After posting sensible early fractions of :24.56 for a quarter-mile and :49.07 for a half-mile under Jose Ortiz, Laoban withstood stretch challenges from Grade 2 winner Destin, who tracked throughout and would finish third; and Governor Malibu, who moved between horses to get second but couldn’t get to the winner, to complete 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.30 on a fast track.
Laoban registered a strong finish, going the third quarter-mile in :23.39, the fourth quarter in :23.64, and the final furlong in :12.29.
Destin entered off a close runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 11 and Governor Malibu was making his first start since finishing fourth in the New York classic.
Favored Mohaymen stumbled at the start — his nose brushing the ground — and finished fourth in his first start since finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. Belmont Stakes winner Creator finished last of six as he didn’t respond to urging from rider Irad Ortiz Jr.
Trained by Eric Guillot, McCormick Racing’s and Southern Equine Stable’s Laoban twice placed in Grade 3 races but never won in seven previous career starts. The son of Uncle Mo entered off a fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes on July 9 at Belmont Park after leading early.
Guillot said with many of the 3-year-olds going in the betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes on July 31 at Monmouth Park, he thought there might be an opportunity for his early runner in the Jim Dandy.
“I thought, ‘All the speed’s across town tomorrow, in the Haskell. I’m going to take a shot.’ He was doing good, worked in :46 3/5, galloped out in a minute flat, I schooled him, I’m here (at Saratoga), he’s doing great ... why not take a chance?,” said Guillot, adding that he thought his horse fit at the stakes level.
“My partner and I, we don’t dance to elevator music. We dance to zydeco. Who wants to run in a maiden?”
Laoban returned $56, $17.20, and $5.60 across the board. Governor Malibu returned $5.80 to place and $3.50 to show, while Destin paid $2.90 to show.
Ortiz said Guillot’s confidence wore off on him.
“The trainer had a lot of faith in the horse. I’d never previously ridden the horse, but he broke great and they let me go easy enough,” Ortiz said. “He was relaxed, pulling me a little bit with his ears prickling, and when I asked him to go by the quarter-pole he really took off. I was really confident by the half-mile pole.”
Trainer Christophe Clement said if Governor Malibu comes back in good order, he’ll be pointed to the Grade 1 Travers Stakes. Trainer Todd Pletcher said the same of Destin.
In about the only thing that went wrong for Laoban Saturday, Ortiz was unseated by Laoban returning to the winner’s circle, but the unscathed rider was back on board for the post-race celebration.
“We were coming into the turn on the gallop out, and when he switched to the right lead he stumbled and I came off,” Ortiz said. “I’m OK though.”
Bred in Kentucky by Respite Farm, Laoban is the first starter out of stakes-placed Speightstown mare Chattertown. GEM Stables purchased Laoban for $240,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale.