Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga

Trainer Danny Gargan and his owner, Richard Averill, knew the only way to beat the 6-5 La Verdad in Monday’s $200,000 Honorable Miss Handicap at a soggy Saratoga was to take the race right to the speedy favorite. And that strategy paid big dividends after their Florida invader R Free Roll sprinted to a 1 1/4-length, wire-to-wire victory in the Grade 2 dash for older fillies and mares.

R Free Roll and jockey Paco Lopez win the Honorable Miss Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths MondayR Free Roll was sent to Gargan two weeks prior to the Honorable Miss by her regular trainer, Kirk Ziadie, off a pair of stakes victories at Calder and Gulfstream Park. Rarely outrun for the lead in any of her 16 previous starts, R Free Roll broke a step slowly but was aggressively handled by jockey Paco Lopez right from the start, easily outsprinting La Verdad to control an honest pace over the sloppy track.

R Free Roll repulsed a bid from Merry Meadow entering the stretch, then remained clear under steady urging, with La Verdad gradually weakening to finish a disappointing fifth.

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My Wandy’s Girl, who defeated La Verdad in winning the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap earlier this year, rallied mildly between horses to be second-best, finishing 1 1/4 lengths in front of the tiring Merry Meadow.

R Free Roll, a 4-year-old daughter of Rockport Harbor, completed six furlongs in 1:10.12 and
paid $15 while giving Gargan his first stakes victory at Saratoga.

“My owner [Averill] is a pretty smart handicapper, and we knew the only way we could beat her [La Verdad] was to take control of the race and make her chase,” said Gargan. “That was the game plan. It’s always fun when a horse comes in and is doing as good as she was.

Kirk pretty much told us everything to do. It’s nice being the quarterback, especially when you have a coach as smart as he is.” Averill said R Free Roll will go back to Ziadie at Calder and likely will be pointed for the Grade 3 Phoenix at Keeneland on Oct. 3, a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

“I’d love to bring her back to Saratoga to run in a Grade 1, but the next one here is seven furlongs, and that’s really not her cup of tea,” said Averill, referring to the Ballerina on Aug. 23.