Switch from turf to synthetic leads Najjaar to Keeneland winner's circle

Najjaar and jockey James Graham, right, ran down Eagle Poise and Joe Rocco Jr. to win the 19th running of the Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland.
Najjaar and jockey James Graham, right, ran down Eagle Poise and Joe Rocco Jr. to win the 19th running of the Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland.

Two years had passed since Najjaar last raced over a synthetic surface and nearly 20 months had gone by since the Shadwell Farm homebred treated his connections to a trip to the winner's circle.

Getting reacquainted with the former proved to be what the 4-year-old colt needed to spark a triumphant result as Najjaar rallied up the inside under vigorous right-handed urging from jockey James Graham to take the $100,000 Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland on Thursday.

The Sycamore was originally slated to be run as a Grade III race at 11/2 miles on the turf but was moved to the main Polytrack at 15⁄8 miles because of steady rain in the area. Since it came off the turf, the Sycamore was contested as an ungraded stakes pending review by the American Graded Stakes committee.

In his only prior start over the Polytrack, Najjaar was beaten a nose at Keeneland in a maiden test in October 2011 and briefly put himself on the Kentucky Derby trail last season after an allowance win on the main track at Oaklawn Park in March. Though the bay colt has kept good company by routinely running against graded stakes-caliber contenders, he hadn't won in nine starts since that March outing, but had hit the board in three of his last four tries on the turf.

"I can't really tell you (what the difference is with him)," Shadwell vice president Rick Nichols said. "Some days he likes the going, and everything was right for him today. I do think if we had run on the turf he would have done just as well because he had been doing well the last couple months.

"We had him on the Derby trail for a while but we had to run him three times in six weeks to try and get him qualified, so we backed off and gave him some time."

Sent off at 9-2 odds, Najjaar was kept on on a ground-saving inside path by Graham while Reflecting held a length advantage over 2-1 favorite Eagle Poise through an opening half-mile in :51.63.

Eagle Poise took over the lead after a mile went in 1:42.12. Entering the lane, Graham angled Najjaar past a weakening Reflecting and edged clear up the rail as the colt became the first North American stakes winner for his sire Jazil.

"They were drawn outside last time (when he ran third in the American St. Leger on Aug. 17 at Arlington Park) and couldn't get really proper cover like today," Graham said. "He needs a target to run at. He got it today, he finished off perfect."

Eagle Poise held for second under Joe Rocco Jr. with Tricky Hat snatching third in a field that featured six runners after three horses, including multiple graded stakes winner Rahystrada, were scratched.

Final time for the distance was 2:41.49.

"I wouldn't be afraid to put (Najjaar) back on the dirt at some point maybe," Nichols said. "But he just seems happier on the turf."

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