09/28/2013 5:28PM

Vosburgh: Private Zone by a neck over Justin Phillip

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Tom Keyser
Private Zone (right), ridden by Martin Pedroza, beats Justin Phillip by a neck in the Vosburgh Invitational on Saturday.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Private Zone, a Canadian-bred who began his career in Panama and set the early pace in the Dubai Golden Shaheen earlier this year, continued his jet-setting ways, winning Saturday’s Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh Invitational in stakes-record time off the plane from California.

It didn’t come easily. The Doug O’Neill-trained speedster had to put away Forego winner Strapping Groom down the backstretch and needed to run an opening half-mile in 44.86 seconds to open a clear lead around the turn beneath Martin Pedroza.

Private Zone ($9.20) was set upon by 5-2 favorite Justin Phillip at the eighth pole after five furlongs in 56.25 and lost the lead along the rail in deep stretch before battling back through a jousting match to prevail by a neck.

During their struggle, Justin Phillip leaned in and brushed Private Zone, who responded by drifting out slightly for another bump near the wire. After a stewards’ inquiry and an objection by John Velazquez aboard Justin Phillip, the result was not changed.

“I got off to a good, clean start, and that’s what I was concerned about,” said Pedroza, who hadn’t ridden at Belmont since a runner-up finish on Miss Iron Smoke in the 1991 Matron. “He’s very fast, and we just waited for the competition. When I let him run, he gave me everything he had.”

Private Zone, a 4-year-old gelding by Macho Uno, ran six furlongs in 1:08.02, eclipsing the previous mark of 1:08.13 set by Henny Hughes in 2006 (the race was shortened to its current distance in 2004). The time was just 0.36 seconds off the track record set by Artax in the 1999 Forest Hills Handicap.

Private Zone won just 3 of 9 starts in Panama but has won or placed in all 6 of his starts for O’Neill in the United States. Freshened after his Dubai trip, he returned to win the restricted Pirate’s Bounty Stakes on Sept. 4.

The Vosburgh was the first graded stakes victory for Private Zone, who earned $240,000 and a fees-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

“That’s the goal,” said O’Neill, who sent assistant trainer Jack Sisterton to accompany Private Zone to New York. “Now, we’ll have an additional week by not running next week [in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship on Oct. 5], so we’ll have five weeks to the Sprint. So much credit has to go to Rene Douglas, who manages him for Good Friends Stable. He was adamant about giving him time off after Dubai. We’re pretty pumped up!”

Justin Phillip, sixth in the Vosburgh in each of the last two years for Steve Asmussen, was clearly second-best by 4 1/2 lengths.

“He ran a bang-up race, just got knocked off balance a little bit and kind of lost his momentum,” said assistant trainer Toby Sheets. “The stewards didn’t think it was that big of a deal. We lost by a [neck]. I disagree.”

Strapping Groom held third by a half-length over Forty Tales, the lone 3-year-old in the field. The order of finish was completed by Bahamian Squall, Candyman E, and The Lumber Guy, the 2012 Vosburgh winner.