For only the third time in its storied history, the $500,000 Suburban Handicap (II) was won by the same horse in back-to-back years. Effinex, the New York-bred son of Mineshaft who has already clocked in multiple graded stakes victories, added a second and just as hard-fought Suburban ‘Cap victory for owner Tri-Bone Stables.

Sent off as the 5-2 second choice, Effinex broke well from his post position five under jockey Mike Smith, who had flown in from California specifically for the race. Tracking early leader Samraat through very casual fractions of :25.31 and :49.34, Effinex was able to relax early behind the sleeper pace before hooking Samraat rounding the far turn. While others in the field made a case to drive to the front, it was a two-horse race from the halfway point as Effinex and Samraat traded the lead back and forth. From the top of the stretch to the wire, it was almost indiscernible from the audience’s perspective which horse was going to come out on top. A photo finish declared Effinex the winner by a neck over a steadfast Samraat, making the Suburban exacta entirely New York-bred.

Mike Smith in the post parade with Effinex.

Mike Smith in the post parade with Effinex.

“He ran wonderful,” said Smith. “I got to the outside and got in comfortable and in a rhythm. He’s funny sometimes. You have to work with him, but I’ve been so lucky to ride him at the right time. The post was right, everything always seems to be right. I just got blessed again.”

Effinex has had a finicky 2016 season so far, breaking out into a rash of hives before running third in his five-year-old debut in March. He followed up that showing with a win in the Oaklawn Handicap (II) and an off-colored sixth in the Stephen Foster Handicap (I)  on the same track as his Clark Handicap (I) victory last fall. It was anyone’s guess on Saturday which Effinex would show up, but as he did last year against Tonalist, Effinex did not disappoint and he ran gamely. The final time for the mile-and-a-quarter dirt race was 2:01.04, with Effinex paying $6.30 for a $2 win bet.

“All things came together,” said winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens. “I guess he’s a natural at a mile and a quarter. He’s a grinder. It looks like he can outgrind anybody out there, it seems. We’ll take it.

“I always loved this race,” said Jerkens. “When I was a little kid, my father [late Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens] won this race a bunch of times with Beau Purple. He used to love to run in it any chance he could. He was a New York guy and those New York handicap races always meant a lot to him. And to me too. It’s great to win here.”

Jerkens has not picked a precise spot for the horse’s next start, leaving his options open with the possibility of making the $1.25 million Whitney Handicap (I) on August 6 at Saratoga Race Course.

With Samraat a tough second, favored Mubtaahij was third in his first start back in the United States after running second to California Chrome in the Dubai World Cup (I). Eagle was third, followed by Shaman Ghost, Turco Bravo, and Tapin Mojo. Grade 1 winner Noble Bird was a trainer scratch.

Top photo of Effinex courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese