The Leo Nechamkin II's Gators N Bears burst through the pack on the inside in the Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) to win the $186,000 race by 1 ¼ lengths Saturday.
The son of Stormy Atlantic
got the six furlongs in 1:10.84 in the race run at Pimlico prior to the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
Gators N Bears, a local favorite, went off at 5-2. He was bred in New Jersey by the late Bob Camac, who was instrumental in the breeding of Preakness favorite Smarty Jones. Nechamkin owns and trains him.
Gators N Bears broke alertly under Chuck Lopez, but it was Native Heir who took the early lead. He was followed by the sharp-breaking Fine Stormy, with Gators N Bears in third, followed by Gracious Humor. The opening quarter was run in a spry :22.77.
Native Heir took the field around the bend, holding the lead after a half in :44.99. Soaring Free, the favorite in the field, came with his bid while wide. In the lane Gators N Bears came through on the inside to challenge the tiring Native Heir and Fine Stormy and separated himself from his rivals after five furlongs in :58.39.
"The speed was not holding up," Nechamkin said. "I told (Lopez) a hole would open – go for it. And he did."
Native Heir's stablemate, the Michael Gill-owned Highway Prospector, rallied wide for second in his first start since being pulled up in the DeFrancis Memorial (gr. I) at Laurel Park on Nov.15. He was 1 ¼ lengths ahead of the rallying Sassy Hound, who finished third.
"He ran a hell of a race after a layoff," Dominguez said of the runner-up. "I had to angle outside because it was not good on the inside and I had a lot of horse left. I switched leads, steadied him a bit and finished up strong."
Gators N Bears carried second highweight of 117 pounds. Soaring Free, the 121-pound highweight and 2-1 favorite in the field of nine, faded to finish next to last in the 10-horse field.
Gators N Bears returned $7, $4, and $3. Highway Prospector paid $11.60 and $5.80. Sassy Hound returned $5.20. The 4-1 exacta paid $71. The trifecta brought back $448.80.
Gracious Humor took fourth, followed by Iron Halo, Fine Stormy, Mt. Carson, Soaring Free and Native Heir.
The winner is out of the Notebook mare I'll Be Along. It marked his first win at Pimlico. It was the 4-year-old's first start since March 13, when he finished second, beaten two lengths, in the Toboggan Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct. Earlier in the year, he scored a half-length victory in the Hoover Stakes at Laurel Park.
Overall, his slate now reads nine wins, five seconds, and five thirds from 21 starts. He has earned $576,280.