SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Stonestreet Stables' Rock Fall solidified his standing as one of the top sprinters in the country with a thrilling nose victory over The Big Beast in Saturday's Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga Race Course.
It was the sixth consecutive victory and first in a Grade 1 for the 4-year-old Rock Fall, now a perfect 4-for-4 in 2015. Sent off as the even-money favorite in a field of seven, he returned $4 on a $2 win bet.
The 31st running of the Vanderbilt was the second of four graded stakes worth $1.4 million on the program, joining the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy for 3-year-olds; the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green for older turf horses; and the Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam for sophomore sprinters.
Breaking from post 3 under jockey Javier Castellano, aboard for the entire win streak, Rock Fall settled in the clear behind pacesetting Favorite Tale, who cleared the field from the far outside and led through a quarter-mile in 22.74 seconds and a half in 45.31, tracked intently by The Big Beast.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and The Big Beast ranged up to challenge Favorite Tale as the field left the backstretch for the turn, with Rock Fall in close pursuit. The two horses hooked up at the head of the lane and dueled side-by-side the length of the stretch before Rock Fall won on a head bob at the wire.
"It was too close to call. The bob could have gone either way; I was lucky it went my way," Castellano said. "He was a really nice horse the way he did it today, off the pace. There was a lot of speed in the race and he covered up perfect. Turning for home I let him go outside; that's where he likes it, and it paid off today. My horse fought back to win the race. I give all the credit to him."
The winning time was 1:08.75 for six furlongs on a fast main track. Favorite Tale held on for third, followed by Salutos Amigos, Viva Majorca, Clearly Now and Departing.
It was the second Vanderbilt victory for trainer Todd Pletcher, who also won in 2004 with champion sprinter Speightstown, the sire of Rock Fall. The $210,000 winner's share nearly doubled his lifetime earnings to $509,180 from seven starts.
"He finished powerfully and we were fortunate to be on the right side of a very close head bob," Pletcher said. "It's tough to win a photo against a horse as big as The Big Beast. If you're head-and-head, he's got a head on you. We got a fortunate bob, and it was a great horse race."
Rock Fall has now won back-to-back graded stakes following his impressive 3 ¾-length victory in the Grade 2 True North June 5 at Belmont Park, his stakes debut. His lone defeat came in his debut last April at Gulfstream Park.
"[In the stretch] I thought we had him, and then I thought he was coming back and he had us, and Javier said The Big Beast just re-rallied," Pletcher said. "It wasn't like Rock Fall was slowing down; they were coming home. The True North was a good field; these were some really top horses. Salutos Amigos is consistently one of the top sprinters in the country, so this was a big win."
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