04/16/2011 4:55PM

Keeneland: Stratford Hill outfinishes highly regarded rivals in Shakertown

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Stratford Hill, a son of  A. P. Indy out of Grade 1 Ballerina winner Harmony Lodge, is bred to excel on dirt. It just so happens that turf racing has proven his calling.

In the Grade 3, $100,000 Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday’s Bluegrass Stakes undercard, Stratford Hill won his fourth consecutive turf sprint in as many starts, defeating such standout turf horses as Grand Adventure, Silver Timber, and Breeders’ Cup Turf sprint winner Chamberlain Bridge.

Despite not having raced in a stakes race or over a yielding turf course – the conditions he caught in the Shakertown – Stratford Hill’s  inexperience never showed. He grabbed a contending position early, settling on the outside in third early, as Great Attack and Chamberlain Bridge dueled for the lead with an opening quarter-mile in 22.52 seconds in the five-furlong Shakertown.

Remaining in the three-path, Stratford Hill gradually began to pick up the leaders and surged to the lead late in the stretch. He won by a half length under regular rider John Velazquez, outlasting a rally from Grand Adventure for the place.

Grand Adventure nosed out front-running Great Attack, who settled for third, with Chamberlain Bridge another length back in fourth.

Velazquez said he wanted to keep Stratford Hill close to the pace when he saw favored Chamberlain Bridge break alertly from the outside. But ultimately it was Stratford Hill’s  closing kick that decided the outcome.

“He was running; everybody was running,” said Velazquez. “But he was very game. I was very proud of him.”

Stratford Hill, a 4-year-old owned and bred by Eugene Melnyk, raced 5 1/2 furlongs on a rain-soaked course in 1:03.90, paying $14.

Winning trainer Todd Pletcher praised Phil Hronec, Melnyk’s racing and farm manager, for encouraging the move to try Stratford Hill on the grass.

“He told me this horse was really better on the grass, and thought he was a good sprinter on the grass,” Pletcher said. “He turned to be 100 percent right.”

Although the top four finishers all ran very well, the same wasn’t true of Silver Timber, the defending race champion who had been 3 for 3 at Keeneland on the grass. He was in contention early but lacked his usual finishing punch and finished sixth.

He was pulled up by jockey Julien Leparoux after the race, and left the course in a horse ambulance.   \

“I think he’s going to be okay,” said trainer Chad Brown.