INGLEWOOD, Calif. (November 27, 2011)—A day after winning the $250,000 Citation Handicap with favored Jeranimo, owner B.J. Wright and trainer Mike Pender struck again in the $250,000 Hollywood Derby (video) Sunday at Hollywood Park.
Ultimate Eagle, a 14-1 outsider, completed the 2011 Turf Festival with a gate-to-wire victory under jockey Martin Pedroza.
The win was the fourth in a row – all since he was switched to grass – for the 3-year-old Mizzen Mast colt out of the Captain Bodgit mare Letithappencaptain and came six weeks after he had wired the field at 34-1 in the Grade II Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita.
Providing Pedroza with his first Grade I victory since he won the 2010 Triple Bend with E Z’s Gentleman during the Spring/Summer meet at Hollywood Park, Ultimate Eagle was hustled out of the gate to gain the advantage, then relaxed through moderate splits (24.67, 49.07 and 1:14.12 for six furlongs) with New York invader Imagining in close pursuit.
The pair separated themselves from the rest of the field entering the stretch and continued to battle with Ultimate Eagle eventually prevailing by three-quarters of a length. The final time for the 1 ¼ miles was 2:01.43.
Pushing his earnings to $329,800 in six starts, Ultimate Eagle paid $31.40, $13 and $7.60.
Imagining, a 13-1 shot making his first appearance in a graded race for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, returned $14.60 and $10.80. He wound up a half-length in front of Western Aristocrat, another colt who had made his most recent start in New York- winning the Grade I Jamaica Handicap Oct. 8 at Belmont Park – ran on for third under jockey Corey Nakatani. The show payoff on Western Aristocrat, who was 9-1, was $8.20.
No better than third in three races over Cushion Track to begin his career, Ultimate Eagle, a $70,000 2-year-old purchase, has blossomed with the surface switch. His victories have come on three different courses. Before his wins at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, the dark bay had earned his maiden victory July 31 at Del Mar.
“It’s miraculous considering where this horse came from,’’ said Pender after earning his first Grade I. “He had colic as a 2-year-old and was basically pronounced dead on the table.
“Somehow, by an act of God, he was brought back to life. He prefers the lead, but he doesn’t have to have it. I was hoping he would assert himself and get to the lead by himself, but (Imagining) was pressing him every step of the way from the half-mile pole home. He just refused to let up.
“Ultimately I would like to get him back on dirt. He trains so much better on dirt. He really hasn’t handled synthetic surfaces all that well. We’ll take it a day at a time from here.’’
Slumber was a neck behind Western Aristocrat in fourth, then came Venomous, Casino Host, Cozy Kitten, Willcox Inn, the lukewarm 3-1 favorite, Irish Art, Surrey Star and Cloud Man, who went wrong around the final turn. The 3-year-old Thunder Gulch colt suffered pastern and cannon bone fractures to his left front leg. Surrey Star, who was virtually eased in the final quarter of a mile, was vanned off with discomfort in his right front leg.
Pedroza, who has been riding since 1981, had high praise for the winner.
“This is undoubtedly the best horse I’ve ever ridden,’’ he said. “I thought Martial Law (the upset winner of the 1989 Santa Anita Handicap) was, but this horse is better. He’s a younger version. This is just a beautiful horse to ride. People think he has to be on the lead, but he doesn’t.
“I wanted to be on the lead, but it wasn’t necessary. When he gets to the front he relaxes immediately. I was pretty confident and he came through like I thought he would.’’
Earlier in the day, Gary Barber became the first owner to win the $100,000 Generous Stakes (video) for a second time when Stoney Fleece posted an 8-1 upset in the Grade III.
Barber, who owned 2010 winner Comma to the Top in partnership with Roger Birnbaum and Kevin Tsujihara, owns Stoney Fleece in partnership with his brother Cecil. Trainer John Sadler claimed the 2-year-old son of Decarchy for $40,000 for the pair out of a debut maiden victory, in which he overcame much adversity, July 28 at Del Mar.
The California bred has gone 3-for-5 since the purchase and picked up his most significant win Sunday.
Taking advantage of a very quick and contested pace, Stoney Fleece overtook 5-2 second choice Handsome Mike, who disposed of his early pace rivals to get clear in the stretch, in the final sixteenth of a mile.
The 1 ¼ length win enabled him to remain perfect on grass. Out of the Deputed Testamony mare Gold Fleece, Stoney Fleece had won an allowance Oct. 15 at Santa Anita in his first turf appearance.
Completing the mile in 1:34.77 after opening fractions of 22.45, 45.12 and 1:09.50, Stoney Fleece increased his earnings to $156,680. He has banked $136,080 since being claimed.
Providing leading jockey Joel Rosario with a meet high third stakes win, Stoney Fleece paid $19.60, $6 and $3.20. Handsome Mike returned $4.40 and $2.80. Battle Force, the even-money favorite, paid $2.60 to show. He finished a half-length behind Handsome Mike.
“His mother was very good on grass, so I have some familiarity with the family,’’ said Sadler, who became the fifth trainer to win the Generous twice, joining Jerry Fanning, Ron McAnally, Todd Pletcher and Mel Stute. Sadler’s other victory came in a division in 2006 with Warning Zone.
“I really claimed him for grass and he’s two-for-two on turf. He’s a nice, hard knocking horse. He’s never run a bad race. I wasn’t surprised he was in for a tag because he’s so small. I’d like to keep him on turf, but I won’t rule out some of the California bred stakes coming up.’’
When racing resumes Thursday – post time 12:30 p.m. – there will be a Super High 5 carryover of $32,157. The Super High 5 is offered in the day’s final race.
The Hollywood Park Casino will be open for dark day simulcasts Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission is free.
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