Star Dabbler and Cielo Gold could not be separated at the wire, finishing in a dead heat for victory in the $513,200 Indiana Derby (gr. II) before a crowd of 5,134 at Hoosier Park Saturday night.
Deep in the stretch, jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. and 16-1 entry Cielo Gold collared leader Star Dabbler and rider Richard Migliore, but the rail horse fought back in the final jumps and the duo hit the wire together in 1:42.84 in the 1 1/16-mile test for 3-year-olds.
Bright One, the 3-5 choice in the field of 10, was pushed out wide in the first turn and finished seventh.
Star Dabbler and Migliore hustled to the lead from just off the rail while Cielo Gold got away next-to-last in the early going of the 1 1/16-mile contest. Migliore and his Saint Ballado colt were joined by Bright One and Acts Like A King in a three-wide duel to the first turn, before taking the lead on the backstretch. Star Dabbler, owned by Barry Schwartz and trained by Michael Hushion, established the fractions (:22 1/5, :45 4/5, 1:10 1/5) and led the field to the top of the stretch. In the meantime, Cielo Gold was underway for Hernandez, moving up to fourth early in the lane.
Star Dabbler, the 3-1 second choice, cleared his foes and began to draw away, but the Hal Wiggins-trained Conquistador Cielo colt was closing with every stride. Owned by Hillcrest Farms Racing LLC, Cielo Gold headed the leader near the sixteenth pole and looked to build on his short advantage. But Star Dabbler would not be denied, digging in and coming back to finish on even terms with the outside horse.
"Turning for home, I would have thought I would win by 10. The horse on the fence; he was game tonight. It was a great battle coming down to the wire. Both horses gave their all," commented Hernandez. "I wasn't sure at the wire. I asked Richard, and he asked me. Neither one of us could tell."
"He ran an awesome race, so did the other horse," added Migliore. "My horse put away the fast horses and then fought off the closer. I'm very proud of his effort."
Smokey Jonessutton, trained by Dallas Stewart, rallied in the stretch to finish five lengths back in third. Mantoloking ran fourth, followed by Plug Me In, Simon Pure, Bright One, Acts Like a King, Jacinth, and Summer Gulch.
A winner in three of seven starts this year, Star Dabbler added $195,016 to his bankroll in the victory. Bred in Florida by the Four Horseman's Ranch and The Saint Ballado Syndicate, the colt more than doubled his career earnings, which now stand at $319,936. Cielo Gold also registered his third win of the season. A runner-up to Bright One in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby, Cielo Gold increased his career tally to $474,311.
Dr. Pleasuren - third choice in the morning line - was scratched from the race, as was Lewis Michael.
The dead heat for win is a first in the Indiana Derby. Previously, the closest margin of victory was One Bold Stroke's 1998 triumph by a neck over Dixie Dot Com.