Updated on 09/16/2011 8:13AM

Hail the Chief takes charge

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CICERO, Ill. - Jockey Jorge Chavez, unfamiliar with Sportsman's Park, looked around in confusion for the winner's circle as he came back toward the stands with Hail the Chief after Saturday's National Jockey Club Handicap. It was the only misstep Chavez and Hail the Chief made.

Taking an early lead with a powerful burst of speed from the gate, Hail the Chief set a fast pace on a dull racetrack, but still had plenty left for the stretch, running away from a solid field to win the Grade 3, $200,000 NJC Handicap by 11 1/4 lengths.

On the surface, the result will look typical for a Sportsman's track that usually promotes inside speed. But Saturday, Sportsman's played fair and slow, and the 47.73-second half-mile split Hail the Chief set was very quick for a nine-furlong race.

"He was doing it by himself," Chavez said. "When I asked him in the stretch he opened up a few more lengths."

Hail the Chief is the latest in a line of European horses imported to the U.S. that have panned out on dirt for trainer Niall O'Callaghan. Last year, Generous Rosi, a former European, finished second in a Grade 1 stakes. Now, Hail the Chief, who won on a dirt-like track several times in England for owner Peter Crane, may be headed toward the top of the handicap division.

Hail the Chief, who paid $7.40 to win and was timed in 1:51.72 over a fast track, easily beat E Z Glory, who won a blanket finish for second over Ubiquity, the narrow favorite, and Chicago Six, the NCJ winner last year.