Darley Stud Management's Millennium Dragon registered his first United States stakes triumph in Sunday's $150,000 Appleton Handicap (gr. III), turning back a relentless challenge from Political Attack for a 1 1/4-length victory at Gulfstream Park.
Ridden by Richard Migliore, the 5-year-old English-bred bay horse by Mark of Esteem led virtually all the way, completing the one-mile turf event in 1:34 2/5 on firm ground. Four lengths farther back, lukewarm 7-2 favorite Proud Man followed Political Attack across the finish line, a head in front of French Charmer in the field of 12 grass specialists.
Millennium Dragon, carrying 116 pounds, dueled with New York Hero on his inside and the 118-pound top weight Political Attack on the outside, getting the lead at the hedge heading into the first turn.
With Political Attack and Rene Douglas racing in close attendance through a :24 opening quarter-mile and a :49 half, Millennium Dragon suddenly opened up by a couple of lengths on his rival, who appeared to take a bad step, as the leaders reached the final turn. He maintained command through the turn and although Political Attack recovered sufficiently to pull with a half-length of the winner briefly in the stretch, Millennium Dragon was edging away at the end.
Proud Man, ridden by Edgar Prado, took up and was in tight on the final turn, finally getting free in the stretch to finish up well.
Douglas lodged an unsuccessful claim of foul against Migliore, contending Millennium Dragon had veered outward and caused contact that resulted in Political Attack losing ground leaving the backstretch.
Trained in the U.S. by Kiaran McLaughlin, Millennium Dragon won for the third time in eight stateside starts since June 7. He was coming off two strong efforts – a second-place showing behind Political Attack in the Tropical Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Calder Dec. 6, and a third-place finish, beaten by less than a length, in the Knickerbocker (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct Nov. 1. His last win was over a classified allowance field at Belmont in September.
Overall, Millenium Dragon has a 6-3-2 record in 20 starts. He earned $90,000 Sunday to push his career total to $279,985.
Elsdon Farms in Great Britain bred the winner, who was produced from the Groom Dancer mare Feather Bride.
The second choice of the public, Millennium Dragon paid $10.20, $6.40 and $3.80. Political Attack returned $8.40 and $4.20. Proud Man's show was $3.40. The $2 exacta was worth $88.
After French Charmer came, in order, Miesque' Approval, Remind, Military Man, New York Hero, Stormy Roman, Sforza, Al's Dearly Bred and Supah Blitz. Newfoundland and Justification scratched.