01/23/2016 5:54PM

Charming Kitten goes the distance in Allen Jerkens Stakes

Lauren King/Coglianese Photos
Charming Kitten, with John Velazquez aboard, wins the Allen Jerkens Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths Saturday.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – Charming Kitten remained perfect at two miles, and trainer Todd Pletcher remained perfect in the Allen Jerkens Stakes, the pair combining Saturday at Gulfstream Park for a popular 1 1/2-length victory over Xaverian in the race named after the legendary horseman who died last spring.

With John Velazquez riding a very patient race, Charming Kitten saved ground while racing within easy striking distance of Roccia d’Oro, who set the very leisurely pace over a turf course officially listed as “good.” Xaverian, who had stalked the early leader from the outset, eventually took control nearing the quarter pole for the final time but ultimately proved no match for Charming Kitten, who edged to his second win in as many starts going two miles. He won the Belmont Gold Cup in June 2014.

Xaverian, trained by Charles “Chuck” Simon, a former assistant to Jerkens, was easily second-best, finishing nearly seven lengths in front of St. Albans Boy.  Roccia d’Oro weakened to finish fourth. Mucho Mas Macho and Matuszak were eased to the wire, while Neutronstar pulled up at the top of the stretch.

Charming Kitten, a homebred son of Kitten’s Joy owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, paid $2.80 after completing the grueling distance in 3:33.87. Pletcher won the inaugural edition of the Allen Jerkens a year ago with Unitarian. He and Simon were classmates at the University of Arizona.

“I think the biggest key is identifying a horse that wants to stay that far, and you need one that’ll turn off early on and just get into a steady gallop,” Pletcher said. “You can’t have one that’s rank or that will pull early. He’s already won a two-mile race, so once we knew that, it was kind of an easy decision to run here.”