12/26/2015 6:14PM

Charming Kitten digs deep for tight victory in McKnight Handicap

Kenny Martin/Coglianese Photos
Charming Kitten wins the W.L. McKnight Handicap by a neck Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Charming Kitten dug down deep and found just enough in reserve to withstand a determined bid from Kaigun to register a well-deserved neck victory Saturday in the Grade 3 W.L. McKnight Handicap at Gulfstream Park. Da Big Hoss, the 8-5 favorite, raced wide and finished a well-beaten third, 3 1/4 lengths behind the winner.

Charming Kitten gave jockey John Velazquez his second graded stakes win on the card. He also guided Best Behavior to victory in the Grade 3 Sugar Swirl earlier in the day.

Charming Kitten was rated within easy striking distance of the leaders during the early stages of the 1 1/2-mile McKnight and gained a short advantage outside the tiring pacesetter War Dancer at the top of the stretch before facing a dangerous challenge from Kaigun leaving the eighth pole. But Charming Kitten proved equal to the task, never letting the Grade 2 winner get past him in the run to the wire.

Charming Kitten, a homebred son of Kitten’s Joy, is trained by Todd Pletcher for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey. The winner completed the distance in 2:27.76 over a firm course and paid $11.20. The win was the first in a graded stakes for Charming Kitten, whose most important previous victory came in the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup during spring 2014.

"He tries all the time,” said Velazquez. “The last couple races, he tried very hard, and today, he put it all together. It was another nice effort. I wanted to get him in nice position where he was comfortable. After that, he was running well."