Brad Cox’s Set Piece was the evens favorite in the 2023 Wise Dan Stakes on July 1 but it was Greg Foley’s 46/1 shot Stitched who stayed on to win on the turf at Ellis Park under Flavien Prat. He beat the 4/1 second favorite Get Smokin a neck. Set Piece finished a length and a quarter behind them in third.
Bettors’ support for Set Piece seemed sensible. He was a four-time graded stakes winner and the grade two Wise Dan titleholder, victorious under Florent Geroux in 2021 at Churchill Downs. The race was not run in 2022 following problems with their turf track and a number of injuries.
This seven-year-old son of Dansili owned by Juddmonte Farms was last seen winning the grade three Arlington Stakes at Churchill Downs in June. He was the hot favorite and beat Mark Casse’s Get Smokin a length over the Wise Dan distance of a mile and a sixteenth.
Stitched had surgery on his knee for a bone chip in 2022 and reappeared in April. He was beaten three and a half lengths into seventh place in the grade two Shakertown Stakes run over five and a half furlongs at Keeneland. His subsequent outings in the Opening Verse Stakes in May and an allowance optional claiming race on June 1 provided little reason for hope. He finished fifth and ninth respectively.
His part owner and breeder Nathan McCauley never lost faith in his four-year-old son of Mizzen Mast out of his Into Mischief dam, Walking Miracle. McCauley thought Stitched was special from day one and put him in the top three of his 2019 crop of foals, there were 16 of them. He noticed his athletic movement the first time he saw him and believes he had one of the best walks as a yearling of all the horses he had bred.
Stitched’s walk did not attract the same admiration from buyers at the Keeneland September yearling sale. On his sales clip his movement looked good rather than spectacular and, while his head, neck and body looked fine, his legs did not. His forelegs appeared particularly weak with horrible pasterns, the part of the leg between the ankle and the hoof. His hindlegs were not great either. His hocks (elbows) were not at the ideal, relatively low height suggesting that soundness could be an issue.
Luckily the otherwise attractive bay colt failed to meet his RNA of $50,000. McCauley got a call soon after he went through the sales ring unsold. A partnership with Michael Olszewski and William Minton was the immediate result and it started well.
Stitched broke his maiden on his second run at Fair Grounds in January 2022 and won a stakes race a couple of months later. His Caesars Stakes victory was followed by another in the Mystic Lake Derby run over the distance of a mile at Canterbury Park on June 22. He started as the 2/1 favorite and won impressively under Florent Geroux by nearly two lengths, looking extremely happy with the world after he crossed the wire.
The dream three-year-old season came to an end when he was sent into graded company. Stitched finished fifth in the grade two Franklin-Simpson Stakes on the turf at Kentucky Downs. The surface was described as firm and the need for knee surgery was discovered after the race.
Having gone through so much, McCauley was understandably emotional after the win, he almost lost his voice after shouting his baby home. It was a dream come true for a small breeder who had become firm friends with all the guys in the partnership. He was delighted with the ride Flavien Prat had given his colt. Stitched was usually partnered by Geroux but he was obliged to ride Cox’s favorite, Set Piece.
What happened in the race?
Get Smokin broke well from gate four and was urged forwards by Ricardo Santana Jr to take the first turn in the lead. He was the pick of the parade standing taller than his rivals, his chestnut coat gleaming above four bright white socks. Cristian Torres left stall six on Kittansett (18/1) and pursued him most urgently to take second followed by Shea Stuart’s Tut’s Revenge (31/1) who broke from gate two.
Stitched was also away quickly from gate nine, next to Set Piece who broke slightly slower and was not pressed by Geroux but allowed to drift into the rail behind the pack. Declan Cannon did not want to press Harlan Estate (9/1) forwards from his inside draw and kept Set Piece company well behind the action.
Prat took fourth place on Stitched and held the position racing two wide close to the pace. Tyler Gaffalione was behind him on Robert Medina’s Play Action Pass (8/1) followed by the only horse less popular with bettors than Stitched, the Connor Murphy trainee Cowboy Justice (65/1). Kenny McPeek’s Camp Hope was thought to have some at 5/1 by bettors and raced towards the back of the pack with Hozier (24/1).
The running order was unchanged as Kittansett sat in second on the rail behind Get Smokin as they reached the final bend. Get Smokin retained his lead while Geroux got active on Set Piece and had to run wide of the entire pack with five lengths to make up.
Stitched was better placed to mount a challenge and, rounding the turn three wide, gradually reeled in the long-time leader close to the wire. Rodolph Brisset’s Hozier took fourth, beaten nearly two lengths and was closely followed by Camp Hope.
Geroux had ridden Stitched a number of times and was outridden by his new partner and countryman, Flavien Prat. Bettors were right to favor Set Piece, he was the best horse in the race. Unfortunately he did not get the best trip. Whatever Stitched achieves next, he is very unlikely to be sent off at such generous odds again.