Alto Racing's Azar won for the first time—in a big way—Sept. 2, taking the $200,000 With Anticipation Stakes (gr. IIT) at Saratoga Race Course. Watch Replay
Off at odds of 11-1 in the field of five juveniles for the 1 1/16-mile turf test, theScat Daddy colt ran down pacesetting 15-1 shot Next Shares inside the final furlong. It was his third start for trainer Todd Pletcher, coming off an Aug. 16 maiden special weight runner-up finish going 1 1/16 miles at the Spa after failing to fire July 19 with a seventh going six furlongs on the inner turf at first asking at Belmont Park.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez was in the irons aboard Azar, who finished in a final time of 1:41.68 on firm turf. Following Next Shares 2 1/2 lengths back came Unbridled Daddy, 2 lengths ahead of 3-5 favorite Site Read. Monster Bea and Runaway King completed the order of finish.
"I thought he ran a much-improved race last time," Pletcher said. "He was on the lead most of the way, and came back and worked really well. We were thinking of maybe running back in a maiden race when this came up a short field. (Running a maiden in a stakes race) is not something we do often, but we felt like with two-race experience, and that he did everything except win last time (it was worth a shot) ... Johnny thought he was much more focused and more professional following horses. He gave a big last hundred yards."
The 2015 edition of the With Anticipation got off to an interesting start when longshot Runaway King lived up to his name by breaking through the gates as the field was loaded. The errant runner was quickly aprehended by an outrider and returned to his post 3. Following that small mishap came an equipment adjustment on Monster Bea, who was backed out of post 1 to have his girth tightened.
Finally, the field was sent on its way, with Velazquez slipping over to a ground-saving rail trip in third while Next Shares set early fractions of :23.19, :47.63, and 1:12.39. Around the turn for home, Azar had work to do to catch the leader, but once shifted out from his inside path through a 1:35.56 mile to close outside Next Shares, he found another gear and kicked on to win by three-quarters of a length.
"It worked out better today," Velazquez said. "The last time he ended up being on the lead and getting out and looking around and not really focused on what he needed to do. Today he was following somebody and when I pulled him out, he responded right away. Coming to the last turn I had to squeeze him pretty good, and once I got him going and I put him to the outside and he saw the light, that's when he started running."
Azar returned $24.40 for a $2 win bet as he increased his earnings to $136,850. He was bred in Kentucky by Mike Connelly out of the Mineshaft mare Miss Ocean City, and was a $300,000 purchase by agent Steven Young from consignor Michael C. Byrne at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale.