Before a T-shirt giveaway day crowd of 61,996, Peter Vegso's 7-year-old homebred chestnut horse earned his third successive victory while winning for the 12th time in his 34-race career. The old pro Silver Tree, second-place finisher in the Fourstardave in both 2004 and 2005, now has four wins in eight tries at the 1 1/16-mile turf distance.
Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Silver Tree, on the outside, pressed an ordinary pace set by Giant Basil in second all the way to the top of the stretch. Brilliant, the 9-5 choice given a ground-saving trip by Mark Guidry, struck the lead when Giant Basil flared off the hedge at the top of the lane. Brilliant gained a narrow advantage to mid-stretch but gave way as the relentless Silver Tree surged on the outside to grab the lead leaving the furlong pole. He finished a determined three-quarters of a length in front. The winning time was 1:41 4/5 on firm going.
“He’s good right now,” Mott said of Silver Tree. “He’s healthy and he’s come back running. A year ago at this time, he was acting a little arthritic. We turned him out and sent him out to Mr. Vegso’s farm. His farm manager did a great job with him. He’s come back like a trooper. He doesn’t know he’s seven. I thought Brilliant might have been the horse to beat. It looked like Brilliant had a length advantage on us."
Silver Tree seemed to respond perfectly to Desormeaux.
“He’s just the consummate professional," Desormeaux said. "He just lunged towards the wire. He was showing the bottom of his feet striding to the wire. It was so much fun. It was an absolute pleasure.”
Drum Major kicked home four wide to finish second best under Rafael Bejarano, one length ahead of second choice Host, with John Velazquez aboard for trainer Todd Pletcher. Brilliant faded to sixth in the field of seven.
Giant Basil set fractions of :24 2/5, :49 1/5 and 1:13 1/5 before fading late after being hooked by Brilliant on the inside and Silver Tree on the outer.
Silver Tree, a son of Hennessy who was coming off a one-length win at the Caesar Rodney July 15 at Delaware Park, won Gulfstream Park's Appleton Handicap (gr. IIIT) in March by a neck. He earned $90,000 Sunday to push his lifetime bankroll to $1,495,149.
Silver Tree carried 118 pounds, two fewer than the high-weighted Brilliant. Sent off as the third choice, Silver Tree paid $8.70, $4.60 and $3.30. Drum Major, the Knickerbocker (gr. IIIT) winner at Aqueduct last fall for trainer George Weaver, ran big in his second start in 2007, returning $13.60 and $6.90 and completing a $94.50 exacta. Host, third in Belmont's Poker Handicap (gr. IIIT) last out July 14, was $3.40 to show.
It was 1 3/4 lengths back to Woodlander in fourth, followed by Giant Basil, Brilliant and Fishy Advice.
Brilliant was favored off second-place finishes most recently in the Firecracker Handicap (gr. IIT) and the Turf Classic (gr. IT), both at Churchill Downs.
“I had a perfect trip,” said Guidry. “You never know about horse racing. He didn’t have it, that’s all there was to it. I can’t complain.”
Niagra Causeway, Giant Wrecker and Silent Roar were scratched, as was main-track only entrant Evening Attire.