Zanjabeel, Kennedy take control in Lonesome Glory

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Back home in Ireland, jump jockey Jack Kennedy rode Zanjabeel plenty of times in the morning for trainer Gordon Elliott and teamed up with the English-bred in a race – a 48-length defeat at Punchestown in November 2016 – but the duo is much better on the other side of the Atlantic.

The 19-year-old Kennedy and the 5-year-old Aussie Rules gelding improved to 2-for-2 together over American hurdles as they made off with the $175,000 Lonesome Glory Handicap at Belmont Park Saturday. Trained by Ricky Hendriks for Rosbrian Farm and Meadow Run Farm, Zanjabeel took over mid-stretch and held off the too-late runs of Hinterland and Optimus Prime late to score by 1 3/4 lengths in 4:50.24 for 2 1/2 miles on yielding turf. The win, Zanjabeel’s second Grade 1 score in four starts this year, may have clinched the steeplechase Eclipse Award in the process.

Call Kennedy convinced.

“He’s definitely a better horse than I rode last year,” said the jockey, who rides full-time in Ireland but came over Thursday specifically for the Lonesome Glory. “It was always in him to be this good, but he can be a little bit quirky. I think coming over here and having the sun on his back is after bringing out the best in him. He jumped well and traveled brilliant, and picked up after going a steady pace. He’s done it well. He hadn’t run since May and Ricky had him fairly straight.

Zanjabeel won twice over hurdles in Ireland in 2016 and 2017, and shook up the Far Hills Races in New Jersey last year by winning the Foxbrook Champion Hurdle novice stakes for Elliot and Kennedy in mid-October. The 4-year-old knocked off 10 others that day and did it well enough to earn a spot in the Rosbrian/Hendriks barn.

“I bought the horse last year because we liked what we saw; I didn’t kick tires,” said Rosbrian’s George Mahoney, who co-owns Zanjabeel with wife Mandy and friends Ben and Wendy Griswold of Meadow Run Farm. “We were talking before the race (at Far Hills), and after he won it had to do with how much you pay.”

Mahoney, who has horses in Ireland with Elliott, got the deal done and was rewarded the next month when Zanjabeel won a $75,000 novice at Callaway Gardens to close 2017. As good as that was, this year took a big step forward. Zanjabeel opened with a second in the Grade 1 Colonial Cup in late March, and was second again in the Grade 2 Temple Gwathmey in April. Sharpened by those efforts, he blasted six others including Modem, Mr. Hot Stuff and All The Way Jose in the Grade 1 Iroquois in May to take the lead in the race for the steeplechase title.

Thursday might have clinched the title.

One of three Rosbrian horses in the field, Zanjabeel let stablemate Clarcam set the pace while finding a spot in fourth behind another stablemate Optimus Prime and Personal Start. Clarcam still led on the final run up the backstretch, when the pace quickened. Show Court fell behind horses at the eighth fence, while Clarcam (Jack Doyle) maintained his advantage over the ninth and 10th, and briefly kicked away on the turn with a half-mile to go.

Zanjabeel took the second spot away from Optimus Prime with a better jump at the 10th and was in between horses as Three Kingdoms made up ground midway on the turn. Zanjabeel went after Clarcam at the top of the stretch as Three Kingdoms tried to keep pace. New York Turf Writers Cup winner Optimus Prime was briefly boxed in and lost a some momentum, as the winner set sail and responded as Kennedy switched his whip to his left hand. The jockey went back to his right just past the furlong pole and had plenty left for 33-1 Hinterland, who edged Optimus Prime by a neck for the place spot late.

Mahoney watched three of his horses reach the stretch together in a Grade 1, and tried not to crack.

“Talk about anxiety attacks,” he said of watching it unfold. “Stressful, the anxiety is off the charts. You’re not rooting for or against any of them so it can be a little bit hard to watch, just like you’re not rooting against your children if they’re on the same team. It’s a good problem to have three Grade 1 horses and I don’t want to sound boastful about that. They have to run against each other. There’s no other choice, but we’re blessed today. We’ll enjoy it and tomorrow we’ll put our heads down again and go to work.”

