Former claimer Chocolate Ride has found his wheelhouse, and first-time Thoroughbred owner John Wentworth has a stakes winner on his hands.
The 5-year-old gelded son of Candy Ride is now 3-for-3 at the 1 1/8-mile distance on the Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots lawn, having aced the $300,000 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Handicap March 28 in a track record 1:48.18.
"This is the first thoroughbred I've ever owned. I can't believe it," an ecstatic Wentworth said.
Nursed along on the front end by jockey Joe Talamo and then released down the stretch to deliver just enough kick, Chocolate Ride won his second stakes in a row for Wentworth and trainer Brad Cox. The duo picked him up from John Oxley and Mark Casse for a $40,000 tag last November at Churchill Downs, took him down to Fair Grounds, and after two bids at shorter distances, figured out what works.
Last time out, Chocolate Ride won the Feb. 21 Fair Grounds Handicap by 1-3/4 lengths on the front end at odds of 14-1. This time the odds were lower and that margin was a little smaller as 9-5 favorite Slumber came flying up the outside to challenge, but the frontrunner held sway to claim his third win in a row by about half a length.
"He has just been getting better every single day we've had him here," said Cox's assistant Ricky Giannini. "Being able to work him on the turf here has just pushed him to the next level. Working on the turf really helped his feet and his soundness and helped him in the right direction. He has been steadily improving. We saw it in the Fair Grounds Handicap and he showed it again today."
Talamo had Chocolate Ride under a nice hold and the bay gelding galloped along through splits of :24.08 seconds, :48.31 seconds, and 1:11.73 before striking the turn and extending his lead while a mile went in 1:35.78. The wire showed up just in time, with Chocolate Ride going clear over Slumber and third-place Paroled, another half-length back.
"I really appreciate the opportunity today," said Talamo, who took over for Florent Geroux when that rider took the call on Divine Oath in order to ride trainer Todd Pletcher's three runners on the March 28 card at Fair Grounds. "What a nice horse. He did everything so nice, relaxed on the front end, and really held those two horses off. He was relaxed and I had a lot of horse left."
Jockey Alan Garcia said Slumber, who came off a runner-up finish in the Feb. 7 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap for trainer Chad Brown, broke flat and needed extra motivation to get him to compete.
"He ran a good race (but) I was a little disappointed the way he started from the gate," Garcia said. "I had to ask him to put him in the race."
Off at odds of 4-1, the winner returned $10.60, $4.40, and $3.20. Slumber paid $3.20 and $2.80 while Paroled returned $3.80, followed by Divine Oath. Coalport and Potomac River completed the order of finish.
Chocolate Ride, bred in Kentucky by Brian Kahn out of the Old Trieste mare Heatherdoesntbluff, was a $260,000 purchase from the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale by Casse when consigned by Bedouin Bloodstock. He improved his record to 4-2-2 from 12 starts.