06/10/2016 6:08PM

Ex-claimer Joking gives Baker first graded stakes win in True North

Barbara D. Livingston
Joking, claimed by Charlton Baker for $20,000 in 2014, rallies under Manny Franco to upset the True North.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Charlton Baker had been looking for a graded stakes victory all of his career. He didn’t think it would come with a horse he claimed for $20,000 more than two years ago.

But Joking indeed gave Baker his first victory in a graded stakes, rallying from last to run down the pacesetting Dads Caps by a neck in Friday’s Grade 2, $250,000 True North Stakes at Belmont Park. It was three-quarters of a length back to Holy Boss in third. Catalina Red, the even-money favorite, finished fourth, followed by Always Sunshine.

Private Zone, the 8-5 morning line favorite, was scratched after his trainer, Brian Lynch, surrendered his license earlier this week following a failed drug test.

Joking, a 7-year-old gelding by Distorted Humor, won for the ninth time in 38 starts. It was his eighth win from 26 starts since Baker claimed him for himself for $20,000 on Jan. 13, 2014.

“I was looking for a graded stakes horse forever and he happened to be the first,” said Baker, who has won 1,402 races since he began training in 1998. “I never imagined he’d be the first.”

And even as well as Joking was doing, Baker thought in the True North “we might have been over our head a little bit but I was going to give it a shot.  The scratch helped us a lot.”

With Private Zone out of the race, Dads Caps assumed the role of pacesetter, opening up a one-length lead over Catalina Red in posted fractions of 22.44 seconds for the quarter-mile, and 44.71 for the half. Always Sunshine and Holy Boss were also chasing the pace while Manny Franco was content to keep Joking in last, but only about five lengths off the pace.

As Dads Caps, under Irad Ortiz Jr., continued on the lead in upper stretch, Joking made a five-wide bid in the stretch and ran down Dads Caps in the final yards.

Joking’s final time was posted as 1:08.04 for six furlongs and he returned $21.80 as the second-longest shot on the board. Dads Caps, at 12-1, was the longest shot on the board and the two combined for a $158 exacta in the five-horse field.

“Just being that close where he was, five lengths off the pace, I know he had a shot because he’s going to give you that kick,” Baker said. “But all day it seemed like speed kept on going so I knew he’s going to come with his run but I didn’t know if he was going to get there.”

It was a tough beat for Dads Caps, a two-time Grade 1 winner who looked on his way to stealing the True North. He was coming off a last-place finish to Joking in the Diablo Stakes, a performance trainer Gustavo Rodriguez said was a result of the horse having a case of the thumps, an electrolyte imbalance.

“We did something different with him to prevent the thumps and he ran good,” Rodriguez said. “I thought we had it.”

Baker said he would look to run Joking back in the Belmont Sprint Championship on July 9 but then give the horse the Saratoga meet off because he doesn’t do well up there.