05/21/2016 7:00PM

Trace Creek connects at 44-1 in Hanshin Cup

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Trace Creek, ridden for the first time by Julio Felix, pays $89,80 for his win in the Grade 3 Hanshin Cup.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Since entries were taken for the Saturday card at Arlington, and Trace Creek was put in an allowance race as well as the Hanshin Cup, the word was his connections were likely to opt for the allowance. They didn’t, and that was a good call, as Trace Creek finished strongly to score a major upset the Grade 3, $150,000 Hanshin Cup.

Under Julio Felix, who never had sat astride the steed until getting a leg up in the Arlington paddock, Trace Creek got a sweet inside trip closing into a strong pace, and he won by one length over Francois, with Valiant City another three-quarters back in third. A 44-1 shot, Trace Creek paid $89.80. He covered the one-turn Polytrack mile in 1:36.25. The favored Midnight Cello, who won this race last year, never picked up the bit and checked in a one-paced third.

Trace Creek, the rare Arkansas-bred to win a graded stakes, is trained by William Van Meter for owner-breeder Shortleaf Stable. It was the first stakes win for both Trace Creek as well as the Kentucky-based Van Meter, who deputized trainer Mike Stidham to saddle the 6-year-old son of Harperstown  on Saturday.

Trace Creek has started only 21 times and had twice been sixth and once fourth in three Oaklawn races this year – thus his long odds - but this was his first start on a synthetic racing surface, and he clearly liked it. Valiant City went out to the lead and was challenged inside by One Go All Go and  Recount, the trip setting splits of 23.25 and 46.09 seconds as Felix had Chase Creek near the back of the field.

“I was having to niggle him along the whole way,” Felix said, but Trace Creek began closing in on the leaders midway around the far turn, got through along the rail coming inside horses at the top of the stretch,  and then again as he moved to the lead in the final furlong. Trace Creek, either through fatigue or a sense that his work was done, wandered a bit just before the wire but still won convincingly enough – to the surprise of most everyone.