The question was, would the son of Royal Anthem have anything left for the stretch drive in the 1 ½-mile marathon?
Presious Passion answered with a resounding "yes," showing tremendous determination even as his lead dwindled in the final yards. Under the handling of Ariel Smith, the 20-1 longshot held on for a 1 ½-length score on the Gulfstream Park turf April 5.
The win earned Presious Passion his third career graded stakes victory and also handed trainer Mary Hartmann her first victory in 26 starts at this winter’s meet. Owned by Patricia Generazio, Presious Passion is now two-for-two at the marathon distance, his other score coming in the W. L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) last December at Gulfstream when he won at odds of 67-1.
The McKnight victory was nothing like the Pan American. In that triumph, the chestnut gelding stalked the pace and took over at the top of the lane before pulling clear in the final yards. This time, he did his best Secretariat-at-the-Belmont imitation, powering to a huge lead through a mile.
Although Presious Passion opened up a gigantic advantage, his fractions were more than reasonable. He posted a :24.60 quarter, :48.09 half-mile, 1:12.85 three-quarters, and 1:37.82 mile. Closest to him throughout were Ascertain, betting favorite Fracas, and Drilling for Oil.
It wasn’t until they went into the final turn that Presious Passion’s lead began to dwindle. At that point, Drilling for Oil, under Manoel Cruz, was coming with a strong bid, and Ascertain was also in contention.
But when they hit the top of the lane Presious Passion still had a two-length lead and was not about to relinquish it. Under urging from Smith, he found more in the final furlong and held off challenges from all rivals. Drilling for Oil finished second, with Interpatation 1 ¾ lengths back in third. French Vintage was fourth.
“Initially we wanted to rate him," Smith said. "But then he grabbed a hold of the bit and I tried to get him to relax. He started to do that, and I just tried to rate him as best as I could. I took a peek back on the backstretch and I didn’t see anyone or hear anyone, so I took a bigger peek back and I saw why I couldn’t hear anyone or see anyone. When we got to the half-mile pole I just tried to let him go and he responded to me. I asked him and he responded great."
The final time was 2:26.15 on a turf labeled firm.
Out of the Marquetry mare Princesa’s Passion, Presious Passion won for the seventh time in 27 lifetime starts and pushed his career earnings over $470,000. He was bred in Florida by Joe and Helen Barbazon.
“We didn’t plan to go to the front," Hartmann said. "I was surprised, but he’s a big strong horse and when he sees daylight, he runs to it. I thought there would be more speed in there and he could tuck in, but Ariel (Smith) did a good job of getting him to settle. He loves the mile and a half. He’s due for a little vacation now before the summer.” ”
The winner returned $40.60, $12, and $6.60. The exacta (8-1) was worth $166, while the trifecta (8-1-5) netted $2,948.20.