West Point recap: Solid Ground

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Tom Bush peered into Banrock’s stall Saturday night and expected to see a tired horse. Banrock dived into his hay and kicked the wall.

“He’s got us a little excited,” Bush said. “He’s starting to do it a little easier and he’s coming out of his races good. He was eating his hay and he looked like he hadn’t even raced.”

That’s bad news for the rest of the New York-bred turf division.

Nyala Farm’s homebred choreographed a racing clinic in the West Point Handicap Sunday. Under Kent Desormeaux, Banrock hovered through the soft turf to saunter home 2 lengths clear of Classic Pack and My Man Lars. Banrock won for the second consecutive time and seventh time in his 21-race career. The 5-year-old gelded son of Go For Gin improved his 2008 record to 3-for-5, including the Kingston Handicap and Thunder Puddles.

Desormeaux placed Banrock third, just off Mission Approved and Gimme Credit through the first quarter in 25.37 seconds and a half in 50.48. Crouched low with a light hold on the reins, Desormeaux eased Banrock three wide on the turn. Through three-quarters in 1:14.60, Banrock rolled to the lead. The jockey tapped him left-handed and then took a long glance under his right arm.

Over.

“I knew he was running, but I didn’t realize I had put that much separation,” Desormeaux said. “I figured with the idling pace someone else would be coming but the ground ate them up. It ate them but not him.”

Desormeaux wrapped up on Banrock as he galloped under the wire, finishing the 9 furlongs in 1:51.41. Sent off as the second choice, he paid $7.80.

“Like a duck to water,” Desormeaux said of Banrock’s third win over less than firm turf this year. “I was perched on him, letting him run. I just let him go. I didn’t have to knuckle on him, I figured all that would do was get in his way. I encouraged him with some love taps on his girth, I didn’t want to hit him on his skin, I was hitting him on the girth, just to let him know to keep going, ‘keep doing your job, you’re doing a great job.’ ”

Banrock’s been doing that for two years now. He arrived in Saratoga last summer as a New York-bred eligible for the two-other-than condition. He won that and then ran hard in an open allowance at the end of the meet, finishing second to Chief Running Bear. He tried two state-bred stakes in the fall without threatening the top slots, then finished off the year with an open allowance victory. This year, he’s won three stakes while dominating the New York-bred turf division.

“The two-other-than New York-bred he won up here last year, when he won in a photo, that was a real deep two-other-than,” Bush said. “That made me think he really could be able to compete in the stakes if he kept developing. We always had a lot of faith in him, he had a winning race before we stopped with him, which I felt good about. He’s a lightly raced 5-year-old, he’s good and sound, we were hoping he’d go on and he’s really found his way. Now, he rates, he listens, he’s really come a long way.”

Tell that to Desormeaux who has been aboard for his last three wins.

“He’s such a perfect ride. He gets in behind horses and follows them like a herd of cattle. I had never done this before, but I stuck him out in the clear in the first turn and he did just the same. I was pleased with that,” Desormeaux said. “You never know with a typical cover-up horse, when you present them if they’re going to get aggressive and he didn’t, he just floated around there. Tom gets a lot of credit. I got on him at the right time, he’s really come full circle. He’s at the top of his game.”

Bush trained Banrock’s sister Finlandia who won the 2006 Yaddo and over $300,000.

“When I got him in as a 3-year-old, he looked like a 2-year-old, when he turned 4, he looked like a 3-year-old. You look at him now, he’s real long, short-legged but the body has caught up, he’s turned a lot of that babyness into muscle. He looks good,” Bush said. “He was always a little quirky, all the family has been, Finlandia was high octane to gallop. This horse has been on the nervous side, he’s had the same exercise rider for three years, Josue Mateo. He’s been a big, big part of him staying together.”

So has Nyala Farm’s Ruth Bedford and Kate O’Connell. They breed about three mares a year, all at Berkshire Stud. They breed to race, they breed for the turf and they breed for the long haul.

“We didn’t bring him to the track until he was 3, the owners are very, very patient,” Bush said. “They like to have their horses race late and they don’t care about the 2-year-olds, they breed for grass and they breed for long. You know he’s going to have the winter off every year. You can plan his schedule accordingly. They’re never in a hurry, it takes the pressure off.”