By Sarah Mace
Driving his record to a perfect two-for-two after shedding blinkers, longshot Inside Straight (Super Saver) posted a decisive victory in Saturday’s Grade 2, $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park at 1 1/8 miles.
On March 10, in his first try without blinkers since November 2015, Inside Straight powered his way from the back of the pack to a five-length victory in an optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park. Reunited with win jockey Geovanni Franco, the 4-year-old gelding was let go Saturday at odds of 19-1, the fifth choice in the seven-horse field, while most of the money went in the direction of 1-2 favorite Midnight Storm.
After the bell, Inside Straight broke with the vanguard from post five, and raced toward the clubhouse turn between horses in third and two lengths behind pacesetter Midnight Storm.
Making his way to the fence, Inside Straight enjoyed a ground-saving trip through the bend and along the backstretch, as Midnight Storm clocked a quarter in 22.96 and a half-mile in 46.49.
Cruised along comfortably under a patient ride, the gelding was unfazed when passed to his outside by longshots Goats Town and Cutacorner, who rallied to challenge Midnight Storm on the way to the far turn. At the head of the stretch, he maneuvered out into the two path and began his bid.
After the other challengers wilted, Inside Straight passed Midnight Storm within the furlong grounds, and employed the final sixteenth to widen his margin to two lengths by the wire. Domain’s Rap closed from midpack to get the place by a neck, while Midnight Storm had to settle for third.
After the mile went in 1:35.88, Inside Straight stopped the clock after nine furlongs over the fast going at 1:48.40.
“My horse broke very sharp. He was alert, feeling good, nice and relaxed,” Geovanni Franco said. “I just tried to follow [Midnight Storm]. My horse was just full of run and full of strength today.” Continued Franco, “I don’t know (what to say), it was incredible. My first graded stakes. I am so happy it happened.”
Winning trainer Robertino Diodoro commented, “Midnight Storm is a nice horse and I was scared he was going to be the lone speed and we weren’t going to have much pace to run at. All we could worry about was our horse. This horse has just been getting better and better, training better, working better. He’s a horse that just made the step to the next level, and he proved it today. Can’t say enough about the horse. Franco suits him. I give my assistant, Rob Atras a lot of credit. It was his idea two starts back to take the blinkers off him. I think that’s helped the horse a lot, helped him relax. Awesome win, that’s all I can say. Great for the owner, Randy Howg. Can’t say enough about him. Twenty-three years I’ve trained for him. He’s a great man, and he deserves it.”
Diodoro said of the future, “One step at a time. We haven’t made any plans. He is a New York-bred, and the plan is to take him to Belmont. We are going to have a string there this summer. He’s had kind of a rough campaign, a tough campaign since we bought him (privately last June through an agent). He’s done a lot of traveling. He’s not that big a horse, but he’s carried good weight. He’s just gotten better and better with each race, and today he proved it. Been a good purchase.”
Inside Straight began his career in New York for WinStar Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher. Third in the Aspirant stakes at Finger Lakes in September 2015, he won his last start for these connections on May 4, 2016 by more than 10 lengths in the mud at Belmont at the $40,000 claiming level.
Resurfacing at Assiniboia Downs on July 9 in Howg’s colors, Inside Straight finished third in the Harry Jeffrey Stakes in his Canadian debut for conditioner Robertino Diodoro, and followed up with a victory in the Manitoba Derby on August 1.
Inside Straight has improved in every start of his 4-year-old campaign, capping third and second place finishes with the unblinkered optional claiming and Grade 2 victories. From seven lifetime wins, two seconds and four thirds in 20 starts, he has earned $752,889.
Bred by SF Bloodstock LLC and foaled at Vinery NY at Sugar Maple in Poughquag, Inside Straight is out of Dance Alexa, an unraced Maryland-bred by Southern Halo purchased by SF Bloodstock at the 2010 Keeneland November sale for $80,000.
Dance Alexa has produced eight winners from nine foals to start, and Inside Straight is her fourth stakes horse. Her second foal Dance Daily (Five Star Day) won the Grade 2 Santa Ynez Stakes in 2006 and Mission Viejo Halo (Luhuk) is a two-time stakes performer. Her only other registered New York-bred to date, Conquest Superstep, an older full sister to Inside Straight, finished second in the 2015 running of the Fleet Indian.