With the expected heavy favorite Willow O Wisp scratched from the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) due to a slight virus, Irish-bred Aragorn nosed out Eastern Sand in a stirring stretch battle on the Santa Anita turf Saturday.
Ridden with precision by Patrick Valenzuela, Aragorn, a son of Giant's Causeway
, won in his second start in the United States for trainer Neil Drysdale and owner/breeder Ballygallon Stud Ltd.
Aragorn and Eastern Sand, ridden by Victor Espinoza, overtook the pacesetting Follow the Rainbow coming off the far turn and the two staged quite a duel with Aragorn, on the inside, hanging on as Eastern Sand pressed ever closer right up to the wire.
There was an inquiry into the race, but Valenzuela said afterward that he had requested the review pending the outcome of the photo finish because he felt Espinoza attempted to squeeze Aragorn.
"Eastern Sand started crowding me getting to the wire, there was no place for my horse to really run," Valenzuela said. "I had tried to reserve my horse as much as I could, but at the end I was just trying to win the race. I was pretty confident I had him all the way."
"Patrick gave him a lovely ride," Drysdale said. "He cut the corner and the horse ran great. He was in the right spot all the way, and fought back with every step."
Willow O Wisp, the Del Mar Derby and La Jolla Handicap (both gr. IIT) winner, was a morning scratch by trainer Vladimir Cerin, who said the colt was showing signs of contracting a virus that has been making the rounds at the Santa Anita and Hollywood Park stable areas.
That changed the pace scenario quite a bit, and Follow the Rainbow was able to sneak away to a six or seven-length lead on the strength of hot fractions – :22 2/5, :44 4/5 and 1:09 1/5. That lead evaporated quickly, though, as Aragorn, who had been tucked in along the rail while racing fourth to the final turn, and Eastern Sand picked up the chase.
"He ran too hard to get beat," Espinoza said of the runner-up. "I really thought my horse was just going to go by and nail him at the wire."
In his U.S. debut, Aragorn ran a closing second by one length to Follow the Rainbow in a one-mile allowance turf race at Santa Anita on Sept. 29. He began his career in Ireland and England, where he had a maiden win to show in five starts. In his only group effort, he ran eighth in the Jersey Stakes (Eng-III) at York in June.
The third choice in the field of seven, Aragorn, who earned $90,000 for his second career win, paid $9.20, $6 and $4.60, topping a $51.80 exacta with Eastern Sand, who returned $5.60 and $5. British-bred Brecon Beacon, making his U.S. debut for trainer Paul Cole, came on nicely in the stretch for Kent Desormeaux to finish third, 2 1/2 lengths behind.
Osidy, the 8-5 favorite, finished a non-threatening fourth. Follow the Rainbow, Orbits World and Tedo, the 5-2 second choice who faded on the far turn.