Awakened wins Grade 1

Pedigree matters. The cross of leading sire Curlin and A.P. Indy mares has produced the likes of champions Malathaat and Nest, millionaire Global Campaign, Grade 1 winner Julia Shining and so on. Add Grade 1 steeplechase winner to the mix after Awakened won the $150,000 Jonathan Sheppard at Saratoga Race Course Wednesday.

Owned by Riverdee Stable and Ten Strike Racing, the 6-year-old was by no means bred to run over jumps but the quality was there. Leading sire Curlin is, well, Curlin. He earned $10 million on the track, stands for $225,000 and sired the sales-topper at this year’s Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale. For all that, Awakened’s female family might be even stronger. He goes back generations with the Phipps and Wheatley stables, traces to La Troienne, perhaps the broodmare of all broodmares, and is related to Grade 1 turf winner Imagining, influential stallion Not For Love, champions Numbered Account and Rhythm and Horse of the Year, champion and Hall of Famer Busher.

A $725,000 buy-back at Keeneland September as a yearling, Awakened won his 10th flat start for Phipps Stable and trainer Reeve McGaughey at Ellis Park in 2021 before being purchased as a steeplechase prospect. Sent to trainer Jack Fisher, the chestnut won a maiden hurdle in September 2022 and started this year with a third in allowance company in April and a win in allowance company in May. Next came Saratoga, where he was second in a novice stakes Aug. 2. Weather cancellations and short fields conspired to shuffle the Spa’s jump-race calendar, knocking out the second novice race and creating a 10-horse Sheppard. A Grade 1, it attracted a single Grade 1 winner but an otherwise competitive group topped by meet winners McTigue and L’Imperator.

Awakened made the most of his chance, biding time deep in the field, saving ground and winning a stretch battle with Jimmy P by a length after 2 3/8 miles in 4:32.51. McTigue was a neck back in third.

Jockey Tom Garner wasn’t thrilled with the early part of his race.

“My plan was to jump off handy,” he said. “I got a little bit muscled back at the start which is not like me because I do like to think I’m a bit sharper than that. I wanted to be handy. I had to play the cards I was dealt and I sat, sat, sat and the horse traveled great, jumped great, I was a passenger for a while there.”

Eighth after three fences as West Newton led Jimmy P and Noah And The Ark up front, Awakened stayed inside and listened to his jockey. With a lap to go, they were ninth but hadn’t done much to change that. West Newton jumped the last in front, landed to his left and was gang-tackled by Noah And The Ark, Jimmy P, L’Imperator and McTigue. Awakened entered the final turn in seventh, but going the right direction. He went around West Newton, beat Caramelised to the fifth spot, cut the corner and rolled through on the cones as Jimmy P drifted out and McTigue came out from behind horses. Those three kicked away and were 7 lengths clear of Merry Maker in fourth as Awakened owned the final furlong to win for the third time in nine jump starts.

Win or lose, Garner would have been proud of the effort.

“I’d have been happy with his run if he’d been a good second, but he quickened and once he hit that top gear, he felt like he could have gone another half-mile,” said the jockey. “What a lovely horse. I got the splits when I needed to and I pressed every button going up the straight and he quickened. He probably benefited from having that run three weeks ago.”

Garner passed credit to Fisher, the team at the farm in Maryland and Awakened’s previous jockey Jamie Bargary.

“I rang him before I rode him the first time and he told me about the horse, told me everything to a T,” Garner said. “Just through complications with his visa, he probably should have been on the horse. His loss is my gain, but that’s racing, you know?”

An Englishman like Bargary, Garner rode six American races in 2017 and ultimately made it home with highlights like sweeping both Grade 1 jump stakes at Saratoga in 2019 (with Winston C) and 2021 (with Baltimore Bucko and The Mean Queen). While thinking of those, and the future, he savored Wednesday.

“That’s probably my last ride at Saratoga,” he said. “At the end of the year I’m going to retire. It’s been 16 years. I had my first ride when I was 16 in England and I really appreciate everyone that has put me up. I got a little emotional when I crossed the line. I’m going to ride the rest of the season here . . . I’m going to focus on training and doing some bloodstock and my wife Devon will be delighted to hear that I’m finishing in the year. I rode my first Grade 1 winner here on Winston C. This place holds a very special place in my heart and I’ll miss it but hopefully I’ll win it one day as a trainer.”