Twelve races into Gear Jockey’s career, trainer Rusty Arnold began having second thoughts about the path he had put the son of Twirling Candy on.
The veteran conditioner thought he had a horse whose needed eight furlongs or more to be his best self and, given the solid results the bay colt had posted from his juvenile season on, it was hard to make a case to start fiddling with something that wasn’t necessary broken to begin with.
Still, Arnold felt that in order for the Calumet Farm homebred to reach his full potential, less might prove to be more where his preferred distance was concerned. Three starts into his career rebirth as a turf sprinter, Gear Jockey has Arnold happily wondering what might have been had he tried to switch things up even sooner.
Here is what Gear Jockeys’ connections don’t have to ponder, however: where they’ll be the opening weekend of November. The 4-year-old colt provided his team a fees-paid berth into the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Del Mar on Nov. 6 when he bested a field that included defending race winner Imprimis and multiple Grade 1 winner Got Stormy to take the $1 million FanDuel Turf Sprint Stakes (G3) by 2 1/2 lengths at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 11.
Gear Jockey is now 2 for 3 since shortening up in distance, having won a 5 ½ length allowance race at Saratoga on July 17, nthen finishing a good third in the Troy Stakes (G3) at the Spa on Aug. 6. He already has one Breeders’ Cup placing, a third-place run in the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), but Arnold feels like the horse he will lead over in this year’s edition of the World Championships is the truest and best version of himself.
“I made a mistake trying to run him long. We shortened him up and his three sprints have been unbelievable actually,” said Arnold, who also won the Turf Sprint Stakes at Kentucky Downs in 2019 with Totally Boss. “We had the win at Saratoga and the third in the Troy was a sneaky good race. He didn’t get away from the gate, he got comprised with his running style but he trained so good after that we kept him up there. His last work was phenomenal, and he just did everything right.
“I think this is what he is now (a sprinter). The depth of this field was unbelievable. It was a Breeders’ Cup race and to show up today was just huge.”
There indeed were no shortage of standout names in 12-horse field Saturday. Got Stormy was coming into the six-furlong race having bested males for the second time in three years in the Fourstardave Handicap (G1) at Saratoga. Fast Boat had just toppled Gear Jockey in the aforementioned Troy Stakes and Casa Creed had scored his first top-level victory in the six-furlong Jaipur Stakes (G1) at Belmont on June 5.
Sent off at 5-1 odds, Gear Jockey inserted himself into the conversation from the get go en route to his first graded stakes win. With Jose Lezcano at the helm, he rated in second just off of pacesetter Bombard through fractions of :22.38 and :45.14 over a course rated firm.
“”He broke right on top and I let him follow (Bombard) and when I asked him at the three-sixteenths he took off again,” Lezcano said. “At the quarter (pole) he had already taken me there. The whole way he gave me the feeling that I had so much horse. When I asked him he really kicked on.”
Gear Jockey overtook Bombard and started drawing clear into the Kentucky Downs stretch, but Arnold has seen too many horses get caught late over the unique course to start any premature celebrations. When he saw Lezcano was still sitting pretty at the three-sixteenths however, he let his mind drift just a tad to California.
“Jose did such a good job, he got him in the right spot and won it the right way,” Arnold said. “It was one of those things were everything went right. I’ve seen so many horses get caught here the last 16th of a mile and you don’t feel good until you hit the wire. But I felt really good when they hit the three sixteenths pole, and I knew Jose hadn’t asked him yet.”
Gear Jockey covered the distance in a track record time of 1:07.90. Diamond Oops got up for second with Bombard fading to third.
Got Stormy, the betting favorite, was just a head and couple necks back in sixth. Though disappointed with the off-the-board finish, trainer Mark Casse said the race served its purpose as a steppingstone towards the mare’s expected run in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1).
“They were rolling today,” Casse said. “You’ve always heard me say that she likes hard ground. I think when she’s sprinting, she probably would actually like it a little softer. Today they were just a little too fast for her. But she’s fine. We knew this was a tall task but this will get us ready for the Breeders’ Cup. I’m proud of her.”
With the victory, Gear Jockey improves his record to four wins from 15 starts with earnings of $902,875.
“This race has been very good to me,” Arnold grinned. “This whole track has.”