Surprising Soul leads all the way in Grade 1 score

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If racing were the NFL, Wendy and Ricky Hendriks would have been penalized 15 yards for excessive celebration as Surprising Soul thundered down the stretch at Belmont Park Sept. 19.

She whooped, he yelled, they high-fived, hugged people, kind of cried and generally made fools of themselves in the best way possible as a horse they paid $9,000 for became a Grade 1 winner at one of the world’s most important racetracks. Wendy Hendriks purchased Surprising Soul at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky in February 2016, and sent him to her son to train. In the catalog as a racing/stallion prospect, the bay became a gelding and then a steeplechaser. Thursday, he reached the highest level by wiring eight foes in the $150,000 Lonesome Glory Handicap – taking the lead from the start for Ross Geraghty and making it stand up for 2 1/2 miles while winning by 3 3/4 lengths in 4:34.31. Longshots Hinterland and All The Way Jose stayed for second and third.

Leading from the drop of the flag was not necessarily at the top of the list of potential pre-race strategies.

“That was Plan C,” said Ricky Hendriks. “The first one was to follow All The Way Jose or maybe Scorpiancer, lay him in there third. The first plan was to lay him second, the second plan was to lay him third, C was to put him in front.”

Rivals in the Lonesome Glory included Winston C, who carried high weight of 160 pounds and was bet down to 4-5 thanks to two Grade 1 wins at Saratoga this summer and three prior triumphs in England this year. The others were Iroquois winner Scorpiancer, who took the 2016 Lonesome Glory and the 2017 Eclipse Award as champion steeplechaser; Moscato, third in the Iroquois and 2017 winner over the Belmont course; classy English import Bedrock, making his second American start; Saratoga novice stakes winner Redicean; 2017 Lonesome Glory winner All The Way Jose; novice stakes winner Belisarius and the steadfast (but winless since 2013) Hinterland. Surprising Soul was making his first start since finishing second to Scorpiancer in the Iroquois in May, but freshness seems to be a key to the 7-year-old – who won two of three (with a second) in 2018. The previous season he won all three spring starts, but lost four in a row to close the year.

Hendriks and Geraghty embrace the lighter schedule now.

“I know he’s fit, I know Ricky doesn’t bring them out unfit,” said Geraghty. “I know he’s got so much stamina, there are very few horses you can ride like that. You just ride him like you stole him and use everything. He gives everything.”

After a false start, Surprising Soul jumped the first fence between All The Way Jose and Scorpiancer, then took the lead as the others conceded. Once established there, Geraghty turned the race into a stamina test – injecting speed when he needed to and putting the others on the defensive at every opportunity. Winston C was last early, just behind second choice Moscato. With a lap remaining, the winner flew the sixth fence as All The Way Jose skipped through awkwardly. Geraghty let out a notch coming to the eighth, the first fence on the backside, and got an immediate response as Surprising Soul increased his lead. Behind him, Moscato didn’t jump well and lost whatever momentum he had. Winston C clouted the ninth and cost himself some progress.

“He’s honest but you have to force everything, use everything, you can’t wait on him, he’s not quick,” Geraghty said. “He pinged the first back down the back, they were making mistakes, I could hear them. The ground rode slow enough and I said, ‘Maybe it’s too slow for them.’ ”

Surprising Soul jumped the last in control, but braced for challenges over the half-mile run to the finish. They never got to him. All The Way Jose moved out for a bid, but merely stayed on. Scorpiancer came under pressure, Hinterland made up a little ground, Redicean began to weaken. Winston C went to the inside and found his best stride of the whole race halfway around the bend. He got in tight, knocked over a beacon and couldn’t find room until the field straightened up. By then Surprising Soul was skipping away and proving uncatchable. Hinterland finished second in the Lonesome Glory for the third time (2015, 2018, 2019) while All The Way Jose hung on for third by a half-length over Winston C.

“I landed over the last down the back and I kicked, keep going,” Geraghty said. “He’s flat out. He’s not quickening, but I’m in front of them, he’s just galloping, that’s his gallop.”

Bred in Canada by Chuck Fipke, Surprising Soul won for the sixth time in 16 starts over jumps and earned $90,000 to reach $336,700 in steeplechase earnings. The son of Perfect Soul lost five flat starts for Fipke, at Fort Erie in 2015 and Oaklawn Park in early 2016 before the Hendrikses found him at the sale.

“I saw him and I thought, ‘Oh that horse is beautiful. I want that horse,’ ” Wendy said of her reaction at Fasig-Tipton. “Somebody else was looking at him. He just had a top line and everything, I used to judge horse shows so I know what I’m looking at. He’d been running on the dirt, short and I looked at his pedigree – Perfect Soul is turf, and distance too. I looked at the horse and thought, ‘Jumper.’ We might have been the only bidder.”