05/06/2017 5:58PM

Limousine Liberal scores breakthrough victory in Churchill Downs Stakes

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Joe Labozzetta
Limousine Liberal, with Jose Ortiz aboard, gets his first graded stakes victory in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Limousine Liberal has run races good enough to win graded stakes, but entering Saturday’s Grade 2, $500,000 Churchill Downs Stakes, the 5-year-old gelding was 0 for 10 in such races.

In 2015, Limousine Liberal was second to Runhappy in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga. A month later, he was beaten a neck by Trouble Kid in the Grade 3 Gallant Bob at Parx. Last year, Limousine Liberal finished second in three graded events, including a nose loss to A. P. Indian in the Grade 2 Phoenix at Keeneland.

“Every time it seems like when he’s on his best game, somebody else was maybe a little bit better,” Ben Colebrook, the trainer of Limousine Liberal, said.

Not on Saturday.

On Saturday, Limousine Liberal gave another peak performance, but this time it was good enough as Limousine Liberal made the lead in upper stretch, then held off late runs from Awesome Slew, Tom’s Ready, and Solid Wager to win the Churchill Downs by a head. Awesome Slew, who split horses in the stretch under Joel Rosario, got second by three-quarters of a length over Tom’s Ready, who got third by a head over Solid Wager.

“It’s great that he’s finally a graded stakes winner,” Colebrook said.

Limousine Liberal finished third behind Awesome Slew in the Grade 3 Commonwealth at Keeneland on April 8. Colebrook entered Limousine Liberal in an allowance race three weeks later, but owner Katherine Ball made him scratch to run in this race.

On Saturday, in a 14-horse field, Limousine Liberal received a great trip under Jose Ortiz. He sat third, about two lengths off the pace, as Masochistic, under Mike Smith, ran an opening quarter in 22.03 seconds and a half-mile in 44.34 while being pressed by Bluegrass Singer.

Around the turn, Ortiz had Limousine Liberal advance three wide. Limousine Liberal poked his head in front outside the quarter pole. He slipped away to about a two-length lead in midstretch, and with Ortiz keeping busy on the gelding, he was able to hold off the late runners.

“By the three-eighths pole, I smooched at him, and he took the bit more than I wanted,” said Ortiz, who won his third race on the Derby card. “He pulled me there before I wanted to be there. But it’s all good, it worked out.”

Limousine Liberal, a 5-year-old by Successful Appeal, covered the seven furlongs in 1:23.22 and returned $28.40.

Awesome Slew was well off the early pace under Rosario. In the stretch, he started to move and had a pretty clear run to split horses but just came up short.

“I was on the inside; there was no way I could go outside,” Rosario said. “I got through, I thought for a second I might have got there but just missed.”

Dallas Stewart, the trainer of Tom’s Ready, thought his horse ran a terrific race in his first start since last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Stewart said he would consider running him in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont on June 10. Tom’s Ready won the Woody Stephens Stakes last year on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

Masochistic, the 2-1 favorite, finished 13th of 14 after setting the pace over a muddy track that his rider, Smith, felt he hated.

“He left there spinning his wheels, and he stayed that way,” Smith said.