01/14/2012 6:21PM

Gulfstream Park: Jackson Bend refuses to lose in Hal's Hope

Courtney Stafford/Gulfstream Park
Jackson Bend and John Velazquez overcame a ton of trouble to win the Hal's Hope.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -  After Jackson Bend stumbled at the break and had to extricate himself from traffic problems at the head of the stretch during his one-length victory over Sangaree in Saturday’s $100,000 Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream Park, trainer Nick Zito did what he always does after winning a major stakes race. He stood in the winner’s circle and thanked God.

“I was Tebowing before Tebow,” Zito said with a smile.

It seemed like Jackson Bend would need some divine intervention after his unlucky beginning from post 1 at the start of the Grade 3 Hal’s Hope and again when trapped behind a wall of horses while full of run approaching the quarter pole. Jockey John Velazquez had to angle Jackson Bend out sharply at the top of the stretch to finally secure racing room, after which the Grade 1 winner did the rest, finishing strongly between horses to best the late-charging Sangaree.

Jackson Bend completed the mile in 1:38.19 over a fast but dull track and paid $3.80.

“He stumbled leaving there, then had to sit with nowhere to go until he found a place to run in the stretch,” said Zito who trains Jackson Bend for the partnership of Robert LaPenta and Fred Brei. “He’s got a tremendous heart. He’s got the guts of a lion. He’s a special horse. I told Bob we have to keep him at seven-eighths to a mile; we don’t want him to do anything he doesn’t want to do.”

Zito said he’d like to find one more race at Gulfstream this winter for Jackson Bend, with his first major goal of the season the Grade 1 Met Mile.

“I’ve never won the Met Mile but I’d love to have a couple of shots this year whether with Jackson Bend or Dialed In,” said Zito.

Sangaree, who dropped well behind during the early stages of the Hal’s Hope, circled widest while rallying strongly around the second turn and was unable to match strides with Jackson Bend through the final furlong. Cool Blue Red Hot finished another neck farther back in third after rallying to join the leaders near the eighth pole.