12/17/2016 6:25PM

War Story much the best in Queens County

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Joe Labozzetta/NYRA
War Story, under Antonio Gallardo, wins his first stakes by 7 3/4 lengths in the Queens County.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Ambitiously placed throughout his career, War Story found the right field and the right surface to record his first stakes win Saturday at Aqueduct.

Put into the race early by jockey Antonio Gallardo, War Story shrugged off a pace challenge from 6-5 favorite Bay of Plenty and drew off to an authoritative 7 3/4-length victory in the $125,000 Queens County. Unbridled Juan rallied to get second by 2 3/4 lengths over Sunny Ridge. Discreet Lover finished fourth, followed by Watershed and Bay of Plenty, who was eased by jockey Jose Ortiz.

The win was the fourth from 17 career starts for War Story and his first in his 14th try in a stakes race. His last two starts came in Grade 1 company; a fourth-place finish in the Cigar Mile preceded by an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  He also ran seventh in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar in August.

Aside from a front-running allowance win at Thistledown in July where he was 1-20, War Story had stalked the pace or closed in his previous races, including a trio of graded stakes placings as a 3-year-old at Fair Grounds. But trainer Mario Serey sharpened War Story with a three-furlong gate work in 34 seconds on Wednesday at Parx.

“Taking off the blinkers the speed is there,” said Serey, who took blinkers off War Story two starts back.

It snowed overnight in New York and then turned to rain mid-morning. The track was harrowed and labeled “good” but it was heavy and slow and favored inside speed runners throughout the day.

Breaking from post 2, War Story was sent to the front by Gallardo and was soon joined by Bay of Plenty, who, on paper, looked like the primary speed.

War Story ran an opening quarter-mile in 24.00 seconds and a half-mile in 48.75 with Bay of Plenty right to his outside. Just before the far turn, Bay of Plenty began to fade and Sunny Ridge picked up the chase. Coming to the five-sixteenths pole, Gallardo slapped War Story a couple of times and he began to get away from Sunny Ridge.

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War Story came into the stretch with a clear advantage and he was never threatened in the final three-sixteenths.

War Story, a 4-year-old gelding by Northern Afleet, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:52.56 and returned $8.40 as the third choice. He is owned by Ron Paolucci, Glenn Ellis, David Weaver, and Imaginary Stables.

Gallardo was riding War Story for the second straight race. He finished fourth on him at 44-1 in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile, a race in which Serey thought War Story should have been closer to the pace.

Serey said he told Gallardo on Saturday “to let him go, he’s ready. When we ran him in the [Cigar] Mile he was supposed to win and he made a mistake. Gallardo was coming from Florida for one reason - to win.”

Gallardo said he was glad to follow the trainer’s instructions Saturday seeing there was not much speed in the Queens County.

“I think today there was not a lot of speed and he felt much better,” Gallardo said. “The trainer said he was ready for this race and try to be aggressive and go to the lead. Today nobody was coming from behind, he had speed before, why not now?”

Jose Ortiz, the rider of Bay of Plenty, said he didn’t think his horse handled the track.

“It’s very heavy. I don’t think he handled it all,” Ortiz said. “We passed the half-mile pole, lost position got shuffled back. I just left him alone. I had no horse to keep going.”