The colt Hunter's Aim overcame long odds and an unfamiliarity with his rider to win the $50,000 Awad Stakes on the turf yesterday at Laurel Park.
None of the jockeys who had been aboard Hunter's Aim in any of his six prior career starts was available for duty in the Awad Stakes, a race named for the second-winningest Maryland-bred horse of all time. (After 70 career starts, Awad retired last year with earnings of more than $3.2 million -- a total bettered only by Cigar among Maryland-breds.)
Steve Hamilton, Hunter's Aim first rider, took an assignment aboard another Awad Stakes entry, Holditholditholdit. Rick Wilson, who held Hunter's Aim's reins in January at Laurel Park when the son of Jade Hunter broke his maiden, is spending the summer riding at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. And Travis Dunkelberger, who sat in Hunter's Aim's saddle during his last outing earlier this month, is expected to be out at least two more weeks because of a chipped vertebrae he suffered during a bad spill at Laurel Park on July 15.
So, trainer Hamilton Smith offered Larry Reynolds the ride in the Awad Stakes, which marked Hunter's Aim's first trip against stakes company. Smith, however, didn't give the jockey free rein to decide how the race would be run. Instead, the colt was to dictate his own running style.
"Mr. Smith told me to try to get the horse to relax and make him run late," Reynolds said. "But if he tugged me early, then I was supposed to just go ahead with him."
Bettors decided they weren't going to go with Hunter's Aim in the Awad Stakes, sending him off at 16-1, the seventh choice in the field of nine 3-year-olds. Sharp Face, a grandson of Spectacular Bid who had finished first or second in all five of his career starts, went off as the favorite.
Breaking from the inside hole, Reynolds kept Hunter's Aim along the rail, and the colt decided to stay a length or so off the pace set by Smart Builder through the first mile of the 1 1/8-mile trip. Coming out of the final turn, as the pacesetter wilted, Reynolds asked his horse for a strong kick, and his request was honored. At the wire, it was Hunter's Aim by 1 1/2 lengths over his former rider, Hamilton, and Holditholditholdit. The favorite, Sharp Face, finished fourth. The $30,000 winner's share nearly matched Hunter's Aim's previous career earnings total.
The winning rider gave all the credit to his ride.
"I really didn't have to do anything. I got a perfect trip, and when I asked my colt to go he accelerated," said Reynolds, as he strolled toward the jockeys' room for what would be his third shower of the sweltering afternoon.