at one and 1 1/16 miles, it was the third-fastest time in 15 runnings of the Deputed Testamony at nine furlongs.

Harpers First Ride now has won two straight since rejoining Gonzalez’s barn in mid-May after being sold over the winter, and 11 together for horse and trainer. Cruz has been up for seven of those wins, including all five of the 5-year-old gelding’s stakes victories.

“I’m happy the owners thought of me. They said, ‘Do you want to ride him back’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s my big horse.’ I love that horse,” Cruz said. “He’s a special horse. This horse always tries. Claudio Does a great job with him.”

Breaking from the far outside following the scratch of Bourbon Calling, Cruz and Harpers First Ride strolled to the front and led the way around he first run and into the backstretch through a quarter-mile in 25.38 seconds flanked by Cordmaker. Harpers First Ride conceded the lead to his fellow multiple stakes winner after a half in 49.34, but quickly erased the half-length deficit while on the rail and went six furlongs in 1:12.73 to put a head in front.

“We talked about that before the race. There was no speed in the race, so it was his call,” Gonzalez said. “If somebody inside goes, he can sit second or third. But he broke too good and he made the decision to go. Nobody wanted to go, and he did a good job because they went in 25 and 49, really slow for these horses.”

Harpers First Ride put away Cordmaker and began to draw away but Magic Michael, who had a three-race win streak snapped in the July 10 Battery Park at Delaware in his stakes debut, came with a run on the outside to make a late bid but was unable to close the gap.

“When we broke, nobody wanted to take the lead so I took advantage of that. Then they pressured me because we were going so slow, and I didn’t mind that because we were going an easy pace,” Cruz said. “When I asked him, he kicked for me.”

Cordmaker finished third, 2 ¼ lengths behind Magic Michael. It was another three-quarters of a length back to Michief Afoot in fourth, followed by Forewarned and Two Thirty Five.

Harpers First Ride won seven of 11 starts and nearly $500,000 in purse earnings in 2020, including stakes wins in the historic Pimlico Special (G3), Native Dancer, Richard W. Small and Deputed Testamony. He was sold privately prior to an off-the-board finish in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) Jan. 23 at Gulfstream Park and went winless in three races this year with trainer Robertino Diodoro, running 10th in defense of his Pimlico Special title May 14.

“This horse, you have to ride him for him to give you everything,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a good feeling. I believe he is going the right way.”

Gonzalez said he would consider the next MATCH Series race in the 3-year-old up, long dirt division – the $100,000 Victory Gallop going 1 3/16 miles Aug. 23 at Colonial Downs – for Harpers First Ride.

“Maybe we’ll point for the next race,” he said. “It all depends on how he’s doing.”

Later on the card, Mucho, a shipper for trainer John Ortiz, prevailed in the $100,000 Challedon Stakes for three-year-olds and up going six furlongs. The top four finishers were all within two lengths of each other, with Lebda holding second, favored Whereshetoldmetogo in third, and veteran Laki fourth. Reylu Gutierrez rode the winner, who got the six-furlong trip in 1:10.09 for the first stakes win of his career.