10/20/2012 5:38PM

Belmont Park: Lunar Victory outduels Saratoga Snacks to take Empire Classic

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Barbara D. Livingston
Lunar Victory and jockey Junior Alvarado get the better of Saratoga Snacks after a prolonged battle in the Empire Classic.

ELMONT, N.Y. - It may not have been as exhilarating as was their win earlier on Saturday at Ascot with the undefeated Frankel, but Juddmonte Farms captured the biggest prize on Belmont Park’s New York Showcase Day program when Lunar Victory pulled away from Saratoga Snacks late to win the $250,000 Empire Classic.

Saratoga Snacks, the Bill Parcells-owned 3-year-old who set a solid early pace, finished second by 6 1/2 lengths over Sailmate.

The victory was the fifth from six starts this year and sixth of eight in this country for Lunar Victory, a 5-year-old son of Speightstown trained by Bill Mott. Lunar Victory began his career in England with John Gosden.

The Empire Classic was the richest of seven stakes conducted on Saturday at Belmont, all restricted to New York-breds.

Asked if there were any Juddmonte Farms representatives at Belmont Saturday, Mott said, “They’re still celebrating Frankel I believe. But you know what? They pay attention to all of it. I’m sure they’re happy to have this one.”

The Empire Classic looked like a two-horse race on paper and it played out that way on the track. Saratoga Snacks, under Ramon Dominguez, made the lead while between horses, running a quarter in 23.56 seconds and a half-mile 46.61.

Junior Alvarado had Lunar Victory in fifth position, but only two lengths back, before moving into second entering the far turn.

Lunar Victory drew on even terms with Saratoga Snacks approaching the quarter pole - though Alvarado kept Lunar Victory a path or two away from Saratoga Snacks - and remained that way through most of the stretch. In the final sixteenth, Lunar Victory pulled away as Saratoga Snacks switched back to his left lead.

Lunar Victory covered the 1 1/8 miles over a good track in 1:49.70 and returned $3.60 as the 4-5 favorite.

“It was good,” Mott said of Lunar Victory’s performance. “If I was the connections of the second horse, I’d be pretty pleased with the fact he ran second. . . .Our horse is more seasoned and had been the mile and an eighth. That horse will be a horse to contend with in the future.”

Alvarado said he purposely kept Lunar Victory away from Saratoga Snacks because he had lost a race earlier in the year to Saratoga Snacks when he kept the horse he was riding right alongside him.

“I kind of knew already that right when I got to the horse, I was going to try and stay a little bit away from him because I know he will fight back,” Alvarado said.

While Juddmonte Farms announced that Frankel would retire with his perfect record (14 for 14) intact, Mott said plans for Lunar Victory weren’t concrete. He could be kept in training to attempt to run against open company, perhaps as soon as next month in the Grade 1, $400,000 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 23.

“We might consider it,” Mott said.