11/22/2007 12:00AM

Grand Champion gets there in Fall Highweight

EmailOZONE PARK, N.Y. - It took a long time for trainer Jimmy Jerkens to get Grand Champion to the races, but the 4-year-old gelding has proven well worth the wait.

The ambitiously named Grand Champion once again showed grit by coming on again after being passed by Joey P. in midstretch to win Thursday's $109,200 Fall Highweight Handicap by a head before a sparse gathering of 3,247 on Thanksgiving Day at Aqueduct. Joey P., under Joe Bravo, finished second by a neck over City Attraction.

Park Avenue Ball finished fourth and was followed by Debussy, Bishop Court Hill, and Around the Cape.

It was the fifth victory from 10 lifetime starts for Grand Champion, who didn't make it to the races until February after having to have chips removed from all four of his ankles earlier in his career.

"We had to start him and stop him a hundred times," said Jerkens, who trains Grand Champion for Susan and John Moore. "We finally got going in Florida this winter. We've had to work hard on him, but he tries, that's for sure. Wonderful horse."

Under Eibar Coa, Grand Champion fell into a perfect stalking trip behind Bishop Court Hill and Debussy, who dueled through an opening quarter of 21.92 seconds. Grand Champion and Joey P. were in the second flight and made three- and four-wide moves, respectively, approaching the quarter pole. Grand Champion had a short lead turning for home, but was passed by Joey P. at the eighth pole. Grand Champion, however, continued to persevere along the rail and won a head-bob.

Grand Champion, who carried 130 pounds, covered the six furlongs in 1:09.90 over a main track labeled good and returned $6.40 as the favorite.

"He always makes it hard for me," Coa said. "Today he broke good so I was happy. He let that horse go by, and he made me work. I never thought by the eighth pole that I was going to come back, but he kept trying. I saw that horse wasn't getting away from me so I just keep pushing and pushing and he finally came back and put his head in front."

Jerkens said he will take Grand Champion to Florida and point for the sprint stakes at Gulfstream Park.