09/24/2016 3:02PM

Kharafa makes Ashley T. Cole Stakes first victory of year

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Though Kharafa had yet to win a race this year, trainer Tim Hills still thought the 7-year-old gelding was running as well as he did last year when he won three of seven starts.

Kharafa proved his trainer correct Saturday at Belmont Park by earning his first victory of 2016 in the $125,000 Ashley T. Cole Stakes for New York breds. Rallying from off the pace under Antonio Gallardo, Kharafa went by pace-setting Latigo Trail outside the eighth pole and got to the wire three quarters of a length ahead of Offering Plan, the 9-5 favorite. It was three quarters back to Tapitation, who was followed, in order, by King Kreesa, Latigo Trail, and Harbor King.

It was Kharafa’s first win since he took last year’s Ashley T. Cole, and it was his third victory in this race in the last four years. Overall, Kharafa, owned by Timothy Pinch and Paul Braverman, is 12-11-5 from 38 starts _ he’s 8 for 20 at Belmont _ and he has surpassed the $1 million mark in career earnings.

“That was one of our aims, and we met that aim really quick because I think he still has a couple of good years left in him,” Hills said. “We’ll keep building on that million-dollar mark.”

Kharafa’s last two losses, in the Grade 3 Oceanport at Monmouth and in the West Point at Saratoga, came by a neck and a nose, respectively.

On Saturday, Kharafa got a terrific ride from Gallardo, the leading rider at Presque Isle Downs who was making his debut at Belmont Park. Gallardo had Kharafa a relatively close fourth while Latigo Trail, who was entered as a rabbit for Tapitation, set surprisingly slow early fractions of 24.95 seconds for the quarter, 50.98 for the half, and 1:15.68 for six furlongs.

Hills said he felt the presence of Latigo Trail prompted the riders of the other speed horses, Harbor King and King Kreesa, to alter their tactics while Gallardo stayed with his game plan.

Meanwhile, around the far turn, Gallardo advanced his horse closer to Latigo Trail, tipped to the two-path turning for home, then seized control of the race above the eighth pole before edging clear for the win.

Kharafa, a gelding by Kitalpha, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.61 over a good turf course and returned $7.50 as the third betting choice.

“For a rider that’s never ridden at Belmont, he rode like he’s been here every day,” Hills said. “I’m proud of the ride.”

Kharafa will likely return to Belmont for the $200,000 Mohawk on New York Showcase Day on Oct. 22.