Trainer Ian Wilkes and jockey Brian Hernandez got their Breeders' Cup weekend off to a good start Friday, but at Churchill Downs rather than Santa Anita.
The combo, who will be represented by Fort Larned in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic, celebrated following the Grade 3, $110,400 Ack Ack Handicap when the three-year-old Neck 'n Neck rallied from off the pace to win the one-mile prep for the Grade 1 Clark Handicap on November 23.
Settled near the back of the seven-horse field as Fort Loudon and Dominus traded leads through splits of :23, :46 4/5 and 1:11 4/5, Neck 'n Neck made a wide bid for the lead at the top of the stretch and drew off to score by 2 1/4 lengths in a time of 1:36 1/5 over the fast main track. He returned $5.40, $3 and $2.60 as the 8-5 second choice.
"He's really turning into a great horse," Hernandez said. "I actually took him a little further back going into the turn just so I could get outside. He was always there for me and when I called on him at the top of the lane he kind of spurted away from them. He seems to be getting better with each start."
Fort Loudon held second by a head in a four-way photo over Stealcase, with Seruni another neck behind in fourth, and 7-5 favorite Dominus another neck back in fifth. Zimmer and Grand Berry completed the order of finish, while Good Lord was scratched in favor of Saturday's Mountaineer Mile.
Bred by owner A. Steven Miles Jr. in Kentucky, Neck 'n Neck preceded this win with victories in the Grade 2 Indiana Derby and Grade 3 Matt Winn. He also ran second in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy in July. His record now stands at 14-5-2-0, $676,856.
Neck ' Neck is the first foal out of the winning Storm Boot mare Bootery, a close relative to stakes winners Bendecida, Pleasantly Blessed and Fedra Gulch.