Necker Island wins the Jeff Hall Memorial Stakes at Ellis Park

The first time Necker Island raced at Ellis Park, he used his time at the Pea Patch to prove he deserved a chance to compete against the best of his generation in the classic distance.

During his last outing at the Henderson oval, Ky, the son of hard spun drove another point home when it comes to his career aspirations.

Necker Island’s evolution from Kentucky Derby (G1) starter to accomplished sprinter added another chapter on July 24 as the 5-year-old horse found daylight between his rivals halfway to winning a neck victory over Tut’s Revenge and seven others in the $75,000 Jeff Hall Memorial Stakes.

The 6 1/2-furlong Jeff Hall Memorial was held in honor of the famed director of race operations at Ellis Park, who died June 4 at the age of 75.

Hall was known as the heart and soul of the track he worked on for more than 50 years, and Necker Island proved a fitting winner by displaying his share of courage in a practice that saw him struggling to find room under jockey Mitchell Murrill. Being kind of brave has been Necker Island’s modus operandi over his 26-race career, however, as the chestnut horse used a third-place finish in the 2020 Runhappy Ellis Park Derby as a springboard for what would be a ninth-place race in that year’s COVID-delayed Kentucky Derby.

Since closing the yardage starting with a seven furlong win at Churchill Downs last October, Necker Island has not only rejuvenated his career but is enjoying his best results yet. He picked up his first six-stadia Bet on Sunshine win under the Twin Spiers last November and his triumph in the Jeff Hall marked his seventh career win, including four in the last 10 months.

“He was special for us, for sure, being our first Derby starter,” coach Chris Hartman said of Necker Island. “He became a good sprinter. I think when we ran him in the Derby it was never a distance he really wanted to be. But it was a to-do list for the owner and that was where we had it. But he is where he wants to be now.

Necker Island was not where Hartman wanted it to be a few weeks ago when he had a tough trip on the way to finishing second in an allowance race at Churchill Downs on July 2. The betting public sided with the coach in thinking his charge was better than what he showed on that outing, sending him 6-5 favorite in the Jeff Hall over a group that included his former rival Bango, who had beaten him in the Aristides Stakes on June 4.

With the expected pacesetter Kneedeepinsnow scratched out, the complexion of the Jeff Hall changed such that the aforementioned Bango found himself at the top of the No. 4 post, setting fractions of :22.58 and :45.44 with Robo Man to his neck in second. As the peloton exited the far corner, Murrill tipped Necker Island off the inside path it was following and leapt between Robo Man and Tut’s Revenge, hitting the wire in a final time of 1:15.23 on a fast rated track .

Necker Island (Coady Photography)

“He’s a terrific horse. It puts you right in the race where you need to be,” Murrill said of his ride. “At times he can get aggressive and that puts me in difficult situations, but today everything went well. I was able to come in and stay where I was and split the horses in the lane .

“He was the best today, as he should be.”

Tut’s Revenge held second place, a neck ahead of Surveillance in third while Bango faded in sixth place.

Strongconstitution was a late scratch.

Owned by the Scherr Boys, Necker Island was bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings from Mr. Greeley’s mare Jenny’s Rocket. Sunday’s triumph was his first in three starts at Ellis Park, after also finishing third in the 2021 Kentucky Downs TVG Preview Mint Million Stakes, and he improved his career bankroll to $780,657.

Ellis Park Press Release

Main photo: Necker Island in the Jeff Hall Memorial Stakes (Coady Photography)