The Keeneland condition book may have deemed Saturday’s fourth race a mere allowance test but the quality of the seven-horse field declared it one of the best contests on the card. Appropriately enough, only a handful of lengths separated the entire bunch at the wire with Grade III winner Howe Great holding on by half a length over Middie in the 1 1/8-miles tour of the Keeneland turf course.
Most of the pre-race attention was focused on millionaire and Grade I winner Turallure, who was making his first start since running fourth in the Grade II Firecracker Handicap last July and subsequently being sidelined with bone bruising in his cannon bones. While the six-year-old son of Wando appeared rank down the backstretch under jockey Julien Leparoux and faded to sixth, Howe Great sat a perfect stalking trip behind pacesetter and multiple graded stakes winner Air Support, getting up to nail that one and Middie for his first win since taking the Jersey Derby last July.
“This horse is going to be a really fun horse this year,” said Howe Great’s trainer, Graham Motion. “I think he’s stepped up to a new level and he showed it today. He didn’t have a great trip last time (seventh in the Grade III Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 23), it was just a really awkward trip.
“(Jockey) Alan (Garcia) felt like he was the speed but he also felt like if someone else went, he could sit just off them and that was the perfect scenario.”
Howe Great covered the distance in 1:47.89 after Air Support went an opening half in :48.40.
Team Valor, who owns Howe Great, announced Friday that it had hired Rick Mettee to take over for Motion as the operation’s private trainer effective May 1.
“I’m excited he ran so well. We spent a lot of time getting this horse here,” Motion said. “I like to win at Keeneland and…they’re going to have a big year with him.”
Turallure was in contention turning for home but trainer Charlie LoPresti said the effects of being off for nearly a year appeared to take its toll in the lane.
“He got a little tired, but he ran good,” LoPresti said. “When they kicked for home he started to get a little tired, he hadn’t run in nearly a year. Yeah, I wanted to hit the board but it really didn’t set up. He probably should have kicked from where he was and I was hoping he’d finish second or third. But I think he’ll be alright. This was a building block.”