09/23/2017 8:40PM

Sharp Azteca warms up for BC Dirt Mile with Kelso win

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Chelsea Durand
Sharp Azteca returned $3 as the favorite in the Kelso Handicap.

ELMONT, N.Y.  - Jorge Navarro allowed himself to smile, even if just for a moment.

Navarro was at Belmont Park on Saturday afternoon to watch Sharp Azteca gallop to a four-length victory in the Grade 2, $300,000 Kelso Handicap, most likely earning Sharp Azteca a trip to Southern California and the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Del Mar on Nov. 3.

But Navarro knows that his horse’s on-track performance will be only part of the story any time he runs a horse. Navarro has a cloud over his head after a video surfaced of him and one of his owners using obscenities and hinting of impropriety as they watched from Monmouth Park a horse trained by his brother, Marcial, win a race at Gulfstream Park in August.

The widely circulated video prompted several tracks to bar Navarro’s horses from running until at least the New Jersey Racing Commission wrapped up its investigation into the case. On Wednesday, Navarro was fined $10,000 - increased from an initial fine of $5,000 - and he was placed on probation for one year.

“It’s not over yet,” Navarro said. “What happened at Monmouth Park, it’s going to take awhile for me to earn people’s trust again. But I’m going to do it.”

There were some fans on the rail outside of the Belmont winner’s circle who wanted to get loud, but were told by NYRA security to be quiet. One fan chanted “Hypo-dermic” but other comments were rather innocuous.

Of the fans, Navarro said, “I’m going to take it. I’m going to show them that I’m a good guy. If I have to earn their trust, I’m going to do it. I won’t give up.”

Navarro said he was somewhat nervous during the day, wondering if he was going to get a call from the New York stewards telling him he would have to scratch his horse.

“Nothing but appreciation for what they’ve done,” Navarro said. “They accepted my horse and I owe them.”

As far as the race went, Sharp Azteca looked like the lone speed on paper, but jockey Paco Lopez said he would have been content to sit off another horse. Sharp Azteca had a half-length lead over Bird Song through a quarter mile in 23.50, and the lead was down to a head after a half-mile in 46.48.

Bird Song was struggling to keep up, but Divining Rod made a menacing move around the turn and looked he might be a threat. But Sharp Azteca was just too good and he pulled away easily, drawing off to win by four lengths while being taken in hand by Lopez. Divining Rod was second, 5 1/4 lengths ahead of Tom’s Ready. Tommy Macho, Ross, and Bird Song completed the order of finish.

“After what we have gone through the last two weeks what else can I ask?” Navarro said. “He’s put a smile on my face.”

Navarro said he would have been much happier had Lopez asked him to run earlier than he did.

“I’m the type of guy if a horse is going to win, let him win; why wait?” Navarro said. “[Lopez] said ‘at the three-eighths pole, I was thinking about you, you’re going to kill me.’ "

Lopez said he was hoping for a similar trip as he got on Sharp Azteca in the Monmouth Cup, where he sat off another horse before rolling to a 7 1/2-length victory.

“I didn’t want to go too fast, I wanted to be second or third, he relaxed very good last time,” Lopez said. “I had plenty of horse. The other horse is almost head to head with my horse, but my horse was very relaxed, he was not aggressive. When I asked him he wanted to go.”

Sharp Azteca, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Freud, covered the mile in 1:34.12 and returned $3 as the favorite.

Navarro said Sharp Azteca was scheduled to return to Monmouth Park on Saturday night and would prepare there for a start in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. On the same van back to Monmouth was scheduled to be El Deal, whom Navarro shipped up to work - he went five eighths in 1:00.91  Saturday morning - for next Saturday’s Grade 1 Vosburgh.

El Deal, as was the case with Sharp Azteca, will be required to be back on the Belmont grounds Wednesday, at which time he will be placed under security.

“If NYRA wants me here on Tuesday, I’ll be here on Tuesday, whatever they want,” he said. “I’m here to work with them.”