08/07/2011 5:23PM

Saratoga: Sean Avery outlasts Trappe Shot in Vanderbilt Handicap

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Barbara D. Livingston
Sean Avery (right) holds off Trappe Shot to upset the Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Seven years ago, desperately ill with hepatitis, trainer Allen Iwinski announced he was retiring to disband his stable. But he responded to a second round of treatment, got back to training, and on Sunday won the first Grade 1 race of his career when the longshot Sean Avery held off heavily favored Trappe Shot to take the Grade 1, $250,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on a steamy afternoon at Saratoga.

“I didn’t think I’d be around today,” Iwinski, 59, his voice choking up with emotion, said in the winner’s circle.

Sean Avery ($36.20) was aggressively ridden away from the gate by jockey Joe Bravo and led every step of the six furlongs, but he barely held off the onrushing Trappe Shot, prevailing by a nose over the 3-5 favorite. Calibrachoa was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third.

Sean Avery set fractions of 21.91 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 44.56 seconds for a half-mile, and completed six furlongs on a track rated good, following heavy rain Saturday night, in 1:09.71.

“I rode the track the way it was playing today,” Bravo said.

“Joe came to the paddock and said he wanted to put him on the lead,” Iwinski said. “Usually he’s better when he stalks, but Joe said the way the track was playing, he wanted to put him on the lead.”

The strategy gave Iwinski a victory he could not have imagined seven years ago.

“I disbanded all my horses,” he said. “But the second round of treatments cured me. I was gone from training for a little over two years from the time I got rid of all my horses. To be here, in New York, winning a Grade 1, it means a lot.”

WATCH REPLAY: Vanderbilt Handicap

Sean Avery, a 5-year-old gelding named for the controversial hockey player, has now won six times in 10 starts. He was off the track for nearly 17 months before returning in April and moving to Iwinski from trainer Michael Hushion. Under Iwinski’s care, he has won 4 of 5 starts this year, including an optional-claimer in his comeback from which he could have been taken for $40,000.

Iwinski credited the work of Lynn Boutte - who did the rehabilitation with Sean Avery in Ocala, Fla., during the horse’s time off - with enabling Sean Avery to come back strong.

“When he came in to me, he quickly came to hand,” Iwinski said.

Sean Avery is owned by the Black Swan Stable, a partnership that includes John DeStefano and Sheryl Schwartz, the wife of former New York Racing Association chief executive Barry Schwartz.

Sheryl Schwartz said winning the Vanderbilt had particularly special meaning, because it was renamed from the A Phenomenon while her husband was in charge at NYRA.

Calibrachoa was a bit lame after the race, according to Dr. Celeste Kunz, who was acting as the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, but she said Calibrachoa was able to walk off the track and would be evaluated further at the barn of his trainer, Todd Pletcher.

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