Irish invader Evolving Tactics and jockey Patrick Smullen got the lead near the head of the stretch and held off a hard-charging Californian by a head to win Sunday's $250,000 American Derby (gr. IIT) on the turf at Arlington Park.
Trained by Dermot Weld, Ireland's all-time leading conditioner, for Moyglare Stud Farm, the bay colt by Machiavellian making his United States debut was an even-money favorite in a field of five left after two scratches. The final time for the 1 3/16-mile event contested on a "good" surface was 1:59.
Weld won the American Derby in 2000 with Pine Dance.
Smullen put Evolving Tactics into the race from the beginning, settling in second behind Gato Gato Gato, who set set dawdling splits of :25, :51 and 1:17 before coming under heavy pressure from the winner. After taking command a furlong from home, Evolving Tactics finished under strong late urging from Smullen as Californian and jockey Kent Desormeaux put in a frantic late bid before running out of room. Scottago finished third.
"We were a little bit worried beforehand that there was going to be no pace," Smullen said. "I delivered my challenge as soon as we straightened up in the stretch and he went away and won quite well. This horse has got a good turn of foot. We used that to our advantage and got away from the second horse and held on to win."
"Pat turned the tables on me today," said Desormeaux. "I just got him by a nose on the wire in the Secretariat last year (when Desormeaux rode Chiselling to beat Smullen aboard Jazz Beat), but his horse got me today. It was a really big effort by my horse today, but the other horse ran a tremendous race to beat us. We'll just have to come back and beat him in the Secretariat this year."
Evolving Tactics will be shipped back to Europe on Tuesday but will likely return to Arlington to run in the $400,000 Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) on Aug. 16.
"The plan would be to bring him back for the Secretariat," said Weld, who also detailed his other plans for Arlington's International Festival of Racing.
"I'll probably bring my filly Dimitrova who won the American Oaks at Hollywood Park the other day here for the ($700,000) Beverly D. (gr. IT) and see if we can find one for the (Arlington) Million (gr. IT)."
Evolving Tactics, making his sixth career start, won his first race since a successful maiden effort at Cork on April 21. The bay followed that win with a ninth-place finish in the May 24 Irish 2,000 Guineas at The Curragh. In his last start, he was third in the listed Hampton Court at Ascot on June 19. Earning $150,000 for the victory, he has won $173,852.
The winner paid $4, $2.80 and $2.20. Californian, the 2-1 second choice in wagering returned $3 and $2.40. Scottago's show price was $2.60. The $2 exacta was worth $9.20.