07/26/2012 4:20PM

Saratoga: Velazquez gets first win back, guiding Artest to Quick Call victory

Barbara D. Livingston
John Velazquez guides Artest (left) to victory in the Quick Call Stakes, his first since returning from a fractured collarbone.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Jockey John Velazquez is picking his spots carefully, gradually easing himself back into full-time action after sitting out nearly six weeks recuperating from a fractured collarbone suffered in a frightening spill last month at Churchill Downs. And the Hall of Famer to be couldn’t have picked a nicer spot to pick up his first win of the Saratoga meeting than aboard Artest, whom he guided from off the pace to a 1 1/2-length victory over Drago’s Best in Thursday’s $100,000 Quick Call Stakes.

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Artest, Velazquez’s only mount on the card and just his third since returning to the saddle for the first time on Wednesday, was racing on less than a week’s rest after finishing a tiring seventh going a mile on opening day. But the turn back in distance proved just what the doctor ordered.

With Velazquez biding his time early, Artest raced near mid-pack while saving ground, eased out to commence his rally upon settling into the stretch, then ran down the leaders in the closing strides to give his trainer, Michelle Nihei, her first stakes victory at Saratoga.

Drago’s Best stalked the pace of Gentlemans Code, held a narrow advantage through much of the stretch, but could not resist the winner’s final surge. Full, the tepid 7-2 favorite, was never a factor and finished last in the field of 10.
Artest, a 3-year-old son of Hard Spun owned by Dennis Narlinger, returned $12.

“First win of the meet,” said Velazquez. “It feels great to get it out of the way, get it done quickly and move on to the next thing. I watched this horse run at Gulfstream Park and said if I could get a trip like the one he had at Gulfstream we   could win, and he got it.”

Nihei said she believed Artest was going to be better around two turns, but after his effort on opening day decided on the advice of her owner to shorten him up and bring him right back in the Quick Call.

“I always thought he wanted two turns, and it was Dennis who said to try him back right away because he’s been ready for three weeks," said Nihei. "We couldn’t get him in a race at Belmont. I knew he didn’t get tired.  He didn’t like that two-turn deal at all.  It might not even be the distance, it might be the style. He’s a closing sprinter who likes to have something to run at and doesn’t want to be on the front end like he was going a mile.”