Look out. Rosbrian horses have won seven jump races this year – including three of the five Grade 1 stakes run thus far – while building a commanding lead in the owners’ standings with $492,950 (more than $230,000 ahead of Irv Naylor) heading into Sunday’s High Hope Races. Zanjabeel leads all 2018 steeplechasers with $265,500 earned, while Optimus Prime is third with $122,500. New Jersey’s Far Hills Races (Oct. 20) will help shake out both of those battles with $850,000 in total purses headlines by the $450,000 American Grand National.

Hendriks will have to decide which horse to run in the year’s final Grade 1, but expect to see Zanjabeel and Clarcam in the big one while Optimus Prime could end up at Great Meadow for a $75,000 stakes a week later.

About two minutes before post time Thursday, Hendriks was asked which of his horses would win – Zanjabeel (favored at 8-5) or Optimus Prime (second choice at 9-5). The trainer landed on the latter because of the Saratoga win and the timing.

“Optimus Prime. He’s faster,” the trainer said.

Afterward, he gave full credit to Zanjabeel for the mild surprise.

“That Zanjabeel ran some race,” Hendriks said. “It’s a long way from the Iroquois (in May) to here. It’s hard to do. He had a little vacation. He had a little turnout and we let him have some grass for about a month. Then we started back with him. He’s some animal. He did everything right, but coming into today we thought this was a prep. This was a prep for Far Hills. I figured he would need it and I knew the other horse had had a race.”

BossMan BelmontBoss Man and Mikey Mitchell jump early in their win at Belmont Park. Tod Marks photoBoss Man takes charge
Sometimes, Arch Kingsley likes to let Boss Man make decisions and the trainer may want to keep it that way as the rangy 8-year-old won his third race of 2018 in the $75,000 William Entenmann Memorial novice stakes to start Thursday’s card at Belmont.

“In between races I try to do very little with him because he trains very aggressively,” said Kingsley, who was based at Monmouth Park this summer. “This week, he pretty much two-minute licked every day. I was like, ‘You want to train, I’ll let you train into this race. I trained into the last one, you got this one.’ It was a matter of letting him do his thing and that’s a key to older horses like him.”

Whatever, the plan – and a reunion with jockey Mikey Mitchell – worked to perfection.

Owned by Carrington Holdings, Boss Man went to his usual spot on the lead, found a comfortable gallop with his ears pricked and kept going. The 3-1 co-favorite with No Wunder got challenged late by Ice It but dug in to win by a half-length in 4:12.34 for 2 1/4 miles. Detroit Blues, making his first start in more than two years, rallied for third.

The win erased a loss in similar company at Saratoga, where Boss Man tracked the pace of Surprising Soul but never found the same comfort zone while partnered with jockey Sean McDermott for the first time. Mitchell pulled up the Florida-bred in his hurdle debut in April, but has done nothing but win since – a maiden hurdle at the Queen’s Cup in April and an allowance hurdle at Saratoga in August.

“I don’t know,” Mitchell said about a bond between the two. “I think I’m fortunate to be on when everything kind of works out. His jumping still needs a little bit of quickening away from them, but he’s good for a novice in his first season. Today with the ground being just a bit softer it played to his favor. He’s happy out there by himself.

“At Belmont, where it drops to the rail off the turn and with a bit of moisture in the ground, being a frontrunner played to our favor too.”

Bred by the Steinbrenner family’s Kinsman Farm, Boss Man began his career for trainer Bill Mott – winning at Saratoga in 2014 before getting claimed for $25,000 by trainer Jason Servis in March 2015. After winning four times for the new barn, Boss Man finished 10th for a $16,000 tag in January and Kingsley made a phone call. Servis and owner Michael Gabriel agreed and the horse had a new calling.

After the Saratoga win, Kingsley said the horse inspired confidence from the beginning.

“Right away, from the time I started jumping, it was like, ‘Be careful where you’re going to run him because he’s going to win,” said Kingsley, whose horse is now 3-for-5 over jumps and the top first-year hurdler in training with $109,500 earned.

NOTES: Kennedy honed his skills in Irish pony races, but has rocketed into the leaderboard in his first three-plus seasons with 193 National Hunt wins plus another nine on the flat. He won four at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival in March. The day after Belmont, he rode at Ballinrobe in Ireland. See Horse Racing Ireland profile for more.