Bold middle move lands Mr. Buff in Empire Classic winner’s circle

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

NYRAA/Chelsea Durand

By Sarah Mace

With only five horses entered, the 44th running of the $300,000 Empire Classic Handicap at 1 1/8 miles was run as race five on the Empire Showcase Day card at Belmont on Saturday, but there was no question that the race featured one of the blockbuster matchups of the day: the clash of divisional leaders Mr. Buff and Pat On the Back.

Pat On the Back, recent winner of the Grade 2 Kelso Stakes and a new millionaire, was looking for a repeat win in the race after capturing the Empire Classic last year and leaving Mr. Buff to pick up the pieces in third. The John Kimmel-trained Mr. Buff, a 5-year-old gelding by Friend Or Foe and third generation homebred for Chester and Mary Broman through the male line, was looking to turn the tables and replicate an achievement of his sire, who won the Empire Classic in 2010, also for Kimmel. In the end Mr. Buff successfully spoiled the title defense and reversed last year’s results with a decisive – and winning – middle move under Junior Alvarado.

Mr. Buff exited the gate alertly as the 3-2 second choice, but shortly ceded the lead to Not That Brady, who carved out the opening half-mile in 47.38. Pat On the Back (3-5) tracked in third.

Cruising comfortably at the rail along the back stretch, Junior Alvarado made a decisive move in the approach to the far turn, darting up the rail and taking command with five furlongs to go.

Mr. Buff opened up some daylight on Not That Brady and Pat On the Back, and in the stretch Pat On the Back took the first run at him but by that time had too much to do. Instead, 9-1 Dynamax Prime emerged as the main threat, closing well into second.

Mr. Buff dug in to hold his advantage (albeit on the wrong lead), ultimately getting the big victory by one length. After one mile in 1:35.63, the final time for nine furlongs was a solid 1:48.65. Pat On the Back finished third another two lengths back, followed by Blugrascat’s Smile and Not That Brady. Mr. Buff is something of a nine-furlong specialist, now with seven wins in 10 tries at the distance. [VIDEO REPLAY]

“We always have multiple plans,” said Junior Alvarado after his second stakes victory of the day, having won the Maid of the Mist earlier aboard Critical Value. “He broke well. I made sure to get him out of there running. I even thought I could get the jump on everyone, but I let [Not That Brady] get to the lead, so I just let him run a little bit more.

“I had to make an early move to make sure I didn’t get stuck behind the horse in front and it worked out. When he gets in front, he gets into a cruise control there. He just carried me along the way.”

Alvarado concluded, “He’s very easy to ride. He’s not a complicated horse. You just have to let him do his thing; don’t get in his way, don’t try to pull, and don’t make him do something he doesn’t want to do.”

Coglianese Photos

John Kimmel said, “I don’t know if he was at his best today, because when Junior [Alvarado] made that early move and took that inside route, it looked like he didn’t have enough to pick it up. He’s such a big-striding horse, it looked like he had the horse to his outside measured pretty well.

“I knew we had horse turning for home and I wanted them to get on their outside lead. I’m going ‘change your lead, change your lead.’ He never changed his lead. Junior said he didn’t want to take his forward momentum away by trying to make him change. He said he had plenty of horse in there, so he stayed on that left lead from the half-mile pole to the wire.”

Kimmel is looking forward to the future. “He’s as good a New York-bred as there is. I think this horse is going to have a chance to do something bigger against open [company] down the road. He didn’t have a very good trip in the Woodward. He’s a gelding. He’s going to be around for a long time for us to enjoy.” Mr. Buff tired after setting the pace in the Grade 1 Woodward at the Spa on August 31 in his previous start.

Mr. Buff has won 11 of 32 starts, with six seconds and four thirds. The Empire Classic is his fifth stakes victory to go along with wins in the open Jazil Stakes and state-bred Alex M. Robb, Evan Shipman and Saginaw Stakes. He has earned $869,536.

Mr. Buff’s dam Speightful Affair is a graded stakes placed Ontario-bred by Speightstown, who was purchased by the Bromans for $80,000 at the Fasig-Tipton 2013 winter mixed sale.

In 2018 Speightful Affair produced a full sister to Mr. Buff. Unfortunately, her 2019 foal by Friend or Foe, who stands at Smallwood Farm in Virginia, was stillborn. She has been bred this year to Accelerate.

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