Favored Sir Shackleton, making his stakes debut, repelled the challenge of Courageous Act in the stretch and went on to post a convincing victory in Saturday's $110,800 Derby Trial (gr. III) on opening day at Churchill Downs.
Ridden by Rafael Bejarano for trainer Nick Zito, the chestnut 3-year-old son of Miswaki
won his third race in a row, defeating Courageous Act by 1 3/4 lengths. Bwana Charlie, the 7-5 second favorite in the field of five, was a distant third. The final time was 1:37 3/5.
The win got Zito's Kentucky Derby week off to a fast start. Zito will saddle The Cliff's Edge and Birdstone next Saturday.
Zito wasn't looking ahead on Saturday.
``Whatever happens a week from today, as long as I get both my horses to the gate, I'm more than happy,'' Zito said.
Rock Hard Ten, expected to be the heavy favorite, was an early scratch from the Derby Trial field.
Tracy Farmer bred and owns Sir Shackleton, who is nominated to the Triple Crown. The colt earned $68,696 and has now banked $127,427 in a four-race career. Sir Shackleton's only loss came in a second-place finish to highly-regarded Forest Danger in his maiden special weight debut Feb. 14 at Gulfstream Park.
Zito was noncommittal on where horse would run next.
``The main thing is to protect this horse because he might have a really big future,'' Zito said. ``This was pretty impressive.''
Close to the pace thrughout, Sir Shackleton moved into position to challenge for the lead on the turn for home, put away Bwana Charlie with about three furlongs to go and held off Courageous Act, who rallied widely from last under Cornelio Velasquez, menacing the winner before flattening out in the stretch run.
``In the last furlong, I had a lot of horse,'' Bejarano said.
The 21-year-old Bejarano earned his nation-leading 161st win of the year. He was also aboard Sir Shackleton in a seven-furlong allowance win at Keeneland on April 9.
``I had all the speed I needed,'' said Bejarano, the leading rider at Turfway Park last winter. ``The horse moved very, very good.''
Bwana Charlie dueled with Honolua Storm and Quick Action for the lead through a :46 1/5 opening half-mile.
Sir Shackleton, sent off at 6-5, paid $4.40, $3.20 and $2.10. Courageous Act returned $3.80 and $2.10. Bwana Charlie, ridden by Shane Sellers, was $2.10 to show. The $2 exacta was worth $15.20.
Lady Tak, a major stakes winner last year, scored her first triumph of 2004 by winning the fourth race today by two lengths in 1:09 4/5 over Souris, her stablemate from the barn of trainer Steve Asmussen. Shane Sellers piloted Lady Tak.
Also successful today was another comebacker, B. Wayne Hughes' Siphonizer, who took the seventh race by 6 ¼ lengths in 1:09 4/5 under jockey Pat Day. