FARMINGTON — Some pre-race strategy by trainer Justin Evans and jockey Frank Reyes paid off in a big way, as Desert Jack scored a mild upset win in Saturday's $45,000 Jack Cole Handicap in front of nearly 1,900 fans at Sunray Park and Casino.
Going into the one-mile race for New Mexico-bred older thoroughbreds, Evans thought that his horse needed to be involved with setting the pace early and battling for the lead.
That tactic paid off well as Desert Jack – the fourth choice on the board at odds of 5.90-to-1 –sat just off the lead, took command midway around the far turn, and had something left to hold off a late rally from EP Who, winning by a determined length.
"(Desert Jack) will get himself so far back sometimes and I wanted to be up on the lead a bit, so I told (Reyes) in the paddock to warm him up and have him up in the thick of things early," Evans said after the race. "This horse is so tough that once he has the lead, it's tough to get by him."
Desert Jack, an 8-year-old gelded son of Desert God, scored for the 12th time in his career with the win in the Cole. He has won five times in his last six starts while padding his career earnings to more than $214,000.
Desert Jack and EP Who raced as a tandem virtually from the start, sitting just off the pace-setting Dajudge through an opening half-mile in 46.08 seconds. Once Dajudge began to weaken on the far turn, Desert Jack got first run and opened up a length lead turning for home. EP Who and jockey Martin Bourdieu rallied on the outside to battle for the lead at the head of the lane before Desert Jack found another gear, crossing the wire in a final time of 1:37.91.
"This is the kind of horse that just makes my job so easy," Evans said. "He gives everything he has so many times."
Desert Jack, owned by Jackie and Sylvia Herron, has now won five times from his last six starts. His supporters at the windows were rewarded with a $13.80 return.
EP Who finished second, four and one half lengths clear of the rest of the field when second.
Post-time favorite Thunder Agard showed little in the Cole under jockey Elvin Gonzalez.
Sent off at 8-to-5 on the board, Thunder Agard lost for the first time in three starts over the local course and remains winless since November.
Racing resumes today at Sunray Park and Casino with a strong nine-race program set to begin at 1:30 p.m.
One of the all-time greats in the state of New Mexico will be making his 62nd trip to the starting gate in one of today's featured attractions, a 400-yard allowance race for state-bred quarter horses.
Miracle Snow, a multiple stakes winner and earner of more than $730,000 for owner Melvin Neugebauer and trainer Wes Giles, has been made the 5-to-2 morning-line favorite in today's fifth race.
Miracle Snow, an 11-year-old gelding by Dean Miracle, is one of the most dominant older horses on the circuit. He has won stakes races at every track in the state throughout his career. Despite having lost his only two starts this year, he commands a great deal of respect in this spot where he will be ridden once again by Martin Bourdieu.
Post time for the fifth race is scheduled for 3:06 p.m.
Jockeys Frank Reyes and Elvin Gonzalez each had very big days on Saturday. Reyes rode four winners on the day, while Gonzalez chimed in with three of his own.
In addition to the win in the Cole Handicap aboard Desert Jack, Reyes also won the third race with trainer Henry Dominguez aboard Spring For It and the fifth race for trainer Ross Amestoy aboard Storm With Flair. He and Evans teamed up in the seventh race with Rising Giant.
Gonzalez, last year's champion thoroughbred rider at Sunray, is off to a fast start as well this season. He won the second race aboard Ima Knockout for trainer Miguel Hernandez, then scored in the sixth race in an impressive ride aboard Cat Trap for trainer David Wolochuk Saturday. Then closed out the day in the ninth race aboard Boast for trainer Owen Bringhurst.
Plays of the day:
Each racing day this season at Sunray, track announcer Eric Alwan and paddock show host Steve Bortstein offers up a best bet for the day's program.
Alwan's best bet comes in the eighth race, a six and one half furlong sprint where he likes No. 3 Dream Catcher. Dream Catcher drops in class after a poor effort in the Inaugural and races for the red-hot barn of Justin Evans.
Bortstein's best bet comes in the ninth race, a four and one half furlong allowance sprint. Bortstein likes No. 8 Weappear, coming out of a key race for trainer Camie Telford. Making his third start off a layoff, Weappaer may the controlling speed under jockey Nancy Summers.