ELMONT, N.Y. — When Takaful won his debut by eight lengths sprinting here last Oct. 29, expectations for the well-bred colt were set high.
Eleven months and six races later, Takaful reached those expectations, running down the speedy favorite El Deal to win Saturday’s Grade 1, $350,000 Vosburgh Stakes by one length at Belmont Park, earning a fees-paid berth into the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 4 at Del Mar. El Deal was second by a half-length over Stallwalkin’ Dude, third in this race for the second straight year after finishing second in 2015.
For Takaful, it was his first stakes victory after losses in four previous tries including a second-place finish in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial last time out at Saratoga.
“Grade 1s are very important for colts, they’re hard to win,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “We were second last time and to win today, it was huge.”
After winning his debut so impressively, Takaful was immediately thrown onto the Triple Crown trail. But the son of Bernardini didn’t stretch out successfully. Following an eighth-place finish in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream in March, Takaful was given some time off and brought back for the summer. After running off and having to be scratched out of a first-level allowance at Belmont in early July, he won a first-level allowance at Saratoga on July 21 before his second to Practical Joke in the Jerkens.
Going long “didn’t work out,” McLaughlin said. “Luckily, we have patient owners who let us take our time and get him back to six furlongs.”
Takaful, owned by Sheikh Hamdan’s Shadwell Stable, is a difficult horse to train. He requires special equipment and is often brought out late to train.
Speed has been Takaful’s best weapon but with El Deal in the race, Takaful, under Jose Ortiz, had to sit second in the early stages of the Vosburgh over a track labeled good after approximately a quarter inch of rain fell earlier in the day.
Takaful was a length off El Deal and Javier Castellano through a quarter in 22.31 seconds and a half-mile in 44.76. Ortiz was content to sit second considering he was outside of El Deal.
“It was an advantage that he was on the inside of me so it was me putting pressure on him instead of him putting pressure on me,” Ortiz said.
In the stretch, Takaful gradually was gaining on El Deal, collaring him in the final strides. Takaful covered the six furlongs in 1:09.69 and returned $11.80 to win as the fourth choice.
“When I passed the sixteenth pole and I hit him left-handed and he gave me another gear,” Ortiz said.
Jorge Navarro, trainer of El Deal, thought the moisture in the track might have compromised his horse.
“The track was a little bit dead,” Navarro said. “Not an excuse, nice horse beat us. Horse ran a big race.”
Right after the race, Navarro said he didn’t like the way El Deal had jogged back to be unsaddled. After a veterinarian horse looked at El Deal, Navarro said the horse was fine.