Saturday, October 22nd, 2016
By Bill Heller
All Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and Gary Aisquith’s five-year-old New York-bred gelding Royal Posse does is run his heart out every time he steps on the racetrack. On Saturday at Belmont Park, he notched his third straight victory, taking the 41st running of the mile-and-an-eighth $300,000 Empire Classic under Irad Ortiz Jr. by 3 ½ lengths over favored Governor Malibu in 1:52.15 on the sloppy track in the final of eight stakes on New York-bred Showcase Day. Royal Posse was the 5-2 second choice and Governor Malibu the 6-5 favorite under Joel Rosario in the field of nine.
Governor Malibu had to settle for second, 3 ¾ lengths clear of last year’s Empire Classic winner Empire Dreams, who was 7-1 under Manny Franco. Pax in Terra, who was 31-1 with John Velazquez riding, finished fourth, a length and a quarter behind Empire Dreams.
Royal Posse’s trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, tried to find the right words for his talented horse. “We’re just very blessed to have him in the barn,” Rodriguez said. “He wants to run all day.”
Royal Posse finished second by three-quarters of a length in last year’s Empire Classic. He hasn’t really had a break since and it doesn’t seem to matter. In his next start, he shipped to Gulfstream Park and won a $200,000 restricted stakes on a sloppy track. He followed that with two seconds and a 3 ¾-length score in the open Mr Sinatra Stakes. Back with New York-breds, he finished second in a pair off New York-bred stakes before winning the $100,000 Alydar Stakes and, in his final start before this year’s Classic, the $98,000 Evan Shipman Stakes by 5 ¼ lengths. That gave him five victories and five seconds in his last 10 starts.
Yet he would go off the 5-2 second choice to Governor Malibu, the highly accomplished three-year-old who finished second in the Grade 2 Peter Pan, fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, second in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and fifth in the Grade 1 Travers before dropping to a New York-bred allowance race. Sent off at 1-10, he won by 7 ½ lengths on a muddy track.
But Governor Malibu got away dead last Saturday, as three horses skirmished on the front end: 5-1 Wake Up in Malibu and Jose Ortiz, 5-1 Hit It Once More and Javier Castellano and Royal Posse. Wake Up in Malibu led Hit It Once More by a head through a :24.45 first quarter and a half-mile in :48.61. Irad Ortiz Jr. kept Royal Posse a close, three-wide third.
Heading into the far turn, both Hit It Once More and Royal Posse made their moves on the outside and both of them had no trouble passing Wake Up in Malibu. Hit It Once more took a narrow, short-lived lead before Royal Posse surged past him with a powerful brush. By then, Governor Malibu had rallied into third on the inside.
But Royal Posse was long gone. He had no trouble holding off Governor Malibu, winning by himself.
Rodriguez deferred praise to Royal Posse’s jockey: “You have to give Irad a lot of credit. He knows the horse and he rode him great.”
Ortiz deferred praise to Royal Posse’s trainer: “He (Royal Posse) is doing so good and Rudy is doing such a great job with him and keeping his momentum.”
And, yes, Ortiz did smile when the track came up a sea of slop. Royal Posse had a record of three wins and four seconds from nine starts on wet tracks. “He loves the mud,” Ortiz said. “It wasn’t a problem for him at all.”
Perhaps it was, at least a bit, for Governor Malibu. “It just took a long time to get him in the race today,” Rosario said. “He put in a little run at the end, but, by then, he (Royal Posse) was too far away from him.”
That happens to a lot of horses who run against Royal Posse. Royal Posse is now 10-for-32 on dirt with 10 seconds and no thirds. He has earned more than $900,000 and he just may be better now than he has ever been.