11/26/2015 4:49PM

Green Gratto scores upset in Fall Highweight Handicap

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Green Gratto (right) holds off Palace to win the Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap by a head Thursday.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – The focus going into Thursday’s Grade 3 Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct was on a 5-year-old New York-bred mare. But it was a 5-year-old New Jersey-bred horse who stole the thunder – and the race – by pulling off a huge upset in the Thanksgiving Day feature.

Green Gratto, with just one win from 14 previous starts this year, took control soon after the start under Kendrick Carmouche and held off 2013 Fall Highweight winner Palace by a head to win the $250,000 Fall Highweight Handicap. The longest price in the seven-horse field at 24-1, Green Gratto returned $50.50 for a $2 wager.

The win was the first as a trainer for Gaston Grant, who owns Green Gratto, a son of Here’s Zealous, with his brother, Anthony Grant. Gaston Grant, 52, only began training horses in August. Four other men have trained Green Gratto.

Meanwhile, the New York-bred filly La Verdad finished sixth in the final race of her career. She stalked the early pace but couldn’t run with the boys in the final furlong and was beaten 2 1/4 lengths. La Verdad, who won 15 races, including 10 stakes, from 24 starts and $1,503,200 in her career, is expected to be bred to Medaglia d’Oro early in 2016.

“The colts are just too fast for her,” Linda Rice, who trains La Verdad for Sheila Rosenblum, said after the race. “It’s time to let her do something else.”

Added Rosenblum: “I think pretty soon breeding. I think she’s done a superb job.”

Though he rarely wins, Green Gratto had run some big races before. In April, he finished second to Dads Caps at 52-1 in the Grade 1 Carter. In March, he finished third behind Salutos Amigos and Dads Caps in the Grade 3 Tom Fool.

On Nov. 18, he earned a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure in running second to Fabulous Kid in an optional-claiming race here. He came out of that race so well that Grant thought about wheeling him back in Saturday’s Grade 1 Cigar Mile. When he heard that Private Zone was coming for that race, Grant settled on the Fall Highweight.

Breaking from post 5 under Carmouche, Green Gratto outsprinted Captain Serious and La Verdad to the front, running a first quarter of 22.29 seconds to do it. He maintained a two-length advantage through a half-mile in 44.71 seconds.

Though La Verdad, who seemed content to stalk, wasn’t kicking on in the final furlong, her stablemate Palace was coming through along the inside under Cornelio Velasquez. But Green Gratto got to the wire first to spring the upset.

“Last time I rode the horse, I kept him together pretty good and let him go nice and easy, but it didn’t work out,” Carmouche said, referring to the Nov. 18 race. “This time, I told the trainer, ‘I’ll just let him roll. That’s the only way we’re going to win.’ ”

Having raced 31 times in the last 24 months, Green Gratto might get a break, Grant said.

“We’ll give him a little breather and see where he takes us,” Grant said. “He deserves a break.”

Like his stablemate, Palace also likely made his final career start, though there is the Gravesend on Dec. 26.

“Ran huge,” Rice said. “He’s a great horse. We just had an eventful year. So close; would have been nice to see him win it.”

Palace finished a half-length in front of Fabulous Kid, who got third by a neck over Pulling G’s. Salutos Amigos, the 3-2 favorite, was fifth after an extremely wide trip and was followed by La Verdad and Captain Serious.