Union Avenue opened up a clear advantage in the stretch and was able to hold off an unlucky Can't Beat It by a half-length to capture the $250,000 American Derby presented by Jack Daniels (gr. IIT) at odds of 23-1 for trainer Bill Mott on the Arlington Park turf course Saturday.
Ridden by Larry Melancon in the colt's graded stakes debut, Union Avenue was always close, tracking the pacesetter Tahoe Warrior before taking the lead and getting brave on the front end. He completed the 1 3/16-mile test for 3-year-olds in 1:57 1/5 on soft going.
Can't Beat It, rallying from far back for Eddie Castro, had to take up while looking for room in upper stretch and came up just short. He finished 1 1/4 lengths in front of Amigoni, ridden by Todd Kabel.
"He broke good and has stalking speed," said Melancon, who was astride the winner for the first time Saturday. "(Tahoe Warrior) made the lead, I stalked him, waited, stole off around the turn and they didn't catch me."
The win was the second straight in the American Derby for Hall of Fame trainer Mott. He saddled Brant Laue's Gun Salute to take last year's renewal.
Stream Cat, the lukewarm 3-1 shot with Julien Leparoux aboard, never got untracked while racing off the rail near the rear of the 14-horse field and rallied mildly for eighth. The Irish raider Golden Arrow, the second choice also at 3-1 making his first U.S. start for trainer Dermot Weld, weakened after a ground-saving trip and finished fifth.
Tahoe Warrior got the lead coming away from the gate and set fractions of :23 4/5 and :48 3/5 with Union Avenue pressing the leader while racing away from the rail. Union Avenue put his head in front after six furlongs in 1:13 4/5 and edged away to a two-length lead in the stretch. He finished well with Can't Beat It bearing down from the middle of the track.
"He got caught inside," noted Karla Wolfson, wife of Can't Beat It's trainer, Marty Wolfson. "If only the hole had opened up a little more and a little earlier turning for home he could have got there. This is a nice horse."
The Virginia-bred Union Avenue, a son of Gone West
--Miss Union Avenue (Steinlen), earned $150,000 for owners WinStar Farm. A $300,000 Keeneland September yearling buy in 2004, Union Avenue was coming off a four-length win in the 1 1/16-mile John D. Marshall on the Colonial Downs turf June 17. With three wins from six starts, all this year, he has now banked $210,870.
Lazy Lane Stables bred Union Avenue, who paid $49.60, $19.60 and $16.60. Can't Beat It, winner of back-to-back stakes on the turf at Gulfstream Park this winter, returned $8.60 and $5.60. Amigoni, a group III winner in his native Ireland, was $10.40 to show in his U.S. stakes debut. The exacta paid $266, the trifecta was $5,683.60 and the superfecta returned an eye-popping $60,037.30.
Desert Wheat finished fourth, followed by Golden Arrow, Murch, Storm Treasure, Stream Cat, Niagara Causeway, Kingship, Icy Ridge, Tahoe Warrior, Outperformance and Charley Tango.