(From Belmont Park release )
Returning to top form and employing new tactics, Little Mike rallied from midpack and then held off Big Blue Kitten and Real Solution to win by a nose in the Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational for 3-year-olds and up on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Little Mike, a 6-year-old gelding who typically races on or just off the lead, settled in fifth early in the 1 ½-mile race under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, advanced into fourth entering the backstretch, and commenced his run to the lead following one mile in 1:35.70 from pacesetter Joes Blazing Aaron.
With five-sixteenths of a mile to travel, Little Mike struck the front as Big Blue Kitten and Real Solution, who with Joes Blazing Aaron formed a Ken and Sarah Ramsey coupled entry that went off as the 4-5 favorite, began their charges from the back. Real Solution drew on even terms with a furlong to travel, but Little Mike rebuffed that challenge and then fended off a furious late charge from Big Blue Kitten. Third-place finisher Real Solution, who reported home a length behind the winner, finished a head in front of Slumber.
Little Mike completed the distance in 2:25.00, the fastest Turf Classic since Sky Classic established a stakes record of 2:24.50 in 1992. Off at 7-1, Little Mike returned $16.80 for a $2 win wager.
It was the first triumph in five starts for Little Mike since his victory in the 2012 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf.
"I was handicapping the race and after looking at it I told [trainer] Dale [Romans] that Little Mike's best race, in the Breeders' Cup Turf last year, was when he was off the pace," said Smith. "So I decided I was going to ride this horse the way Ramon [Dominguez] rode him [in the Breeders' Cup]. I can mimic all these jocks; I know how they all hold their hands. Ramon always puts one on the neck and one way out, and he's brilliant at it. So I did it, and he kept running and running and running. It worked! My hat's off to Ramon Dominguez."