ARLINGTON HANDICAP | PURSE: $200,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 3 | 1 1/4 MILES (TURF)
Donegal Racing's Finnegans Wake tallied his first stakes victory in a thriller July 12, getting his head in front of fast-finishing Admiral Kitten at the wire to win the Arlington Handicap.
Racing in second, just behind a slow early pace set by Avanzare, Finnegans Wake took over with less than a furlong to run. He thrust out his head in the final stride to deny Admiral Kitten, who unwound a torrid rally from last and just missed. War Dancer, the 9-5 favorite, finished third in the compact field of six.
Halting a 13-race winless streak, Finnegans Wake won at 11-2 odds under Victor Espinoza in the Arlington International Race Course prep for the Aug. 16 Arlington Million. He was timed in 2:05.42 for the 1 ¼-mile turf test for his first trip to the winner's circle since taking an allowance race at Churchill Downs in June 2012. He was fourth in last year's Arlington Million. The top three finishers in the Arlington Handicap gain automatic entry into the Million and have their fees waived.
Trained by Dale Romans, the 5-year-old son of 2005 Arlington Million winner Powerscourt posted his third win from 21 career starts that include runner-up finishes in the 2012 Secretariat Stakes and 2013 Bowling Green Stakes, as well as a pair of thirds in two other graded stakes. The $118,000 winner's share of the $200,000 Arlington purse bumped Finnegans Wake's lifetime earning to $605,675.
With Finnegans Wake tracking about a length back and War Dancer in third, Avanzare laid down pedestrian fractions of :26.36 seconds, :52.77 seconds, 1:17.62 and 1:42.18 to early stretch, where he drifted and forced Finnegans Wake out several paths. War Dancer advanced a bit but could not keep pace as Finnegans Wake overcame the trouble and took command just past the furlong pole.
Admiral Kitten, who was under tight hold early by Julien Leparoux, advanced to fourth at the top of the stretch, then rallied smartly between Avanzare and War Dancer to duel to the inside of Finnegans Wake, who won in a head bob.
"I was really close to the pace" Espinoza said. "I wanted to be able to put him in the race. I was worried about the other horse [Avanzare]. He was drifting down the lane, but other than that everything went well. It was a very close but he hit right on time at the wire, but you never know because you can't see far inside. I just got lucky."
Getting five pounds from the runner-up, Finnegan's Wake, at 117, paid $13.20, $5.80, and $3.20 while Admiral Kitte returned $3.80 and $2.80. War Dancer paid $2.60.
Avanzare faded to fourth and was followed across the line by Mister Marti Gras and Infinite Magic.
Finnegans Wake was bred by Donegal Racing principal Jerry Crawford from the stakes-placed Silver Ghost mare Boat's Ghost. His victory was a memorable one for his owner/breeder.
"It's been awhile since I've been this emotional over a win," Crawford said. "This is a little homebred and he's been knocking on the door for so long now. Victor couldn't have ridden him better. Dale had him ready today. This is tremendous."
Romans said a trip to the Arlington Million was "most likely" for Finnegans Wake, but Crawford will make the final decision.