SARATOGA SPRINGS - It was V. E. Day's first time on a fast track, and he broke last on a surface that's been favoring speed. He and jockey Jose Lezcano were still last after 6 furlongs before the rangy colt showed a finishing kick that may have earned him a spot in the Travers Stakes.
The 3-year-old son of grass champion English Channel passed eight horses in the final 3 furlongs and beat fellow long shot Charge Now by a head in a three-way photo in the $100,000 Curlin Stakes on Friday at sunny Saratoga Race Course.
Jimmy Jerkens trains V. E. Day, whose stablemate Wicked Strong will run Saturday in the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes, a far more high-profile prep for the Travers than the Curlin.
"[V.E. Day] is bred top and bottom for turf, but he trained so well on the dirt that I figured I had to give him a chance,'' Jerkens said. "He's a slow breaker, but he picked it up pretty soon. It turned out to be a legitimate pace, and he looked comfortable back there. I thought if he was good enough, he'd have a chance to get something.''
The 8-1 shot got it all, but just barely. Charge Now, sent off at 11-1, led 3-1 favorite Protonico by a head at the eighth pole, with V. E. Day a head farther back in third. Protonico began to weaken as V. E. Day charged on the outside of Charge Now and inched away in the final strides. Protonico missed the exacta by a nose.
The big disappointment was Life in Shambles, the 7-2 second favorite who finished seventh. The workmate of Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist reared in the gate, delaying the start, and never looked comfortable for rider Joel Rosario.
It was the third winner of the day for Lezcano and his 2,000th victory. On Monday he'll begin serving a three-day suspension for careless riding, but on this day he did nothing wrong.
"My horse did everything so easy to the quarter pole,'' Lezcano said. "He saw the horses and he kept running. I saved ground the whole way, and when I asked him he gave me a big kick.''
V. E. Day paid $18.20 after completing 11/8 miles in a rather slow 1:50.51, but he went the final three-eighths while very wide in a solid 37.5 seconds. He earned $60,000 for his third consecutive win for Magalen Bryant. He's 3-for-5 lifetime, including 1-for-3 on grass and 1-for-1 on a sloppy track.
"I thought he'd be tough if he liked the dirt and was as classy as I thought he was,'' Jerkens said. "To be honest with you, I still don't know if he's better on turf or dirt.''
Stakes winner euthanized Dance With Fate, winner of the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, was euthanized Thursday, about seven hours after suffering a severe leg injury in a workout at Del Mar. The 3-year-old colt ruptured two ligaments in his right hind leg after he bolted and crashed into the outside fence, falling heavily and unseating exercise rider Joe Durant. The consensus among three veterinarians was that the leg no longer would be able to bear weight and that euthanization was the only humane choice.
The son of Two Step Salsa won 3 of 9 starts for trainer Peter Eurton and earned $680,050. He finished sixth behind California Chrome in the Kentucky Derby.
Around the trackDefending meet champion Javier Castellano leads the rider standings with 10 victories, one ahead of all-time Saratoga leader John Velazquez and two up on Lezcano and Jose Ortiz . . . Perennial champion trainer Todd Pletcher has seven wins, three more than Mike Maker.