Flagstaff Determined Winner In Breathtaking Churchill Downs Stakes Finish

The Grade 1 Churchill Downs Stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard had one of those finishes that made one observer remark that it was a shame anyone had to walk away the loser. With a few strides left, six horses blanketed the width of the dirt track, and in another few steps, three were separated by a few inches, but it was Flagstaff who would emerge the victor.

Jockey Luis Saez hustled the gelding strongly out of the gate and he was initially part of a blazing battle for the early lead alongside Get The Prize, Tap It To Win, Lexitonian, and Basin. Halfway through the backstretch he dropped back behind those and would have seemed poised to begin reversing through the rest of the field in the remaining furlongs. Instead, Saez regrouped and made a wide move on the turn, sweeping into at least the five path to circle the field.

Flagstaff was one of a flurry of horses in contention through the final furlong, from the pacesetters and stalkers trying to hang on to late closers. He briefly held the lead but was challenged by closers. At the wire, Whitmore was to his outside and Lexitonian to his inside as Flagstaff lengthened his stride just enough to stretch his neck out at the right moment and win by a head.

Lexitonian was second, followed by Whitmore and Hog Creek Hustle. The final time was 1:21.82 after early fractions of :21.97, :44.21 and 1:08.04.

John Sadler trains Flagstaff for owners Lane’s End Racing and Hronis Racing. The 7-year-old came to this race off a decisive win in the G3 Commonwealth at Keeneland in early April. This is his first Grade 1 win, and he also won the G2 San Carlos at Santa Anita last year.

Flagstaff was bred in Kentucky by Summer Wind Farm and is the son of Speightstown and Indyan Giving, who is by A.P. Indy. He was sold for $475,000 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale, where he was consigned by Lane’s End and bought by Mayberry Farm.

Flagstaff went off at odds of 9-2 and paid $11.80 to win. Favored Tap It To Win finished second last. See the full chart here.

CHURCHILL DOWNS QUOTES, courtesy Churchill Downs press office 

Luis Saez (Jockey, Flagstaff, winner) – “Getting settled off the pace was the key; they were going pretty fast up front. I tried to save ground into the turn and when there was a moment to go out so I had that good spot he came for me. I know Whitmore is a good horse but my horse really dug in. When I saw everybody coming past me I thought it was over but he never gave up and finally he gave me the last little bit and we got there. John told me to ride him with confidence and that he likes to fight and we broke and then you saw that at the end.”

John Sadler (Trainer, Flagstaff, winner) – “I’m thrilled. He’s a real hard knocker; he always runs his race. He knocked it out today.”

Tyler Gaffalione (Jockey, Lexitonian, runner-up) – “He’s a hard-trying horse. He’s got a lot of natural speed and I just let him run his race. He fought hard to the wire. He gave me a good feeling at the eighth pole but we just didn’t have enough today.”

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