10/17/2013 4:57PM

Keeneland: Najjaar wins off-the-turf Sycamore Stakes

Coady Photography
Najjaar and jockey James Graham win the Sycamore Stakes by three-quarters of a length.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Najjaar likely would have been overlooked in Thursday’s Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland if the race had stayed on the turf. Instead, the race was switched to the main track, the top three contenders scratched out, and Najjaar found himself at 9-2 when the gates opened instead of at 20-1, as he was on the morning line.

He made the most of it. Glued to the rail by jockey James Graham and sitting just off the dueling leaders for most of the 1 5/8-mile race, Najjaar had to maneuver around one of the fading front-runners as the field exited the final turn, but that was the only trouble he had, as Graham worked him to the lead with a furlong to run. He won by three-quarters of a length.

“Great trip,” the Irish-born Graham said after the race, alongside Najjaar’s trainer, Daniel Peitz. “I saved ground the whole way, rode to the instructions perfectly from Danny boy here.”

Eagle Poise, who pressed the early leader, Reflecting, for most of the race, was second, a neck in front of Tricky Hat, who was a head in front of Suntracer. The time for the race was 2:41.49. The first mile was run in 1:42.12.

Najjaar paid $11.80 to win and keyed a $57.80 exacta. The $2 trifecta paid $202.80.

By Jazil out of the Darshaan mare Hasheema, Najjaar is owned by Shadwell Stable. The $60,000 winner’s share of the Sycamore’s $100,000 purse increased his career earnings to $237,972. He has three wins from 16 starts, with four seconds and four thirds. The Sycamore was the first stakes win for the 4-year-old horse.

The Sycamore Stakes started the day as a Grade 3. But with the move off the turf, the race was automatically downgraded and run as an ungraded event. It might have the grade restored following a review by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

Nine horses were set to run, but Keeneland moved all three of Thursday’s turf races to its artificial main track following rains in the Lexington area Wednesday and Thursday morning. The three scratches were Nutello, the 7-2 favorite, and Temeraine and Rahystrada, who were both listed at 4-1.

Najjaar had not won since March 2, 2012, when he took an Oaklawn Park first-level allowance race. He ran in that year’s Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, but neither performance was particularly strong. He then was moved to turf for five of his next seven starts, including his start prior to the Sycamore, when he finished third in the $400,000 American St. Leger at Arlington Park. 

Peitz said after the race he “didn’t know what to expect” from the horse due to the switch to the Polytrack, but he said that the horse had some recent experience with artificial surfaces, having breezed over Arlington Park’s Polytrack surface during the summer and fall.

“I was more worried about the trip, about whether he might get boxed in or not,” Peitz said. “But it worked out well.”