05/05/2006 11:00PM

English Channel gets his Grade 1

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English Channel wins the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Saturday at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - English Channel's tactical speed made him one of the favorites for Saturday's Grade 1, $454,900 at Churchill Downs, but it was his finishing kick and tenacity that made him the winner.

Rating just off slow early fractions, English Channel spurted away to the lead with a sixteenth of a mile remaining and withstood a determined stretch bid from favored Cacique to win the Woodford Reserve by a half-length.

Under a well-judged ride from Garrett Gomez, English Channel settled in third place early as Cool Conductor, making his first start of the year, went to the lead. With Cool Conductor setting soft fractions of 24.66 seconds, 48.36, and 1:12.04, English Channel and Gomez sat poised to strike.

Gomez gave English Channel his cue coming into the lane, aggressively sending English Channel after the lead and getting the jump on some of his late-finishing rivals, who were boxed in behind him. With Cacique struggling to find room in early stretch, English Channel surged to the lead and proved impossible to catch, running his final furlong in of the 1 1/8-mile Woodford Reserve in about 11.50 seconds.

English Channel completed 1 1/8 miles over a firm course in 1:47.15, paying $9 as the second choice in the wagering.

"I was very confident just before I turned [for home]," said Gomez, who rode English Channel for the first time.

Cacique, bet down to 2-1 favoritism off a troubled fourth-place finish in the Frank Kilroe Mile, finished three-quarters of a length in front of third-place Milk It Mick, one of five starters who had a Grade 1 victory coming into the race.

Completing the order of finish were Einstein, Gorella, Cool Conductor, Good Reward, Honor in War, Silver Tree, and Perfect Drift.

In winning the Woodford Reserve, English Channel picked up the first Grade 1 victory of his career. The $267,937 winner's purse vaulted English Channel's earnings to $1,499,028. His record stands at 7 wins and 2 seconds from 11 starts for owner James T. Scatuorchio.

His next start is likely to come in the Grade 1 Manhattan Stakes at Belmont Park on June 10, trainer Todd Pletcher said.