Rice’s decision to run Breeders’ Cup contenders Palace and La Verdad on Empire Showcase Day paid off with a pair of victories as Palace rallied for a half-length score in the $150,000 Hudson Handicap and La Verdad remained undefeated in six 2015 starts with an easy win in the $150,000 Iroquois.
“It was a tough week; they weren’t easy decisions,” said Rice. “But one thing I know about horse racing - it’s not easy to win [especially] if you don’t take what’s right in front of you.”
While Lubash had finished second in the 2011, 2013 and 2014 editions of the $200,000 Mohawk, the win had long-eluded the son of Freud, now 8.
In an unprecedented fifth attempt in the Mohawk, however, Aliyu Ben J Stable’s Lubash got the better of a familiar foe, digging in to post a head victory over defending champion Kharafa to set an inner turf course record.
“It’s fun, the two horses,” winning trainer Chrisophe Clement said of the rivalry. “He [Kharafa] is tough to catch with an eighth of a mile to go, but it worked out.”
In the $300,000 Empire Classic Handicap, the richest race on Saturday’s program, a hot early pace and a return to Belmont benefitted the aptly named Empire Dreams, who parlayed a great ride by Manny Franco into a narrow victory over upstart Royal Posse.
Treadway Racing Stable’s Wonder Gal emerged from the midst of a five-wide wall of horses entering the stretch and pulled clear to a 2 ½-length victory over Temper Mint Patty in the $250,000 Empire Distaff Handicap.
Team D’s Get Jets and Repole Stable’s Super Surprise picked up the first stakes wins of their respective and young careers in the $250,000 Sleepy Hollow and Maid of the Mist for 2-year-olds at one mile on the main track.
Later in the afternoon, the aptly named Super Surprise turned in an unexpected effort with a maiden-breaking score in the Maid in the Mist at 17-1.
Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, the daughter of Giant Surprise was bumped at the start and held wide through much of the race but had enough drive to edge Frosty Margarita by three-quarters of a length.
To close out the day, trainer Bruce Levine sent out sisters Invading Humor and Distorted Beauty to a 1-2 finish in the $200,000 Ticonderoga at 1 1/16 miles on turf for fillies and mares.
Sent off at odds of 29-1, Invading Humor gave jockey Jose Lezcano his third win of the day and back-to-back stakes wins, hitting the wire 1 ¾ lengths in front of her younger sister after setting a controlled early pace.
A 5-year-old daughter of Invasor, Invading Humor’s career earnings now stand at $500,944 for owner Bloodlines Racing Partnerships.