OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- It took owner Lou Cacchio 3 1/2 hours Thursday to drive from Bensalem, Pa., to Aqueduct. Fighting Thanksgiving Day traffic proved well worth the effort.
Cacchio arrived at Aqueduct with 14 minutes to post for the Fall Highweight Handicap, got his dark blue and metallic gold silks to jockey Jose Lezcano just in time, then settled back to watch his horse Cherokee Country rally from well off the pace to win the Grade 3 Fall Highweight by one-half length. Greenspring, making his stakes debut, got up for second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of pacesetting long shot Hatfield.
The Roundhouse, part of the 6-5 favored entry with Go Go Shoot, finished fourth followed by Ah Day, Sean Avery, Go Go Shoot, Riley Tucker, Formidable, and Drift King.
It was the 11th win from 25 starts for Cherokee Country, who was away from the races for nearly 19 months because of injuries to his leg and shoulder. Since returning from those injuries this year, Cherokee Country, trained by Ramon Preciado, has gone 4 for 10, including a track-record allowance win at Philadelphia Park -- he ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.39 -- and now his first graded takes victory.
"We gave him almost two years off after he got injured in his 3-year-old year. He paid us back this year with some great races, and this one was obviously the best one so far," said Cacchio, who races under the banner Victory Thoroughbreds.
Cherokee Country bounced back from a fourth-place finish in the seven-furlong Bold Ruler here on Halloween. That day, the horse hesitated at the start, which Cacchio believes cost him the five lengths he was beaten by Le Grand Cru.
Thursday, back at his preferred six-furlong distance, Cherokee Country settled into the back of the pack under Lezcano while Hatfield, chased by Go Go Shoot, set fractions of 21.80 and 44.31 seconds for the opening half-mile. Cherokee Country had only two horses beaten turning for home, altered course to the middle of the track, then stormed past the pacesetters in the final 50 yards to get the win.
Cherokee Country, a 5-year-old son of the 2001 Fall Highweight winner, Yonaguska, covered the six furlongs in 1:09.29 and returned $26.20 to win.
Cacchio said Cherokee Country could come back to New York for the $65,000 Gravesend Handicap over the inner track on Dec. 26.
* Tobruk, a 5-year-old New York-bred gelded son of Out of Place, was euthanized after breaking his right hind leg during the running of Thursday's seventh race on the turf. Tobruk, owned by Phil Marcantonio and trained by Gary Sciacca, had won 2 of 34 starts in his career, with 7 second-place finishes.