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Hit the Road Edges Smooth Like Strait in Kilroe Mile

Dan Blacker-trained colt prevailed in grade 1 turf stakes at Santa Anita Park.

Hit the Road wins the Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita Park

Hit the Road wins the Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita Park

Benoit Photo

When a parent gets a phone call after midnight, it often causes heart palpitations.

Yet when her telephone rang early in the middle of the night in England, the mother of trainer Dan Blacker launched into a celebration.

On the other end of the phone, standing near the winner's circle at Santa Anita Park in California, where it was still daylight, was her son, who wasted little time in sharing a breakthrough moment in his career with her.

"I call her after every win," Blacker said. "She loves racing and it was a thrill to call her and keep her up with news like this."

The big news delivered to another part of the world was that Blacker notched his first grade 1 victory March 6 when Hit the Road split horses in the stretch and surged to a neck victory over favored Smooth Like Strait to take the $402,500 Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1T). 

"When I came here from England I said I wanted to give myself 10 years to win a grade 1 stakes and I did it in nine," Blacker said. "But I don't want to make this about me. This is all about the horse. He's a true racehorse. We're fortunate to have him with such a great group of owners."

Trainer Dan Blacker, left, celebrates with jockey Victor Espinoza, right, after Hit the Road's victory in the $100,000 Zuma Beach Stakes, Sunday, September 6, 2019 at Santa Anita Park, Arcadia CA.<br>
Photo: Benoit Photo
Trainer Dan Blacker (left) claimed his first grade 1 win in the Kilroe Mile

The Kilroe also marked the first grade 1 win for Hit the Road, who posted a fourth straight win for the large ownership group of DK Racing, Radley Equine, Taste of Victory Stables, Rick Gold, Tony Maslowski, and Dave Odmark. The last two victories came in graded stakes, as the Kilroe came on the heels of a victory in the Feb. 6 Thunder Road Stakes (G3T) at Santa Anita, and they serve as Blacker's lone graded stakes wins. 

The 4-year-old son of More Than Ready 's previous try in a grade 1 came in the 2019 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Presented by Coolmore America (G1T), when he was seventh, beaten by 2 1/2 lengths.

Jockey Florent Geroux took full advantage of breaking from post 2 in the Kilroe, wisely saving ground throughout until he skillfully guided Hit the Road through a narrow hole between horses in the stretch that provided his avenue to a narrow victory.

It was Hit the Road's sixth win in nine starts and lifted his earnings to $494,751.

"He proved best today," Blacker said. "It's a credit to the owners. They've been so patient with this horse. They've given him time to get over a little issue he had last year and reach his potential. That was the key thing. To win these big races, you have to give horses time to reach their potential."

Bred by Fred Hertrich III out of the U S Ranger mare Highway Mary, Hit the Road was offered at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale but went unsold for $200,000. 

Hit the Road is the first of four foals out of his dam and the only one to race. The unraced Highway Mary has also produced three fillies: a 3-year-old by Quality Road , an Arrogate yearling, and an American Pharoah  weanling.

Smooth Like Strait, a 4-year-old son of Midnight Lute  facing older horses for the first time, was second behind the pace-setting Flying Scotsman through fractions of :23.17 and :47.32 then forged to the front turning for home. The 5-2 choice led by a half-length at the eighth pole but could not hold off Hit the Road, who rallied inside of him to cover the mile in 1:34.48 over firm turf.

The 4-1 second choice, Hit the Road paid $10.40 to win.

The multiple grade 2-winning Smooth Like Strait, a Cannon Thoroughbreds homebred trained by Michael McCarthy, was second by a neck over a fast-closing Count Again, an Awesome Again gelding owned by Agave Racing Stable and Sam-Son Farms and trained by Phil D'Amato.

Juddmonte Farms' Flavius was fourth, another half-length back in a highly competitive race that saw the first six finishers hit the wire about 1 1/4 lengths apart.

There was also a touch of sadness tied to the race for Blacker as the victory came about a week after the passing of one of the unlisted owners, Tom Miller.

"Tom and his wife Lynne had been horse owners for a long time," Blacker said. "As happy as I am, I'm also thinking about Lynne and how she must feel. I know Tom would have been somewhere rooting for this horse."

Video: Frank E. Kilroe Mile S. (G1T)