10/11/2014 4:44PM

Legendary wins graded stakes debut in Knickerbocker

Joe Labozetta/NYRA
Sheldon Russell guides Legendary to a 1 1/4-length victory over Up With the Birds in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker.

ELMONT, N.Y. - After watching Legendary win two allowance races at Belmont Park in the summer, trainer Niall Saville circled the Grade 3 Knickerbocker as the first graded stakes in which he wanted to run the 5-year-old gelding.

Saville and Legendary hit the target Saturday at soggy Belmont Park as Legendary, under Sheldon Russell, rallied past pacesetting Plainview in upper stretch and easily held Up With the Birds at bay to win the $200,000 Knickerbocker by 1 1/4 lengths.

Up With the Birds, who rallied from last in the six-horse field, finished second by 1 1/2 lengths over Mshawish, who was followed, in order, by Plainview, Speaking of Which, and Winning Cause.

Za Approval, the defending Knickerbocker champion, scratched due to the soft ground. Tricky Hat also scratched.

The win was the first graded stakes for Saville, 31, who went out on his own in 2010 after working for trainers Janet Elliott, Michael Dickinson, and Graham Motion.

Legendary, a 5-year-old British-bred gelding,  has now won 6 of 19 career starts, 4 of 6 since coming to North America this past spring. He is owned by the former European-based jockey Walter Swinburn, known for riding 1983 U.S. Horse of the Year All Along.

“This was the goal since midsummer,” said Saville, who is based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. “He ran well here. It wasn’t too big or ambitious but it was nice to see what we’ve got.

“I had a feeling at the beginning of the year that this guy could be a really nice horse, but to take any trips cross-country to Arlington or any of them it just wasn’t right to do this year,” Saville added. “But that’s something I d like to think about next year after that.”

Rain made for a yielding Belmont turf course which was doubly good news for Saville. He knew his horse would handle it and he knew Za Approval, runner-up to Wise Dan in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Mile, would scratch.

Russell kept Legendary in third position, about four lengths behind Plainview, who set fractions of 23.90 seconds, 49.07, and 1:14.30 for six furlongs while being chased by Winning Cause.

Russell made his move leaving the five-sixteenths pole and Legendary vaulted to a three-length lead by the eighth pole. Up With the Birds, 10 lengths back after six furlongs, came with a mild bid, but Legendary was never threatened.

Legendary covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.65 over the yielding ground and returned $10.20 as the co-fourth choice.

“I got nervous when he hit the front at the top of the stretch because it’s a long bloody way on sticky ground,” Saville said. “But he just discouraged everybody. He put them all away. I thought it was an excellent ride.”

Saville said he wasn’t sure if he would run Legendary again this year or put him away for next year. He said he could consider trying to stretch him out to 1 3/8 miles in a race like the Grade 3, $250,000 Red Smith at Aqueduct on Nov. 15.