STICKNEY, Illinois — The trainer Brendan Walsh never has stabled horses in Chicago. He might want to think about it.
Walsh sent Multiplier to win the Illinois Derby here at Hawthorne this past spring, and on Saturday evening he won the Grade 3, $150,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup with Scuba.
“The Illinois stables won’t like me taking all the money,” Walsh said, reached by phone shortly after Scuba’s win.
Scuba won for the first time in seven starts this year — and only just. Futile, running a big race off a $32,000 claim by trainer Chris Hartman and owners Jackie Rojas and Chris Wilkins, looked a sure winner at the eighth pole, a likely winner at the sixteenth pole, and still had the lead 50 yards out, but Scuba continued on doggedly and caught him just before the wire to win by a half-length.
Scuba, owned by David Ross’s DARRS Inc., is a 6-year-old gelding by Tapit out of Cuaba, by Smoke Glacken. He had a very strong 2016 season, earning almost a half-million dollars, but had finished sixth in his last two starts, beaten more than 34 lengths combined, before turning things around Saturday.
“We tried a bunch of different things since we had nothing to lose,” Walsh said. “We kind of varied his training a little more. We brought him back over to the Spectrum [training center in Louisville], where we had him last year. He’d been going to the front and stopping, and the plan was to drop him in behind and ride him like a turf horse this time.”
Charged with executing this plan was jockey Alonso Quinonez, who won his first graded stakes since 2013 while piloting Scuba for the first time in a race.
“We changed tactics, worked him behind horses to try and change his mentality,” said Quinonez, who rode Scuba in his most recent workouts. “He wanted to go the first part and I’m like, ‘Boy, please, don’t give me a hard time. Just wait, just wait.’ I dropped him behind and he came back a little bit to me.”
Scuba was fourth into and around the first turn as Side Pocket led Futile through slow factions of 24.66 and 50.13 for the quarter and the half. Scuba got into third as the leader passed six furlongs in 1:14.56, but it was Futile who was getting the run of the race under Rodney Prescott. Side Pocket stayed on gamely around the far turn and into the homestretch, but Futile clearly had him measured and took over just past the furlong pole. Scuba, slightly outrun as Futile made his move, began closing on Futile at the furlong grounds and got him with one final surge.
“He’s got a lot of heart,” Quinonez said.
Scuba, winning for the seventh time in 24 starts, ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:03.12 off a hand-timed mile split of 1:38.72. He paid $6.20 to win as the second choice, as Futile was second by 2 1/4 lengths over Side Pocket.
“We were hoping he’d squeak that out,” said Hartman, Futile’s trainer. “He ran a super race but just got snapped. That’s the first horse I’ve ever run here. I was like “Wire, wire! Where’s it at?” Everything went perfect except we didn’t get in the circle.”
Eagle, the 2-1 favorite, fell far behind the slow pace and rallied mildly for fourth.
“He ran okay. Not exactly what we’re looking for, but no excuses,” said trainer Neil Howard.