By Dick Downey
Hog Creek Hustle's win hit close to home in the Woody Stephens Stakes, a race named after a legendary Kentucky-born trainer.
On a day when the main track at Belmont Park had been playing to speed, speed and more speed, longshot Hog Creek Hustle came from well off the pace to win the prestigious grade I race.
Strike Silver and Irad Ortiz, Jr. set a hot pace of 21.92 and 44.53, closely followed by Wendell Fong, while Hog Creek Hustle, ridden by Corey Lanerie, sat 7 1/4, then 5 1/4 lengths back in 10th place. Leaving the turn, Lanerie made his move, squeezing Mind Control toward the rail in upper stretch, and had moved to an advancing third position at the furlong marker. His momentum carried him on to win by a neck. Hog Creek Hustle was timed in 1:21.12 for seven furlongs at odds of 18-1.
Stephens, a Kentucky country boy from Stanton who trained a record five straight Belmont Stakes winners, would have been tickled at the result. The owners, who go by Something Special Racing, LLC, are from Hog Creek, 13 miles from Stanton in eastern Kentucky.
Trained by Kentucky-based Vickie Foley, Hog Creek Hustle paid $2 backers $39.80, $15.20 and $8.10. It was Foley's first win of a grade I race.
Nitrous finished second at 17-1 under Ricardo Santana, Jr., after being 11th during the first half-mile. He was followed by Borracho, who also closed from well back, Strike Silver, Wendell Fong, 2-1 favorite Honest Mischief, Much Better, Mind Control, Landeskog, Lexitonian and Complexity.
Following the race, there was a stewards' inquiry concerning the winner and Mind Control, but no changes were made.
Hog Creek Hustle is by Overanalyze out of Candy Fortune, by Candy Ride (ARG), and was foaled on April 20, 2016 in Kentucky. He was bred by Hargus Sexton, Sandra Sexton and SilverFern Farm, LLC. The colt was purchased for $150,000 at the Keeneland September 2017 Yearling Sale.
To read more about Hog Creek Hustle, his background and connections, click here.
Vickie Foley, winning trainer: "I was nervous during the inquiry. We're from Kentucky and came to the Big Apple, so I was a little nervous. It went our way and I think they did the right thing. This is my first grade I win, and what a thrill. He was tough in the paddock, which he always is, and then with the inquiry, it was stressful. But I knew there would be blistering speed in this race, and I knew that's what we needed. We were going for and hoping for the speed coming back to us. That's why we thought we'd be perfect in this race and why we came. Corey gave him a good ride, too."
Corey Lanerie, winning jockey: "He didn't have any speed. I let him fall back and run his own race. When it was time to go I just went around everybody to where he could get some clean running room.
"When I turned for home and tried to switch leads, I had no intention of coming over on (Mind Control), but he does that when you try to grab the right rein, he tries to run away from it. I was lucky that they left him up, because he was the best horse, but he needs to learn how to stay straight.
"I was worried about it, especially watching the replay. I know he bothered him a little bit, but the fact he was done helped our cause. If that horse kept running and had gotten a better position, I think they would have disqualified us."
Steve Asmussen, trainer of runner-up Nitrous: "Our horse ran a good race. We were concerned about the way the racetrack has been playing today but he's obviously a much better horse when he settles and then comes home. We'll see where he goes from here. This was a good step forward for him."
Ricardo Santana Jr., rider aboard runner-up Nitrous : "He ran good. That's what we expected. He showed up today. I was happy with how he ran. He closed really well."
Javier Castellano, rider aboard sixth-place finisher and beaten favorite Honest Mischief: "I was in a perfect spot, and I stepped aside from every inconvenience in the race. And we tried to run, but unfortunately, he didn't have it today."