Updated on 07/10/2011 10:36AM

Delaware Oaks: St. John's River overtakes Strike the Moon just before wire

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Hoofprints Inc.
Heavy favorite St. John's River gives jockey Jose Lezcano his second graded stakes win of the card by nipping pacesetter Strike the Moon in the Delaware Oaks.

Dropping back to last usually spells trouble at a speed-favoring track like Delaware Park. So when deep closer St. John’s River lagged in seventh after the first six furlongs of Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile Delaware Oaks, her chances didn’t look good.

Nor did the picture appear much brighter when St. John’s River was fourth, 4 1/2 lengths behind pacesetter Strike the Moon, with a furlong remaining.

But under Jose Lezcano, a late substitution for the injured Rosie Napravnik, St. John’s River kept rolling along in deep stretch and caught 8-1 stretch-out sprinter Strike the Moon in the final stride to prevail by a head I the Grade 3, $300,200 stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Lezcano, who picked up the mount when Napravnik sustained a broken wrist in a spill on Wednesday, won the Grade 3 Robert Dick Memorial Stakes earlier on the card.

"She's a really good filly. She won it by herself today," Lezcano said of St. John's River. "I gave her so much to do, but she's a very good filly and she did it."

Until inside the sixteenth pole, it looked like even-money favorite St. John’s River would have to settle for her third straight runner-up finish to go along with her near-miss by a neck in the Kentucky Oaks and one-length length defeat in the Fair Grounds Oaks.

This time, however, St. John’s River ($4) got the job done to secure her elusive second career victory in her sixth lifetime start for Louisiana-based trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. A daughter of Include owned by Dede McGehee, St. John’s River  completed the distance on a fast track in 1:44.39. She was awarded an 86 Beyer Speed Figure, nine points lower than her previous best in the Kentucky Oaks.

“They were going so slow the first part of it I was worried because I did not think they would back up that much,” Leggio said. “They did not back that much, but she just kept running on them.  I thought she was going to win the race, but I was concerned about this short stretch because she does not start getting running until the last eighth of a mile."

Leggio said St. John's River will be heading next to Saratoga, where she will attempt to become the fourth straight Delaware Oaks winner to go on to capture the Grade 1 Alabama at 1 1/4 miles.

Strike the Moon, based in Maryland with trainer Mike Trombetta, was making her first start beyond seven furlongs following a neck loss in the six-furlong Miss Preakness and another second, beaten a length, as the favorite in the 6 1/2-furlong Jostle, a $200,000 stakes at Parx Racing, last time out. Under Julian Pimental, Strike the Moon set comfortable fractions of 48.71 seconds and 1:13.09. She looked like a winner with a 3 1/2-length entering the final eighth of a mile, but was just caught before the wire.

All for Thee, the second choice at 5-2 in a field of seven, was 1 3/4 lengths in back of Strike the Moon in third. The loss ended a three-racing winning streak for All for Thee, a locally based filly trained by Tony Dutrow.