Updated on 09/18/2011 1:41AM

Romping finish for Magna Graduate

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Magna Graduate

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Magna Graduate ended a disappointing year on a positive note Saturday, taking control of the Grade 3, $107,700 Queens County Handicap three strides out of the gate and rolling to a 6 1/2-length victory before 4,891 at Aqueduct.

Papi Chullo finished second, 9 1/4 lengths ahead of Smart Growth. Angliana, Naughty New Yorker, and Awesome Twist completed the order of finish.

It was the first victory in four starts this year for Magna Graduate, who missed most of the year with a hind ankle fracture suffered while training for the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in June. Following a 10th-place finish in the Ack Ack at Churchill Downs last out, trainer Todd Pletcher thought the Queens County would be a good spot for Magna Graduate to bounce back in, and he was correct.

Though jockey John Velazquez said Magna Graduate "scrambled a little bit" the first two or three strides out of the gate, he quickly recovered and was able to open up a 1 1/2-length advantage through an opening quarter-mile in 24 seconds. He continued on through splits of 48.15, 1:12.07, 1:37.01, and he covered the 1 3/16 miles in 1:55.19 over a fast inner track. Owned by Elisabeth Alexander, Magna Graduate returned $4.20 as the favorite.

"He's generally not a front-runner, but I think just from this scenario he found himself there," Pletcher said. "To tell you the truth, when we shipped him to Churchill, this horse was training so well I just thought he was going to run real well. I don't know if he got on the wrong part of the racetrack. It was early in the day. The longer the day went along, the more obvious it became that you didn't want to be outside like he was. That was the only thing we could hang our hat on, and we circled this on the calendar."

The win enabled Pletcher to add to his single-year record of stakes victories (98) and graded stakes victories (55).

Pletcher said Magna Graduate would ship to south Florida and likely be pointed to the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3.