09/15/2013 5:36PM

Belmont Park: Kharafa by a head in Ashley T. Cole Stakes

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Adam Coglianese
Kharafa, with Javier Castellano aboard, wins the Ashley T. Cole Stakes on Sunday.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Trainer Tim Hills felt that Kharafa made the lead prematurely when he was beaten a length in the West Point Handicap at Saratoga and made a rider change in hopes of getting an off-the-pace-type trip in Sunday’s $150,000 Ashley T. Cole Stakes at Belmont Park.

But when Hills got to the paddock and told jockey Javier Castellano of his plan, Hills said Castellano, “looked at me like I was crazy.”

So, Hills left the tactics up to Castellano, who, with little choice given the way the race unfolded, put Kharafa on the lead around the first turn. Kharafa then had just enough to hold off Lubash and win the Ashley T. Cole by a head for his first stakes win.

Lubash, who won last year’s Cole by a head, finished second by a half-length over Hear the Footsteps.

“It worked out perfect because a mile and an eighth on the inner turf on the inside, the rail was good,” Castellano said. “He was able to relax and get comfortable. In the beginning, he wanted to go right to the lead, and I just kept him going nice and easy and put up good fractions.”

Hills, like everyone else who has been watching turf races early in the Belmont meet, deduced that speed was not holding. But after watching his horse win, Hills said, “Cheap speed isn’t holding. He’s a really good horse. It would have been impossible for him to be off the pace as sharp as he was. Once he relaxed and [Castellano] dropped his hands, I felt better. It’s a very gratifying win.”

Kharafa was running for the estate of Lawrence Durocher Jr., who died last month after his fourth battle with cancer. Hills said Durocher’s daughter is keeping the stable going for now.

Kharafa, a 4-year-old gelding by Kitalpha, covered the 1 1/8 miles over turf labeled “firm” in 1:49.21 and returned $5.40 as the favorite.

Hills said Kharafa likely would run back in the $200,000 Mohawk Handicap here Oct. 19.

Effie Trinket takes Hettinger Stakes

Trainer Rick Violette also didn’t think speed was any good on the turf, which is why he instructed jockey Luis Saez to take Effie Trinket off the pace in the co-featured $150,000 John Hettinger Stakes.

The plan worked to perfection as Effie Trinket, a close-up fourth in the early stages, made a four-wide move approaching the quarter pole and outkicked Wholelottashakin to win the Hettinger by a neck. It was another neck back to Inimitable Romanee, the 3-1 favorite, in third.

The win was the fifth in nine starts for Effie Trinket, a 3-year-old daughter of Freud owned by Patsy Symons. Effie Trinket is 3 for 6 on turf.

Violette scratched Effie Trinket out of Saturday’s Grade 1 Garden City because he felt the field came up too tough. He was thinking of running in an overnight stakes next Friday at a mile but opted to stay in the Hettinger and try the nine furlongs, a distance Effie Trinket had yet to attempt.

“I was hoping the Editor’s Note would show up,” Violette said, referring to the broodmare sire of Effie Trinket. “She’s a lot of fun.”

Violette also credited Saez with a “darn good ride,” noting that while he did make a four-wide move, Saez kept things tight on the horses inside of him.

It was the third win on the card for Saez.

Effie Trinket covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.39 and returned $9.40 as the second choice.

A logical spot for Effie Trinket’s next start would be the $200,000 Ticonderoga Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles here Oct. 19.