Elliott out of luck as former Skelton runner Optimus Prime starts with win
While Irish invaders Clarcam and The Game Changer were making their American debuts for Gordon Elliott in the New York Turf Writers Cup at Saratoga, it was another import who succeeded, with Optimus Prime landing the spoils for Ricky Hendriks and Ross Geraghty.
Optimus Prime, who was formerly with Dan Skelton, was purchased with Saratoga's signature steeplechase race in mind, and surged to the lead in the stretch, scoring a surprisingly easy length and a quarter victory over a late-running New Member.
The favourite, Iranistan, tired to finish third, and A P Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase Handicap winner Show Court was fourth in a field of eight.
The win was the second of the week for trainer Hendriks and jockey Ross Geraghty, who collected his 100th American victory after a successful career in his native Ireland. A day earlier they had won the Michael G Walsh Novice Stakes with Surprising Soul, owned by Wendy Hendriks, the trainer's mother.
A three-time winner over fences for Skelton last season, Optimus Prime last raced in May and joined Hendriks in mid-June, giving the trainer 54 days to get him race-ready.
"We had a schedule," Hendriks said. "We worked seven days a week with this horse."
The work paid off. Hendriks tested him in company with Surprising Soul, and Optimus Prime outworked him.
"He has demolished all the horses we have at home," said Hendriks, who moved into the lead of the National Steeplechase Association trainer standings with 12 wins.
Elliott's runners did not fare nearly as well. Clarcam lost all chance when he stumbled over the third-last fence, in front of Saratoga's clubhouse on the last circuit of the inner turf course.
Lisa O'Neill, who rides regularly for Elliott, lost an iron but managed to stay on and got Clarcam back in the race. He finished seventh, well ahead of The Game Changer.
Hendriks said Optimus Prime's next target most likely will be the Lonesome Glory Handicap at Belmont Park on September 20.
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