12/29/2016 6:24PM

Haul Anchor takes early lead to win Damon Runyon Stakes

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Haul Anchor didn’t handle a sloppy Belmont Park surface two months ago, but he certainly skipped over a muddy Aqueduct inner track on Thursday, recording a front-running, 4 1/2-length victory in the $100,000 Damon Runyon Stakes as racing resumed on this circuit following a 10-day break.

Under Cornelio Velasquez, Haul Anchor sprinted to the front out of the gate, withstood some token pressure from Mo Maverick through decent fractions, and then ran away in upper stretch to win the Damon Runyon at odds of 13-1. Mo Maverick, the 3-1 second choice, finished second by 3 1/2 lengths over Carradine. He was followed, in order, by D’yer Maker, Voodoo Song, Tellmeafookystory, Mollica, the 8-5 favorite, and Macho Miah.

Bourbon Empire, the 7-2 second choice on the morning line, was scratched by his connections largely due to the muddy, sealed track.
Coincidentally, the connections of Haul Anchor also thought about scratching due to the wet track. In his most recent start, the Sleepy Hollow Stakes run over a sloppy Belmont Park track, Haul Anchor backed up after dueling on the lead for five furlongs and finished eighth, beaten 35 1/2 lengths.

“To be honest with you we thought about scratching,” said Joe Lee, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “But with it being packed down and tight and speed holding we thought let’s kick on and see if he skips right along. I assured Cornelio fitness won’t be a problem if you put yourself in the right spot.”

The right spot Thursday at Aqueduct was on the lead. Five of the nine races were won by horses that made the lead at the first call. Two of the other winners were no worse than second at any point.

Breaking from post 4, Velasquez sent Haul Anchor to the lead. He set fractions of 23.67 seconds for the quarter, and 47.84 for the half with Mo Maverick, under Manny Franco, a length behind him. Mo Maverick tried to stick with Haul Anchor coming into the stretch, but Haul Anchor appeared to be going easier of the two and opened up.

Haul Anchor, a son of Bernardini owned and bred by Chester and Mary Broman, covered the mile and 70 yards in 1:45.69 and returned $29.20.

“At the five-eighths pole I was going easy,” Velasquez said. “He relaxed in the race. I had a lot of horse.”
Velasquez won two races on Thursday’s card. After spending the bulk of the last seven months riding in south Florida and Saudi Arabia, Velasquez plans to ride the winter meet in New York.