12/17/2016 6:27PM

Western Reserve's nose hits wire first in Buddy Diliberto Memorial

Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography
Shaun Bridgmohan collects his third stakes win of the card aboard Western Reserve in the Buddy Diliberto Memorial.

The Brad Cox-trained Chocolate Ride has been king of the Fair Grounds grass course the last two seasons, but on Saturday, at least, Chocolate Ride passed his crown to stablemate Western Reserve.

Making his first start for Cox, Western Reserve was resolute turning back the Mike Maker-trained Granny’s Kitten before holding off a late lunge from Maker’s second runner, Greengrassofyoming, to win by the $75,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Stakes by a nose.

Chocolate Ride, favored at odds of 6-5 making his first start since May, failed to take up his somewhat customary spot on the early lead and raced inside and just behind horses much of the trip, coming home evenly for fourth in a decent comeback run. His lack of a late punch hurt fifth-place Pumpkin Rumble, who tried to follow Chocolate Ride while rallying inside through the homestretch, but eventually gave up and switched out for lack of room.

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It was clear sailing, though, for Western Reserve, who gave Cox and jockey Shaun Bridghmohan their third stakes win on the card. Western Reserve was second early in the Diliberto before dropping back to third while kept in the No. 2 and No. 3 paths as Sky Flight, pressed by Ibaka, went a quarter-mile in 23.83 seconds and a half-mile in 48.62. Western Reserve cruised up to the leaders on the far turn and had a narrow lead through six furlongs in 1:13.32 as he was taken on by Granny’s Kitten coming down the middle of the track. Granny’s Kitten’s run began to fizzle just as Greengrassofyoming found his best stride, but the wire came before Greengrassofyoming could reach the winner.

Western Reserve ran 1 1/16 miles on a firm turf course in 1:43.25 while winning for the fourth time in 15 starts and capturing his first stakes. A 4-year-old gelding by Indian Charlie out of the Oasis Dream mare Visit, Western Reserve was bred by Juddmonte Farm, which owned the gelding through his most recent start, and campaigned him with trainer Bill Mott. Western Reserve was purchased last month at Keeneland’s November sale for $87,000 by Marc Detampel, who saw a quick return on that investment Saturday.