Istintaj, the 4-5 favorite in Sunday's Deputy Minister Handicap (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park, took a slim lead just inside the eighth pole to win the 6 1/2-furlong bout by a half-length. Among his rivals were 3-1 second choice Fappie's Notebook, who finished second, and 21-1 longshot Fantastic Finish, who led for most of the race before giving way in the last yards to finish third. The winner paid $3.80, the exacta returned $15.20, and the trifecta was worth $692.00.
Istintaj and jockey Jerry Bailey broke from post five, then settled into third for the first half-mile, initially chasing early leader Silver Jet, then Fantastic Finish, after Silver Jet gave way early. Fantastic Finish kept the lead until the final eighth when Istintaj and Fappie's Notebook came on late and passed him. The winner covered the distance in 1:16.08 over a fast track.
Istintaj is a homebred for Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum's Shadwell Stable. The son of Nureyev and Mathkurh was foaled in Kentucky, then entered training in England before returning to the U.S. in 1999. Since then he has been with Shadwell's private trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. But now, with McLaughlin in Dubai for the winter, Mark Hennig took on the horse's training. Istintaj is currently stabled at Payson Park where his Jan. 29 half-mile work in :51 was the third fastest of 23 at that distance that day. Istintaj is a half-brother to stakes winner Asfurah (by Dayjur).
Istintaj ended 2000 with second-place finishes in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup Stakes at Keeneland and the Sport Page Handicap at Aqueduct (both grade III). However, he is now two-for-two in 2001 with the Deputy Minister and his Jan. 15 Mr. Prospector Handicap (gr. III) victory. Miners Gamble and Smokin Pete finished second and third in the Mr. Prospector, but were out of the money in the Deputy Minister.