In a wild stretch run, Castledale, a 30-1 shot, edged Rock Hard Ten by a head to win the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), the West Coast's major 3-year-old steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).
If possible, Castledale, who got to the lead in the final frantic strides with Jose Valdivia Jr. in the irons, threw the May 1 Derby picture into even greater disarray. The two race favorites, Wimbledon and St Averil, were no where close at the end.
Rock Hard Ten, who was making just his third start, was disqualified from second and placed third behind Imperialism, who finished two lengths behind.
Stewards ruled that Rock Hard Ten, drifting toward the rail under David Flores in the final stages of the race, cut off Imperialism, racing at the rail, and jockey Victor Espinoza.
Head-on replays showed both the winner and Rock Hard Ten coming over. Although there did not appear to be contact, Espinoza took up on Imperialism, who followed the first two under the wire. Flores claimed foul against the winner as well, but stewards disallowed it.
"Well, with the stewards, you don't know what they're going to do," Flores said. "My horse he ran a great race and I think that's going to move him up a lot. This was the first time he had competition and he fought and fought all the way. A mile and an eighth his third time out is a lot, but this horse is capable of doing it."
The Irish-bred Castledale, a son of Peintre Celebre owned by Televison Games Network racing analyst Frank Lyons and Greg Knee, had only one previous start on dirt since coming to the United States from his native country. He finished a disappointing sixth in the San Rafael at Santa Anita on March 6. He was a late addition to the field and was ridden for the first time by Valdivia, who replaced Flores for trainer Jeff Mullins.
Mullins won last year's Santa Anita Derby with Buddy Gil. He said Castledale was working strongly on the dirt and he suspected the colt had been moved too soon in the San Rafael. Mullins said he's not sure yet about the Kentucky Derby, though.
"Nothing's etched in stone right now so we'll see how the horse comes out and let him tell us whether he's ready to go."
Valdivia said he didn't gain the mount on Castledale until the day of the post position draw.
"The morning before the draw, Frankie Lyons called me up and said, 'I think you'll fit this horse to a tee. You have to ride him like a turf horse. See what you can do to get on the horse.'"
He shrugged off the inquiry.
"When the money's on the line the riders are going to be more aggressive than usual, especially in a race of this magnitude," Valdivia said.
The final time for the 1 1/8-mile Derby was 1:49 1/5.
Castledale, who won the Generous Stakes (gr. IIIT) on turf in his first U.S. start in November, was taken off the early pace set by Lucky Pulpit and Quintons Gold Rush, who raced as a team through early fractions of :22 4/5, :46 4/5 and 1:11.
Sixth of seven after a half-mile, Castledale moved up a bit on the far turn while off the rail, swung widest of all in the stretch and rallied under strong handling from Valdivia, who lost his whip near the eighth pole. He got up in the final strides.
Valdivia said he thought his whip got tangled in Rock Hard Ten's tail.
Rock Hard Ten, who was wide while in stalking position the entire race, put his head in front in mid-stretch as a wall of horses battled through the lane, but drifted inward late under right-handed whipping from Flores while fighting gamely to the finish.
Imperialism, last as usual into the final turn, came furiously along the inside in the stretch, but did not kick in late after Espinoza took up.
Espinoza said he thought he was going to win.
"I had the inside rail wide open so I said this is great and cut the corner nice and everything. I tried to ride this race intelligent, but unfortunately the other horses came into me and I just got stuck. There was nothing I could do about it. I was just thinking about getting there right at the wire but sometimes it doesn't work out that way.
"But I think this horse has a good chance to win the Kentucky Derby."
Quntons Gold Rush was a length behind Imperialism in fourth, but 6 1/2 lenghts in front of Louisiana Derby winner Wimbledon, the 5-2 second choice.
St Averil, the 2-1 favorite, was sixth, 10 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
"He just wasn't the same horse today," said jockey Tyler Baze.
Wimbledon rallied three deep on the home turn before tiring in the stretch. St Averil chased the leaders early while four wide and backed out of contention on the far turn.
Castledale paid $62, $17 and $5.60 for his third win in 10 lifetime starts. He earned $450,000 while producing the fifth-highest payoff in Santa Anita Derby history.
Imperialism, who won the one-mile San Rafael (gr. II) in his last start and captured the seven-furlong San Vicente (gr. II) before that, returned $5.80 and $3.80. Rock Hard Ten, who had won his first two outings convincingly was making his stakes debut, showed for $4. The $2 exacta was worth a whopping $314.80.
Imperialism will head to Louisville if he comes out of the race healthy, trainer Kristin Mulhall said.
``I think he should probably go on if he looks OK tomorrow,'' Mulhall said. ``That was a pretty hard stop. My horse would have run harder if he was on the outside.''