In an off-the-turf running of the $200,000 Red Smith Stakes Nov. 17 at Aqueduct Racetrack, Angels of Catalina's Argentina-bred Village King scored his first stakes win on North American soil.
With more than half the field scratched for Saturday's 1 1/8-mile test, Village King was sent off at odds of 9-2. Breaking from post 1 under jockey Javier Castellano, the 4-year-old colt was coaxed from the gate and raced just off the inside rail in third.
Moving up to take early command of the field, Exulting led the pack through a half-mile in :50.49. Racing between second- and third-placed contenders Control Group and Soglio, Village King dropped back to fourth as the field turned for home.
Still running in the two path at the top of the stretch, Village King swung wide to the outside behind Exulting, who still led the pack as they reached the six-furlong mark in 1:15.16. Guided back toward the rail by Castellano, Village King found his opening and kicked home, edging past Control Group and Exulting to take the lead at the eighth pole.
Village King's lead was threatened by a rallying Soglio to his outside. Dueling neck-and-neck to the wire, Village King was declared the winner by a nose in a photo finish. Final time for the race was 1:52.95.
"It was perfect," Castellano said. "In the beginning of the race, I was outside, and I kept tracking the two speed horses up front. I was able to cover up a little bit and save all the ground. On the inside, turning for home, I tried to get out. I cut the corner, saved all the ground, and made the inside move. It was too close to call. I mean, basically it could have gone either way. I think I am very lucky today, very fortunate to win the race."
Soglio took second, followed by Control Group two lengths back in third. Exulting, Red Knight, and Galope Americano completed the field.
"This horse had trained pretty well on the dirt," said trainer Todd Pletcher. Village King was transferred to the barn of the Eclipse award-winning conditioner upon arriving in the U.S. in September.
"He had also run well in South America on the dirt, so we felt it was worth a try," Pletcher continued. "He kept fighting and cut the corner, and we ended up on the right end of a head bob. It kind of gives us a ton of options going forward from here. He seems versatile, and we'll see what's next."
Bred in Argentina by Santa Maria de Araras out of the Pleasant Tap mare Villard, Village King was a grade 1 winner in South America. The son of Campanologist improved his record to 4-0-3 from 8 starts with $358,104 in earnings.