07/04/2013 5:31PM

Belmont Park: King Kreesa all the way in Poker Handicap

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
King Kreesa, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., led from start to finish in the Grade 3 Poker Handicap at Belmont Park on Thursday, winning by 1 1/2 lengths.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Able to relax while racing uncontested on the lead under Irad Ortiz Jr., the New York-bred King Kreesa finally got his first graded stakes victory Thursday, going gate to wire to win the Grade 3, $150,000 Poker Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths at Belmont Park.

Positions in the Poker were virtually unchanged from the start, as Howe Great finished second by 1 1/2 lengths over Big Screen. Data Link, the 3-5 favorite who raced three wide and in fourth down the backstretch,  finished fourth. Lubash, Shkspeare Shaliyah, and Upgrade completed the order of finish.

The win was the fifth from 14 starts for King Kreesa, a King Kugat gelding owned by Susan and Gerald Kresa and trained by Jeremiah Englehart. Englehart watched from his home in the Finger Lakes region as he was with his wife, who is close to delivering the couple’s fourth child.

With King Kreesa, it’s a simple game plan: Send him to the front and try to improve his position. Last year, King Kreesa was a bit more difficult to slow down. On Thursday, he got away with a half-mile in 47.19 seconds and was able to turn back Howe Great, who made a run at him in the stretch.

“Irad’s got a really good handle on this horse,” Englehart said by phone. “The biggest thing is the horse is just maturing. Last year, to get him to go that slow, he would fight the bridle a little bit.”

Ortiz said he thought King Kreesa was going faster early than the teletimer indicated, “but I got to let him because that’s what he likes,” he said.

King Kreesa covered the mile in 1:33.65 and returned $11 as the second choice.

Data Link, a Grade 1 winner who most recently finished second to Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland, was dull, according to his rider, Javier Castellano.

“When I asked, he didn’t take off,” Castellano said. “He was on the wrong lead, and he didn’t give me that kick. I don’t know; maybe that track is too hard for him.”

Englehart said King Kreesa would be pointed to the Grade 2, $600,000 Fourstardave and a possible meeting with Wise Dan on Aug. 10 at Saratoga.

Samitar back in winner’s circle

One race prior to the Poker, Castellano guided the Grade 1 winner Samitar to a 1 1/4-length victory over the pacesetting Baffle Me in the $100,000 Fairy Garden Stakes.

It was Samitar’s first victory since she won the Grade 1 Garden City over this course last October. She was winless in four starts since, including a fourth as the favorite in the Grade 3 Gallorette at Pimlico last out.

Samitar, a 4-year-old daughter of Rock of Gibraltar owned by Martin Schwartz and trained by Chad Brown, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.25 and returned $3.80.