On a star-studded program with eight Grade 1 races and the third jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, as its marquee attraction, Castleton Lyons & Kilboy Estate bred Jack Christopher made a bid to shine brightest of them all on Saturday at Belmont Park with a complete tour-de-force victory in the Grade 1, $400,000 Woody Stephens increasing his earnings to $841,400.
Run at seven furlongs on the main track for 3-year-olds, the Woody Stephens was Jack Christopher’s second Grade 1 victory at Belmont and cemented his status as the nation’s preeminent sophomore around one turn, though his foray into two-turn racing may not be far off.
“This horse is an exceptional talent,” said Brown. “This is my 15th year of training and I’ve never had a dirt horse with this much pure brilliance. He reminds me a lot of Ghostzapper when I worked for Bobby Frankel. He’s a brilliant horse that can probably run any distance.”
Sent off as the overwhelming 1-5 favorite in a field of six, Jack Christopher broke well from the rail and seemed intent on the lead under Jose Ortiz, but the two were confronted early by longshot Provocateur. Rather than duel with his pace rival from the inside, Ortiz briefly reined in the son of Munnings and angled him out into the clear on the Belmont backstretch. With positions now established, Provocateur led the field through moderate splits of 22.61 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 45.38 for the half over the fast main track as Jack Christopher sat perched to his outside all the way through the turn.
As the field turned for home, however, the story quickly changed. No longer content to let Provocateur dictate terms, Jack Christopher and Ortiz effortlessly seized control of the lead and displayed a devastating turn of foot in the Big Sandy stretch as he powered away from his overmatched foes with every stride. When the dust finally settled, Jack Christopher blitzed his competition by 10 lengths and stopped the clock in 1:21.18.
“It was very nice and easy,” said Ortiz. “When I took a peek back, I was ready to let him go and did a little bit. He was very impressive today.
“This is why we work hard and wake up every day,” the jockey added. “We dream about these kinds of races and he’s a very nice horse. Hopefully, he stays healthy and we keep doing it.”
Owned in partnership by Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud and Peter Brant, Jack Christopher began his career last summer at Saratoga Race Course, where he trounced a field of maidens by 8 3/4 lengths, before notching his first Grade 1 win in the Champagne on October 2 at Belmont with a Beyer Speed Figure of 102.
After being scratched out of a start in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to close out his 2-year-old campaign, which cost him a chance at being formally recognized as the best in his division in 2021, Jack Christopher didn’t made his belated sophomore debut until May 7 in the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard, a race he won emphatically by 3 3/4 lengths.