Bear No Joke surged off the rail at the top of the lane and collared a free-wheeling Essence Hit Man to capture Saturday’s Grade 2 $177,000 Kennedy Road Stakes, at Woodbine.

Trained by Reade Baker for Bear Stables Ltd., the grey son of It’s No Joke broke sharply from the inside post under rider  and enjoyed a perfect inside trip behind track record holder Essence Hit Man.

Essence Hit Man, with Gary Boulanger up for the first time, set splits of :22.08 and :44.15 but as he led the field into the stretch run, Wilson guided Bear No Joke off the rail and finished determinedly to score a half-length win. Essence Hit Man stayed on for place money over the wide-rallying favourite, Phil’s Dream.

Bear No Joke covered six furlongs in 1:08.63, just two-fifths of a second shy of Essence Hit Man’s track mark of 1:08.16.

“He’s just a gutsy horse,” said Wilson. “The last two works he’s been telegraphing that he’s primed for a key effort and he showed up today. It’s nice when they show up the way they’ve been training.”

Wilson piloted Bear No Joke to a second-place effort in last year’s edition of the Kennedy Road when defeated a neck by Bear Tough Tiger. This year, however, the five-year-old gelding would not be denied.

“I was pretty happy with the one-hole and with Essence Hit Man setting the pace, I got a pretty nice spot in behind and got a shot to get an open trip down the lane and he came running,” said Wilson.

Bear No Joke came into the Kennedy Road off a seventh-place run in the Grade 1 Nearctic won by Kennedy Road rival Phil’s Dream.

Stable mates Bear Tough Tiger (later claimed by Sid Attard) and Fatal Bullet also competed in the Nearctic finishing fifth and eighth, respectively.

Despite the lackluster effort in the Nearctic, Baker wasn’t surprised to see Bear No Joke take the spoils at a juicy 17-1.

“In his last race, he came out of the race much better than the other horses,” said Baker. “They were a little tired, they’d run hard. He (Bear No Joke) didn’t get a trip last time and there was no place for him to go, a long way down the lane. I thought he should have been first or second in his last race.”

Baker believes a much-needed rest was beneficial.

“When he gets six or seven weeks off, he runs his eyeballs out,” said Baker. “That’s what we tried to do and it worked…for once.”

Bear No Joke banked $108,000 in victory, while improving his record to 6-5-1 from 17 career starts.

He returned $37.30, $13.30 and $5.80, pairing with Essence Hit Man ($6, $3.50) for a $224.90 (1-7) exactor. A 1-7-7 (Phil’s Dream, $2.20 to show) triactor was worth $524.60. Go Blue Or Go Home completed a $1 Superfecta (1-7-8-4) worth $860.05.