Little Mike rediscovered his best stride on Saturday, rallying from off the pace to win the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (G1) at Belmont Park.
A 6-year-old gelding, Little Mike is known for his early lick, but won the Turf Classic coming from off the pace under Mike Smith. He struck the front with five-sixteenths to travel and held off a furious late charge from Big Blue Kitten to win by a nose.
Little Mike completed the distance in 2:25.00, the fastest Turf Classic since Sky Classic established a stakes record of 2:24.50 in 1992. Off at 7-1, Little Mike returned $16.80 for a $2 win wager. It was the first triumph in five starts for Little Mike since his victory in the 2012 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf. The Florida-bred son of Spanish Steps races in the colors of Priscilla Vaccarezza and was bred by Carlo Vaccarezza.
“I was handicapping the race and after looking at it I told [trainer] Dale [Romans] that Little Mike’s best race, in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last year, was when he was off the pace,” said Smith. “So I decided I was going to ride this horse the way Ramon [Dominguez] rode him [in the Breeders' Cup]. I can mimic all these jocks; I know how they all hold their hands. Ramon always puts one on the neck and one way out, and he’s brilliant at it. So I did it, and he kept running and running and running. It worked! My hat’s off to Ramon Dominguez.”
Little Mike was fifth in the 2012 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, his final race prior to the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Romans said Little Mike will aim for a title defense in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Santa Anita.
“This is a big win for this horse and for the barn,” said Romans. “We’ve had kind of a rough year, and this is our first Grade 1 of the year. He’s finally rounding back into form. His form hasn’t been that bad, if you analyze it. They’ve gone after him early in his last two races. We needed to change tactics and come from off of [the pace]. Nobody was giving us easy leads like they were last year. He just proved how versatile he is. I knew we needed to try something different to get him back to the level where he was last year. It worked, so I want to thank Mr. Ramsey for putting the rabbit [Joes Blazing Aaron] in there and changing things around.”
Both Big Blue Kitten and Real Solution are sons of Kitten’s Joy, whom Romans trained to victory in the 2004 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic on behalf of the Ramseys.
The $360,000 winner’s share of the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic purse lifted Little Mike’s earnings to $3,483,012. His record now stands at 26-13-2-1.