Balnikhov Goes Last to First in $500,000 Dinner Party (G3)

First Graded Win at Pimlico for International Riding Star Dettori

LAUREL, MD – Little Red Feather, Madaket Stables and Old Bones Racing Stable’s Balnikhov, who trailed the field in the early going, wrested a lead from Running Bee in mid-stretch and went on to register a 1 ½-length victory in Saturday’s $500,000 Dinner Party (G3) at historic Pimlico Race Course.

The 123rd running of the 1 1/8-mile Dinner Party for 3-year-olds and up on the grass was the eighth of nine stakes, five graded, worth $3.3 million in purses immediately preceding the by the 148th Preakness Stakes (G1), Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

Pimlico’s oldest stakes race and the eighth-oldest in the country, the Dinner Party was contested at two miles for its 1870 debut, won by Hall of Famer Preakness. The distance has changed eight times over its history, returning to nine furlongs in 2023.

With the win, Balnikhov ($12.80) is now eligible for a $2.5 million bonus should he go on to win the $750,000 California Crown John Henry (G1) Sept. 28 at Santa Anita and $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational (G1) in January 2025 at Gulfstream Park.

The Dinner Party marked the first graded-stakes win at Pimlico for international riding star Frankie Dettori, aboard for Southern California-based trainer Phil D’Amato. It was the first win for 5-year-old Balnikhov since his rallying nose triumph in the San Francisco Mile (G3) last April on the turf at Golden Gate Fields.

Balnikhov was unhurried early in the race, trailing the field as 35-1 longshot Helms Deep went a quarter-mile in 26.42 seconds over the soft going as Grade 1 winner Highland Chief and Running Bee ran stride for stride in second with English Bee on the rail in third, 5-2 favorite Beatbox on the far outside and Grade 1-winning millionaire Atone between them.

Given a ground-saving trip by Dettori, Balnikhov was tipped off the inside midway around the turn and set down for a drive at Running Bee, who had taken over the lead after going six furlongs in 1:18.71. Able to sustain his run, Balnikhov cruised past and went on to win in 1:58.90.

Crabs N Beer, sent off at 14-1, made a strong late run for second, three lengths ahead of Running Bee, who was a half-length better than Highland Chief in fourth. Atone, Eons, English Bee, Beatbox and Helms Deep completed the order of finish. Adhamo, Emmanuel and Funtastic Again were scratched.

Balnikhov was making his 15th career start in graded company and 14th in a row, also winning the 2022 Bryan Station (G3) and placing five other times including running third by a half-length April 27 in defense of his San Francisco Mile title. Overall, he has a record of 7-5-4 from 26 starts and is within reach of $1 million in purse earnings.

The Dinner Party takes its name from an 1868 gathering in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. where Maryland Gov. Oden Bowie and others met, wagered and ultimately laid the foundation for the building of Pimlico Race Course, which opened in 1870.


Winning Trainer Phil D’Amato (Balnikhov): “He was running into good form. I gave him some time off, and he ran a really good race in the San Francisco Mile. I thought this horse is kind of on the upswing. He came back with a really good breeze. We kind of had this race in mind. The connections were going to be there at Pimlico, and we were able to get Frankie Dettori, and everything seemed to work out. Frankie gave him a masterful ride, saving ground, angling out and proving best.

“That was a breakthrough performance for him against some nice horses.”

“We’re going to send him back to Keeneland. He’ll train there a little bit and then probably send him to Del Mar. He’s run some good races at Del Mar. Who knows? Maybe back to something at Kentucky Downs. He acts like a horse that would like a course like that.”

Winning co-owner Gary Fenton, co-managing partner Little Red Feather Racing (Balnikhov): “He is an unbelievable horse. He does race in California (but) we do ship him out. He ran at Churchill a couple of years ago. He’s just been fantastic for us through the years. Big thank you to Phil D’Amato, who’s been an unbelievable trainer for us, and our partners. This horse is just really, really special to us.”

Winning Jockey Frankie Dettori (Balnikhov): “My first win ever at Pimlico. I’m pumped up now for the big one. I can’t wait.”

“The horse loved the soft. He went through it like a hot knife through butter. I only had to find a way out and he did the rest.”

Trainer Keri Brion (Crabs N Beer, 2nd): “That was my first graded stake on the flat that I have saddled. Plenty of listed stakes, but I’ve never saddled a horse in a graded stake on the flat. This horse, he just tries. I thought his race last fall in New York (a second in an allowance on dirt at Aqueduct) was very, very good. He ran fine the other day (winning by a neck on grass at Laurel at a mile) but he wants farther. Having Javy (jockey Javier Castellano), that probably did it. The blinkers-off helped, too. He is an older horse, and he knows what his job is. He had blinkers on for so long just because he did, not for any particular reason. I thought he would run well, but I am not going to sit here and tell you I thought he would be second. I am over the moon at that, yeah.”

Jockey Javier Castellano (Crabs N Beer, 2nd): “I really like the way he did it. I had plenty of speed. On soft ground, it seemed to me the speed would come back to us. And you can see the winner came from behind. I came from behind as well. I liked the way he finished. I’m very proud of the horse and (trainer) Keri (Brion). I’m blessed to be part of it.”

Trainer Chad Brown (Running Bee, 3rd): “It looked like he had a good trip. (Jockey) Tyler (Gaffalione) said the ground was just a little bit heavy for him. Tyler said he had a great trip. He just wasn’t good enough today.”

Jockey Tyler Gaffalione (Running Bee, 3rd): “He traveled really good throughout, but coming down the lane, it just got a little bit heavy for him. He prefers a little bit firmer turf.”

“He was just struggling, especially from the quarter-pole on. As soon as I asked him to go on a little bit, he just was spinning his wheels.”

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