With a gritty run under Brian Hernandez Jr., Harvey Wallbanger went from the back of the pack to the front and from maiden special weight winner to graded stakes victor in the span of 1:43.69, the final time for the 3-year-old race on a fast main track. The bay colt made his stakes debut Saturday for trainer Ken McPeek, and strung together back-to-back victories after he began his career with three straight runner-up efforts for owners Harold Lerner, AWC Stables, Nehoc Stables, Scott Akman, and Paul Braverman.
Maximus Mischief, the heavy favorite in a field of nine, suffered his first loss in four starts with a third-place finish, as he was unable to withstand the inside challenge of the winner after gaining the lead from front-running Epic Dreamer in the stretch.
“It’s a horse race. You can’t duck one, can you? He showed he had some good, solid ability. I was thinking he’d rise up to whatever level you put him in,” McPeek said. “All we did last fall was really kind of teach him what to do. The end of the season, he was a little tired after his fourth race, and we backed off, came down here, and took our time.
“I had some options to run in an [allowance race] and I told Harold, ‘Let’s find out how good he is, because he can’t be training any better.’ Today I told Brian, ‘If they go, let them go. Don’t worry about it. Just tuck in, save some ground, and make your run.’ ”
Hernandez executed the plan to perfection. He rated last of nine early as Epic Dreamer posted quarter-mile fractions of :23.18 and :46.76, with Maximus Mischief in close pursuit.
Epic Dreamer continued to show the way through three-quarters in 1:10.89, then gave way grudgingly as Maximus Mischief dueled, then put him away. But Harvey Wallbanger was gaining inside with tremendous momentum, and skimmed by to win by a length. The late outside surge of Everfast, a 128.70-1 outsider, denied Maximus Mischief second by a neck. Epic Dreamer faded to fourth, while Mihos, who captured the Jan. 5 Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream, finished fifth after stalking the pace.
“He broke good [and] clean. He sat second behind the speed, but I felt like they were coming on my outside, so I made my decision to go. When I asked him, he wasn’t going the way I wanted him to. I just had to start riding,” Ortiz said. “I had a hard time catching the horse on the lead.”
The race set up perfectly for the eventual winner.
“It was great,” Hernandez said. “We had a horse that likes to come from behind, and we thought they’d go quick in front. I was able to just kind of sit there. I knew to trust in my horse, because he was second in a couple of good maiden races, and he always runs to his competition, so I thought he’d give a good showing today.
“We’d have been happy if he’d have been second or third, but for him to jump up and win showed that he’s a good horse, and he’s turned into a good 3-year-old. When we turned for home and I got within range of them, I thought I had enough horse to where I’d get past them. I mean, he spurted through there quickly, and he did it like a good horse.”
Harvey Wallbanger was bred in Kentucky by Tony Holmes and Dr. and Mrs. Walter Zent out of the Distorted Humor mare Adorabell. He was a $50,000 purchase by Lerner from Warrendale Sales’ consignment to The July Sale, Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky selected yearling sale, in 2017. His record now stands at two wins and three seconds from five starts, with earnings of $299,520.
With the Holy Bull victory, Harvey Wallbanger earned 10 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, good for 12th on the current leaderboard. He is the second contender on the Triple Crown trail for McPeek, who also trains Grade 2 winner Signalman, who breezed four furlongs in :46.63 Saturday morning at Gulfstream in preparation for a start in the $400,000 Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes March 2 at the Florida track.
“Let’s just enjoy the evening here and then figure it out,” McPeek said of future plans for his Holy Bull winner. “The Fountain of Youth. I’ve already got Signalman kind of circled for that, but that doesn’t mean that they both couldn’t run. I’d like to keep them apart if I can, but one step at a time.”