Updated on 11/25/2016 11:51AM

Heaven's Runway scores upset in Fall Highweight Handicap

Joe Labozzetta/NYRA photo
Heaven's Runway, with Junior Alvarado aboard, wins the Fall Highweight Handicap by a neck Thursday.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Heaven’s Runway had just one win from 25 previous starts on dirt, but when Rudy Rodriguez claimed the horse for $62,500 at Saratoga in August, he said he did so with the Fall Highweight Handicap in mind.

Rodriguez proved prescient as Heaven’s Runway pulled off a 32-1 shocker, running past 4-5 favorite Stallwalkin’ Dude in the final yards to win Thursday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Fall Highweight at Aqueduct by a neck.

Stallwalkin’ Dude, who spotted 11 pounds to the winner as the 134-pound highweight, finished second by 1 3/4 lengths over Ready for Rye. He was followed by 2015 Fall Highweight winner Green Gratto, The Great War, All Star Red, Spartiatis, and Angry Moon, who stumbled at the start and trailed throughout.

For Heaven’s Runway, a 6-year-old son of Run Away and Hide, the win was just his sixth from 41 starts. His only previous dirt win came in the Hockessin Stakes at Delaware Park, where, at 10-1, he was the longest shot in the field, as he was here on Thursday.

Breaking from the rail under Junior Alvarado, Heaven’s Runway was well off the pace early as The Great War, under John Velazquez, ran an opening quarter in 22.60 seconds and the half in 45.45 while pursued by Green Gratto.

Stallwalkin’ Dude, under Irad Ortiz Jr., raced in third position, came three to four wide in the stretch and took the lead just outside the eighth pole. But after saving ground until the quarter pole, Alvarado tipped Heaven’s Runway widest of all turning for home. He kept on charging through the lane, getting up in the final jumps.

Heaven’s Runway covered the six furlongs in 1:10.19 and returned $66.50 to win.

“I knew he was going to be okay for this race, and he didn’t prove me wrong,” said Rodriguez, who claimed Heaven’s Runway on behalf of Michael Dubb and Michael Imperio. “I made the owners very happy today. They don’t believe in me because nobody showed up, but I believe in myself.”

Rodriguez also ran All Star Red in the Fall Highweight, but he finished sixth as the 5-1 third choice.

Rodriguez said he always liked Heaven’s Runway, who had eight previous trainers in his career, including David Jacobson, who had him for eight starts, including a third in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler in October 2015.

“I really liked him when Jacobson ran him here a couple of times,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know why I didn’t go in for him when he dropped him [for $50,000] in Saratoga.”

Steve Asmussen claimed him that day. Rodriguez claimed him the next time from Asmussen.

Alvarado said Rodriguez was very confident when he met him in the paddock prior to the race.

“In the paddock, he told me he claimed this horse exactly for this race,” Alvarado said. “I took his word because he's a very good trainer. He only told me, 'Save ground, stay on the rail as long as you can. If you find a way inside, then go for it. If not, tip out.'

"I just made sure to do exactly what he told me to do, and it worked out," he added.

Jacobson was looking to win the Fall Highweight for the second time in three years. Stallwalkin’ Dude was coming off a victory in the Bold Ruler and, on paper, looked like the class of this field.

“He just got beat,” Jacobson said. “Got the trip we were hoping for, he got to the lead a little bit early, and we didn’t see that horse coming on the outside.”