02/07/2009 12:00AM

Vanquisher closes for first stakes

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Vanquisher parlayed his sharp current form and a fast pace into the first stakes victory of his career, a last-to-first half-length triumph over 7-5 favorite Smooth Air in Saturday's $75,000 Tallahasee Stakes at Gulfstream.

Vanquisher, a 5-year-old homebred owned by the Kinsman Stable of George Steinbrenner, was transferred from trainer Bill Mott's barn to Gregory Griffith in November. The late-striding gelding lost an apparent second-level allowance win at Calder via a stewards' disqualification when closing out his 2008 campaign, but shortly thereafter he bounced back to capture an open allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs in his 2009 debut. The Tallahasee, which was restricted to Florida-breds, was Vanquisher's first stakes start since he finished sixth in Hawthorne's Grade 3 Carey Memorial Handicap on Sept. 27.

As expected, Vanquisher quickly dropped to the rear of the field as Jet Propulsion sprinted off to a long lead while posting fractions of 23.36 seconds, 46.90, and 1:10.80 over the firm course. Vanquisher commenced his rally leaving the final bend under jockey Alan Garcia, took up briefly and altered course to the extreme outside near the furlong grounds, and then finished best of all to overtake Smooth Air in the closing yards.

Smooth Air, making his first start since the Breeders' Cup Classic, race forwardly throughout, joined for command in late stretch, but could not match strides with the streaking winner at the end. Ruff and Ready was another half-length further back in third.

Vanquisher completed a mile in 1:34.12 and paid $19.

"This was the best victory of my career," an emotional Griffith said in the winner's circle after the race. "When he was disqualified out of that win at Calder, he ran the last quarter in 22 and change. The fast pace was just what I was looking for today, although I thought we might be in trouble when Jet Propulsion opened up a big lead like that."