With his half-length victory in the Grade III, $120,000 Washington Park Handicap on Saturday at Arlington Park, Feel The Thunder Stable's Gran Estreno earned an automatic starting berth in the Grade I, $5,000,000 Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs.
Ridden by Michael Baze, the Mike Stidham-trained son of Lucky Roberto successfully defended his Washington Park title in the 1 3/16-mile race over Polytrack in 1:56.88.
After looking for a spot between horses at the top of the stretch, Baze guided the 7-year-old horse to the rail where he overtook pacesetter Mad Flatter in deep stretch and held off a late challenge from runner-up Giant Oak, who was closing on the outside.
"He didn't break super sharp, but I got after him a little bit," Baze said. "It worked out good because if he had broken super sharp, I might have been four or five wide into the turn. I was fortunate to save ground all the way around there and get through on the rail."
The Washington Park Handicap was the 11th win in 30 starts for Gran Estreno, who earned $60,000 to boost his bankroll to $407,235. His record over Arlington's Polytrack surface is now 5 wins in six starts.
Mad Flatter led for more than a mile, through moderate fractions of 24.71, 48.63, 1:12.95 and 1:37.62 before giving way in the late stages.
"It might just be a little too far for him, but he tried his best," said Lisa Graham, assistant to Mad Flatter's trainer Jeff Thornbury and wife of his jockey James Graham.
Giant Oak, the 1-2 post-time favorite, rallied wide to take the place spot.
Elusive Beat and Country Flavor completed the order of finish.
Sent off at odds of more than 4-1, Gran Estreno paid $10.60, $3.20 and $2.40. Giant Oak returned $2.80 and $2.60. Mad Flatter paid $2.60.