Verstappen entered the $333,157 Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland on Saturday very much under the radar with a 1-for-8 record on the turf. But after edging multiple graded stakes winner Red Knight after a prolonged stretch duel, the four-year-old looks like a player in stakes of similar ilk this season.
Ridden by Declan Cannon, the 16-1 Verstappen was no more six lengths behind through the opening mile of the 12-furlong test. Surging into contention with a six-wide bid turning for home, Verstappen hooked up with fellow closer Red Knight approaching the eighth pole and outfinished that 6-1 chance by a head.
“Declan rode him to perfection,” winning trainer Brendan Walsh said. “Coming in here we said if he ran in the first three it would open a big door for him. Anything from a mile and a quarter to a mile and a half, I think he’s still going to get better and better.”
Owned by Andrew Farm, For the People Racing Stable, and Windmill Manor Farm, Verstappen finished up in 2:29.28 over good ground and paid $34.30. Runner-up Red Knight had two lengths on Another Mystery, with former turf champion and 2022 Elkhorn winner Channel Maker fourth. Howe Street, the 2-1 favorite, finished sixth in the field of eight.
Although his only prior turf win had been in a maiden at Fair Grounds in March of last year, Verstappen entered the Elkhorn in good form. Wintering at Turfway Park, the gelding won two of three starts over the Tapeta track, all with Cannon riding. After two narrow wins in allowance company over 1 1/4 miles, Verstappen finished second in the nine-furlong Kentucky Cup Classic in his stakes debut. Verstappen has now won four of nine starts with earnings of $447,846.
Bred in Kentucky by Frank Hutchinson and a $325,000 Keeneland September graduate, Verstappen is by War Front and out of the stakes-winning Andromeda Galaxy, by Peintre Celebre.