08/04/2013 5:10PM

Saratoga: Justin Phillip rallies to win Vanderbilt

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Michael Amoruso
Justin Phillip and jockey John Velazquez win the Grade 1 Vanderbilt Handicap by two lengths Saturday at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Justin Phillip became a Grade 1 winner while further muddling the already wide-open picture in the sprint division when rallying for a decisive two-length victory over Bahamian Squall in Sunday’s $400,000 Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga.

Delaunay, the 8-5 favorite in a compact field of five, finished fourth after vying for the lead throughout.    

Justin Phillip’s victory in the six-furlong Vanderbilt helped to erase the memory of his near miss in the event a year ago, when he finished second, beaten a neck, by Poseidon’s Warrior. It may also have earned him the opportunity to go back to the Breeders’ Cup this fall. Justin Phillip finished fifth in the 2012 BC Sprint.

With John Velazquez back aboard, Justin Phillip sat a dream trip just off an honest pace set by the once-beaten Gentlemen’s Bet and forced from the outset by Delaunay, the pair posting splits of 22.00 seconds for the opening quarter and 44.46 for the half-mile. Justin Phillip eased up three wide to challenge the leaders while leaving the turn, forged to command near midstretch, and gradually edged clear.

Bahamian Squall, close up from the outset but pinned down near the rail inside Justin Phillip for the opening half-mile, finally got clear outside horses once settling into the stretch and rallied belatedly to be up for second by a neck over Gentlemen’s Bet.

Delaunay weakened late and finished another neck back in fourth. Caixa Eletronica trailed throughout.

Justin Phillip, a 5-year-old son of First Samurai, is owned by Zayat Stables and trained by Steve Asmussen. He completed the distance in 1:08.59 over a fast track and paid $8.30.

“Last year’s Vanderbilt was a good opportunity for him, and I thought it was unfortunate for him not to win that day,” said Asmussen, who also won the Vanderbilt in 2010 with Majesticperfection. “For everything to work out, to have him in this position today, a good draw, a good set-up, was very rewarding.”

Asmussen couldn’t speak highly enough about Justin Phillip and the way he shows up and runs his race every time, over every surface, no matter where the trainer has sent him or whom he’s sent him up against.

“I have so much respect for Justin Phillip as a racehorse,” Asmussen said. “He hasn’t held any of the mistakes we made with him against us. We were trying to win the Derby with him when he was 3. He’s got a lot of talent, and for him to travel as much as he has and run as well as he has consistently, and probably put his best race up today in a Grade 1 to go over a million dollars in earnings is very rewarding.”