Rebounding from a sub-par performance at Pimlico in mid-September, Smokin’ T came out on top in Saturday’s $289,858 River City (G3) at Churchill Downs for the Hall of Fame combo of trainer Shug McGaughey and jockey John Velazquez.
The second choice in a field of 12 older horses rated in midpack through the first six furlongs, made a five-wide bid into contention at the top of the stretch and surged ahead en route to a 1 3/4-length victory.
“He sometimes wastes a lot of energy early in the race pulling but he was better today,” Velazquez said. “He got a good pace setup which helped him as well. He’s improved all year long and ran very well today.”
Harlan Estate, a 15-1 chanced, edged Siege of Boston for third by a neck. The order of finish was rounded out by Grand Sonata, Dominican Pioneer, Injunction, 3-1 favorite Rockemperor, Red Run, Kitodan, F Five, Cellist, and Stitched.
Owned and bred by DATTT Stable, Smokin’ T returned $10.54 after completing nine furlongs over a turf rated good in 1:50.66.
Smokin’ T has now won five of 18 starts and surpassed $700,000 in career earnings with this, his first graded success. In early August, he came out on top by a neck in the restricted Lure S. at Saratoga.
Smokin’ T finished a close second in the Cliff Hanger S. at Monmouth Park in May and a half-length third in the Mint Millions (G3) at Kentucky Downs in early September. However, he was a well beaten third in a field of four as the favorite in the Baltimore/Washington Turf Cup (G3) at Pimlico on Sept. 16 when wheeling back on two weeks’ rest.
A Kentucky-bred, the four-year-old Smokin’ T is by War Front and out of Falls City H. (G2) winner Wine Princess, a daughter of Ghostzapper and the Hall of Fame mare Azeri.
Earlier in the card, Wicked Halo earned her third stakes win of the season when proving best by two lengths in the $300,000 Dream Supreme S. under Tyler Gaffalione.
Favored at around 4-5 in the field of six fillies and mares, Wicked Halo was best of the closers in the six-furlong test, finishing up in 1:09.97 over a fast track. A homebred racing for Winchell Thoroughbreds and trained by Steve Asmussen, Wicked Halo returned $3.66
Little Prankster finished second by 2 1/4 lengths over Last Leaf. Your So Sillea, who set a hot pace of :21.61 and :44.75, faded to fourth and was followed by Fire On Time and Royal County.
The Dream Supreme was the eighth career stakes win for Wicked Halo, whose graded wins include the Adirondack (G2) in 2021 and the Prioress (G2) and Raven Run (G2) last season.
Wicked Halo captured the Matron S. at Oaklawn in March and Twin Bridges S. at Ellis Park in July, but was narrowly denied in three graded attempts earlier in the season. She finished second in the Derby City Distaff (G1), finishing ahead of champion Goodnight Olive, and also in the Bed o’ Roses (G2), and Thoroughbred Club of America (G2).
A four-year-old gray by Gun Runner, the Kentucky-bred Wicked Halo was produced by Just Wicked, a daughter of Tapit who also captured the Adirondack. Wicked Halo has now won nine of 18 starts and nearly $1.6 million.