06/15/2013 5:59PM

Arlington Park: Coalport takes Black Tie Affair

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Coalport, under James Graham, wins the Black Tie Affair by 2 3/4 lengths Saturday.

At Fair Grounds last winter, Coalport gave the impression of a horse whose best races might have come early in his career. That impression is changing.

Coalport’s rise has been helped along by a move from open company to Illinois-bred competition, but there may be more to it than just that, and a sharp victory in the $87,850 Black Tie Affair Handicap on Saturday at Arlington suggested that Coalport could be ready for a return to open stakes competition.

Sitting a perfect stalking trip under James Graham, a replacement for the injured Channing Hill, Coalport pounced on tiring pacesetters Mr. Mischief and Tazz at the top of the stretch and ran off to a 2 3/4-length victory. Late-running favorite The Pizza Man, still far behind when Coalport ($7.80) made his move, had no chance at the winner and had to work to edge Princeville Condo for second. Suntracer, another deep closer, rallied for fourth.

The 4-year-old Coalport, a Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred by Kitten’s Joy, finished second in the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes in October of his 2-year-old year and earned a start in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, though he proved no factor there.

Coalport’s 3-year-old season consisted of just four starts, the last of them an eighth-place finish in the Woodchopper Stakes at Fair Grounds. And in late January, Coalport was a one-paced fifth in an allowance race there.

“The course there was knee-deep, and he just wasn’t right,” trainer Wayne Catalano said. “The horse has really been doing well now.”

Arlington’s turf was rated “yielding” on Saturday, but a solid half-mile split of 47.90 seconds and a final time of 1:43.18 for 1 1/16 miles suggested something firmer. Whatever the case, it suited Coalport, who sat poised and ready for his cue as Mr. Mischief and Tazz slugged it out. Meanwhile, The Pizza Man, the leading Illinois-bred male grass horse coming into the race, had too large a deficit to bridge in the stretch.

“We were left with a lot to do at the head of the lane,” trainer Tom Amoss said.

Princeville Condo, hardly showing his age at 8, stayed on solidly for third, leaving trainer Michele Boyce ruing a major six-furlong June 8 workout that she said was slower than Princeville Condo needed. So, maybe next time for Princeville Condo – but not if he has to face Coalport again.