Saturday, September 13, 2008 12:00 AM
FLORENCE, KY . . . September 13, 2008 . . . Off Duty was on the job Saturday at Turfway Park, winning the Marfa Stakes for the second consecutive year.
Off Duty enjoyed a perfect stalking trip under jockey Larry Melancon and got the best of a stretch duel to win by a neck over Nakayama Arashi, who raced right behind the winner throughout the 6 1/2 furlong sprint. Native Ruler, who led the field through the first half-mile, laid down fractions of :22.19 and :44.27 before settling for third, another 5 3/4 lengths back. Final time was 1:16.08.
"We thought he'd be a stalker," said trainer Lynn Whiting, "but we thought Semaphore Man might be the one to set the pace. [Off Duty] was where we wanted to be in the early going. Certainly 44 and 1 is quick but he did it the right way. Larry hadn't asked him to be there; he was just where he needed to be. He's a speed horse. He puts himself in the race. He's a tough horse when gets the lead—he's hard to get by.
"We're really pleased," Whiting continued. "He's won some really fine races for us. He handles any surface. This was the spot and hopefully this will set him up for his next one, either at Keeneland or we may go back to Canada with him."
The expected speed and 5-2 second choice, Semaphore Man was making his first start since April and ran evenly to finish sixth.
Off Duty returned $6.60, $4.20, and $3.00 as the 2-1 favorite. A graded stakes winner by virtue of last year's Phoenix (G3) at Keeneland, he improved his career record to 9-1-3 from 20 starts and earnings of $402,038 for owners John Pucek, Brett Setzer, and Robert Edwards. Bred in Florida by Helen Marie Napolitano, Off Duty was not eligible for the $15,000 Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund supplement to the $75,000 Marfa purse and earned $35,712 for his win.
Finishing fourth through ninth in the Marfa were Junior College, Cash McCool, Semaphore Man, Xela, Ball Four, and Cayenne Gold. Reigning Court and Rock Gold scratched, the latter racing instead in the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash at Kentucky Downs. The Marfa is carded for horses three years old and upward; the field Saturday ranged from four to nine years old.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Turfway with first post at 1:10 p.m. In addition to live racing Wednesday through Sunday, simulcast racing is available at Turfway all remaining days in September except the 30th.