Jonathan Thomas walked to the winner’s circle and shook hands with his old boss. “Hey, I haven’t been in the winner’s circle for a long time…” Thomas said.
Todd Pletcher shook his hand, thanked him and welcomed him back aboard the mother ship. A former assistant to Pletcher, Thomas purchased Notacatbutallama as a 2-year-old for Repole Stable. The 3-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday won his sixth career race and fifth stakes when taking the Hall of Fame Stakes Monday. Originally scheduled for the turf, the $200,000 stakes switched to once around the sloppy main track. Rain forced Rydilluc and Balance The Books to scratch, leaving a five horses, three trained by Pletcher.
Notacatbutallama broke from the rail, favorite Charming Kitten and main-track only entry Battier exited the two outside slots. The compact field broke in a line but quickly separated as Alan Garcia sent Get In Line to the lead and North Slope adopted a stalking spot in second. Battier hung outside those two, well out from the rail. John Velazquez placed Notacatbutallama in a reserved spot in fourth, inside rivals but still a couple of lanes off the rail.
Ken Ramsey’s rabbit Get In Line posted a quarter mile in 24.92 and a half in 49.90. North Slope sat quietly to his outside with Battier latched on his right quarter. Notacatbutallama cruised along in fourth, unhurried. Get In Line’s entrymate Charming Kitten, ninth in the Kentucky Derby lagged in last.
Watching from the top of the clubhouse stairs, Pletcher kept an eye on his three runners – Battier on the outside in Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ light blue and black, Notacatbutallama alone inside in Repole blue and orange and Charming Kitten in Ramsey white and red.
“I thought Notacatbutallama got away in a good position. He was in a cozy spot, he was on the bridle, in his comfort zone,” Pletcher said. “I was a little bit concerned that Battier was so far out, parked out the whole way around there and I figured Charming Kitten was where we thought he would be, but then they threw up the 49 and change half, I thought ‘Ah, it’s going to be hard to close on that.’ “
Leaving the backside, Luis Saez revved North Slope to engage Get In Line who relented quickly as Battier tried to rally from the outside and Notacatbutallama shot through a chasm on the inside. Past the quarter pole, North Slope led by two lengths as Battier failed to go on and Notacatbutallama pounced, rolling past North Slope inside the furlong pole to win by three quarters of a length. The bay colt finished 9 furlongs in 1:52.29.
Thomas purchased Notacatbutallama for $105,000 at OBS April last year. Bred in New York by Happy Hill Farm, the efficient-moving colt made his debut here last summer, dominating a two-turn turf maiden. Wheeled back in 10 days, the son of Harlan’s Holiday finished fourth in the With Anticipation before winning two minor stakes in the fall. In December, he handled sloppy going at Aqueduct, finishing second in the Damon Runyon. In all, he won three races and finished second three times in seven starts as a 2-year-old. Pletcher skipped a Florida campaign and aimed Notacatbutallama at spring turf stakes. He finished fourth in the James Murphy in May, then won the Grade 3 Hill Prince and Solar Splendor at Belmont in July.
When it rained, Pletcher weighed all the options and, harking back to that Aqueduct effort, decided to take a chance in the slop.
“He’s a tough little horse,” Pletcher said. “He’s right on the verge of being a really top class turf horse, so sometimes you hate to run one like that on an off track, but I thought he actually worked really well on the dirt the other day, he’s in good form, he had run twice on the dirt and ran pretty well both times. We looked at the options, you either have to run back in a $100,000 stake on the grass, or older horses. Mike likes taking a shot.”
With 60 percent of the starters and 75 percent of the betting interests, Pletcher walked into the paddock confident but not ebullient about his three runners. Notacatbutallama had won five races on the turf, but did post a decent second in the Runyon. Charming Kitten tried the dirt once and actually wasn’t disgraced in the Derby. Battier carried a 4-for-8 career mark, including an allowance win over a muddy surface at Parx.
“I thought it was a jump ball,” Pletcher said, when asked about his trio.
Notacatbutallama turned it into a slam-dunk, handling the change of surface and running his win streak to three.
Velazquez knew it early.
“He was going well the whole way, I kind of knew he would handle it, he ran at Aqueduct in the slop and he ran really well. Actually, we worked him here before he ran last year, it was pretty muddy, and he worked OK,” Velazquez said. “Going into the first turn, I knew right away he had a good grip of it, I put him right behind those horses and the dirt him and he responded good, he actually didn’t back out of there. I was pretty confident.”