The Elkstone Group’s Maryland homebred Joe, a multiple-stakes winner on dirt, made the successful transition to the turf with a hard-fought neck victory over favored Ready to Purrform in Saturday’s $100,000 James W. Murphy at historic Pimlico Race Course.
The 57th running of the Murphy for 3-year-olds at one mile on the grass was the sixth of 10 stakes, six graded, worth $2.75 million in purses on a blockbuster 14-race program headlined by the 147th Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Briefly under consideration for the Preakness following his victory in the April 16 Federico Tesio at Laurel Park, Joe ($5.80) was instead redirected to the Murphy by Elkstone’s Stuart Grant and trainer Michael Trombetta. A Declaration of War colt out of the Arch mare Battle Bridge, he had tried turf once before when he was fifth in a 5 ½-furlong sprint in his career debut last October.
In the Murphy, regular rider Victor Carrasco rated Joe in sixth along the rail inside Crabs N Beer as Uncaptured Spirit and 30-1 long shot Epic Luck dueled up front through splits of 22.85 and 45.85 seconds, with Local Motive and Ready to Purrform – both previous stakes winners in Maryland – leading the second flight.
Advancing strongly and still with plenty of horse, Carrasco maintained his inside position until midway around the far turn when he tipped out to split Uncaptured Spirit and Ready to Purrform and straightened for home with a short lead. Ready to Purrform ranged up on their outside and the two horses raced stride-for-stride through the stretch with Joe getting clear late.
Crabs N Beer was third, 2 ¼ lengths behind the runner-up, followed by Uncaptured Spirit, Determined Kingdom, Shake Em Loose, Local Motive and Epic Luck. The winning time was 1:35.26 over a firm course.
Joe – named for Grant’s friend U.S. President Joe Biden – was named Maryland’s champion 2-year-old male for 2021 after breaking his maiden and winning the Maryland Juvenile in mid-December at Laurel Park. This year, he won his two-turn debut in a 1 1/16-mile optional claiming allowance Jan. 23 and was second to Shake Em Loose in the Private Terms prior to his Tesio victory.
It was the first Murphy win for Carrasco. Trombetta previously won the Murphy in 2016 with Marengo Road.
The James W. Murphy pays homage to the late trainer that won nearly 1,400 races and more than 50 stakes and $24 million in purses starting in 1965. He was named the MTHA’s Trainer of the Year in 2006, three years before he died at age 82.
$100,000 James W. Murphy Quotes
Winning owner Elkstone Group’s Stuart Grant, Joe: “This is so exciting. It really is because this is the second stakes race in a row where he was headed in the stretch and he just keeps fighting back. It’s just awesome when he does that. He just doesn’t know how to give up. The switch over to turf, [trainer] Mike [Trombetta] had been pushing for it and I said, ‘Mike, this horse will either make you a genius or a dummy.’ Mike said he is a turf horse, and he was right. He ran his first race on turf, but that was too short, and it was the only time he was off the board.”
“He is named after our President [Joe Biden], which is really cool. There is a horse named VP Joe from 10 years ago or so who did not have nearly the success that Joe has had. I am glad both of them have risen to a new level. I know the President knows about the horse. We will keep sending him the win photos. He just has to keep running the country.”
Winning trainer Michael Trombetta, Joe: “He digs, he fights. He did that in the Tesio. He was beat and he came back. He keeps reaching. This is great. [Elkstone Group’s] Stuart [Grant] is a big Maryland supporter. For him to win a stake on Preakness Day is good.
(On passing Preakness): “We had a plan. We wanted to cherry pick our spots and try to let this horse develop into what we hope is a good horse.
“To have one that will do both [dirt and turf] is fantastic. I will be a in a lot of grass races hoping for rain.”
Winning jockey Victor Carrasco, Joe: “He’s been nothing but great to me. He’s always been very professional since Day 1, and he’s a fighter. I knew when we had the trip we had and hooked up with the other horse down the stretch, he wouldn’t give up. He fought all the way down to the wire and got it done.
“He’s getting better. Today, it’s loud and there’s a lot of people, but he was very professional. I tried to keep him quiet because of the heat, but he was just a pro.”
(On winning with a Maryland-bred): “It’s great. I told Mike [Trombetta] that it’s special to embrace that and days like this. A lot of great riders come in today, and it feels great to get a win. I feel blessed.
“All the crew, the Ortiz brothers and Joel Rosario, congratulated me after the race. It’s great to have the support of guys like that. With this horse, I got so many positive messages and everybody here was looking forward to seeing him run. He’s a very special horse to me.”