Ken Ramsey doesn’t mince words or stifle his opinion. Not to the media, not to his trainers and certainly not to a jockey riding a favorite in a Saratoga stakes.
Javier Castellano heard him loud and clear before Wednesday’s John’s Call Stakes.
“He told me in the paddock, ‘The horse should have won his last two races. That’s why you’re on the horse now,’ ” Castellano said. “I said, ‘Man, the pressure’s on. I’ve got to do my job.’ “
Job. Job done.
Castellano melted Hyper into a stalking spot along the rail, third behind longshot Alburj and last year’s winners Harrods Creek. Alburj strolled the first quarter mile in 25.46 and a half in 50.12. Hyper saved ground around the first two turns and after three quarters in 1:15.05, Castellano began to nudge him to the leaders, easing inside Royal Bench and around Harrods Creek and Alburj as the field turned for home. Swinging three wide into the stretch, Hyper opened up on Side Road and Quick Casablanca who had rallied from deep in the field. It was never in doubt as Hyper accelerated to the wire to win for the ninth time. Sent off the 8/5 favorite, Hyper finished the distance in 2:39.60.
“It worked out perfect,” Castellano said. “Beautiful trip, dream trip. If you had to describe it, you couldn’t have made it any perfect. Chad said in the paddock, ‘The most important thing in this kind of race, is to save ground.’ We know that. I was able to cover him up real quick. I saved ground around the two turns and Chad said, the third turn is the time to make the adjustment, that’s yours.”
Exiting runner-up finishes in the Grade 2 Colonial Turf Cup and the Good Reward Stakes at Belmont, Hyper brought a class edge into the John’s Call.
The longest turf stakes of the meet, the race attracted an eclectic mix of stamina-searching turf horses. Quick Casablanca won a Group 1 in Chile going a mile and a half. Side Road finished second in the Grade 2 Elkhorn going the same distance in April at Keeneland. Address Unknown made his first start in America after winning the Chester Cup going 2 5/16 miles at Chester Racecourse in Britain. Star Channel made his first start since being claimed from Todd Pletcher. Alburj won over hurdles in April. New York-bred Sandyinthesun had won twice. Royal Bench finished fourth in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free in 2011. Dannhauser won six races in the Mid-Atlantic area. Harrods Creek won the John’s Call last year but hadn’t threatened in two starts this spring.
Hyper had never tried three turns, but Castellano had confidence.
“I knew he would get that far, with a slow pace, you can sit close,” he said. “I used my own judgment to put him up close and get him to enjoy the trip, the key was saving ground around the first two turns. He’s been running against better horses, that’s why he could stay close to the pace and finish the way he did. At Colonial, there were a couple of really nice horses, he came from way back and had to go around, I don’t blame anybody, it could have happened to me.”
Seventeen months ago, Castellano guided Hyper to a starter allowance win at Gulfstream Park. Owned and bred by Ramsey and his wife Sarah, Hyper was in the midst of a win streak, feasting on low-hanging fruit in the starter division. Castellano rode him once, winning as the favorite. Since then, Jose Lezcano, Johnny Murtagh, Jim Crowley, Patrick Husbands and Rajiv Maragh rode the 6-year-old son of Victory Gallop. The horse had been everywhere, traveling for turf races from Royal Ascot and Newbury in England to Aqueduct and Colonial Downs. Finally, Castellano got the call again.
“He’s a different horse now, he’s a more mature horse, everything he does, he does it with class,” Castellano said. “He’s so laid back. At Gulfstream, he was close, he needed to be at Gulfstream, but today he’s more laid back, more professional horse, more classy horse. Sometimes when you save ground, you get stuck, but it worked out great, the two horses stopped turning for home, I was able to angle outside. He was by far the best horse in the race.”
Just the way Ramsey likes it.
After the race while computing the owner’s standings (Ramsey 5, Darley 4, Klaravich/Lawrence 3…) Ramsey bragged about his homebred who had finally earned his first stakes win after several near misses.
“We thought this horse was good enough for a Grade 1 at one time, and we still do think he could be eventually. We wanted to get him a stakes win first. He’s probably a stallion in Oklahoma or Ohio. Not in Kentucky and he wouldn’t make it up here. But now he’s got the black type,” Ramsey said. “He had two brutal trips the last two times. I don’t like to make excuses but he got to sit in the catbird seat this time. In other words, get on the rail, stay on the rail the first two times around and then do whatever you want to. But save enough ground the first two times. Javier followed instructions to a T.”
With that, Ramsey signaled a time out sign with his hands.