Jack Milton had been nothing but a model of consistency since making his career debut in January 2013.
Through his first 12 starts, the son of War Front had been off the board just twice. So when he put in the worst finish of his career, a ninth-place run at Woodbine last September, trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Gary Barber knew they had to take a step back if they wanted to get the dark bay horse back on his game.
In his second start after going well off his prior form, Jack Milton responded with the best run of his life. With Javier Castellano in the irons, Jack Milton rallied from last in the seven-horse field to earn a 21/4-length victory in Friday's Grade I, $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile over the Keeneland turf.
All of the entrants in the Maker's 46 were seeking their first career Grade I victories, with Jack Milton among those who had taken the most previous swings.
The 5-year-old horse was winless in five prior tries against top company with his most disheartening outing being the ninth-place run in the Grade I Woodbine Mile last Sept. 14. Already a graded stakes winner and with a stallion's pedigree to boot, getting the right trip at the right time in Grade I company was all that was missing in a career with few other missteps.
"It's what we've been searching for for a while. A Grade I is so important to him with a stallion's pedigree like he has," Pletcher said from Florida. "We're excited."
"Last fall after the Woodbine Mile, Gary and I talked about it and decided to freshen him up, give him a little time," Pletcher continued. "We discussed the strategy of running once at Gulfstream with this race in mind. It's great when it all comes together like that."
Jack Milton returned off his 41/2-month layoff to run fourth in the Grade III Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream on Feb. 21, but he missed the break that day and had to rush up, taking him out of his typical late-running style.
His Maker's 46 outing was much more to his suiting. Breaking out of post No 7, Castellano settled Jack Milton at the rear of the field in ground-saving position along the rail as Long On Value led the procession through fractions of 23.89 and 47.42 over a course rated soft.
Jack Milton had moved to within six lengths of the leader on the final turn, angling out seven wide and then driving down the middle of the course with authority. Sent off at odds of 9-to-2, he hit the wire in 1:36.30 with Aripeka coming up between horses for second over Long On Value.
"A couple times he's been right there, but these are hard races to win, that's why they are so special when you do win them," Pletcher said. "In turf racing, a lot of times it's who gets the best trip. And even though we were a little wide today, he had momentum built up and when he gets back and settled, he can produce a good run like that."
Summer Front, sent off as the 6-to-5 favorite, finished next to last in sixth as he suffered his 10th loss in Grade I company.
"It seemed like he was struggling a little bit at the end," said jockey Victor Espinoza, who was aboard Summer Front. "It was a little too soft for him. I was sitting patiently with him all the way around. It was wide open for me, but when it was time to go he struggled a little bit."
Jack Milton has been as versatile as he has productive in his career, winning the 2013 Grade III Transylvania over the Keeneland course going 11⁄16 miles and finishing third going 11/4 miles in the 2013 Grade I Secretariat.
With that in mind, Pletcher said an outing in the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 2 could be the next Grade I target for the newly minted Grade I winner.
"One of the things we talked about is he's won at Keeneland and he's won at Churchill so we thought maybe taking a stab at two Grade Is would make sense," Pletcher said. "We'll see how he bounces out. The 11⁄8 miles is certainly in his range so it's definitely a consideration."