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Icon Project cruises in mud

6/20/2009

ELMONT, N.Y. -- Icon Project romped in the mud, beating Criticism by 13 1/4 lengths in the off-the-turf New York Stakes for fillies and mares Saturday at Belmont Park.

Hoping against hope, Belmont officials fought to keep the $245,000 New York on the soft grass, even after the other four turf races on the card had been moved to the main track.

But another deluge, four races before the feature, dashed those plans. The New York was shifted to the muddy main track, with the distance shortened one furlong to 1 1/8 miles.

With the surface shift, Icon Project sparkled in the muck to secure her first stakes victory.

"That was impressive," trainer Marty Wolfson said by phone from Florida. "She had been training so well up to this race."

This was the fourth U.S. start for the 4-year-old who started her career in Europe. It also was the first time she ran on a surface other than grass.

Laying fourth in the early stages in the five-horse field, Icon Project picked up the pace on the turn and cruised to her third win in nine starts.

"I spoke to Marty, and he told me how beautifully she trains in the slop down there," jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. said. "She was giving me a great feel all the way around there, very impressive."

Criticism, the 7-5 favorite, struggled in her dirt debut. The winner of four graded stakes in her previous five races, Criticism had made 17 of 18 starts on grass, the other race being a 10th-place finish on Polytrack in France.

Trainer Tom Albertrani felt she deserved a chance to show what she could do.

"I was happy enough to stay in," he said. "You just have to try. She always worked well on the dirt and over the mud. I knew in the back of my mind it probably wasn't her best race, but it was something we had to try."

Winning Point was third, followed by Borrowing Base and Backseat Rhythm.

The time was 1:49.38.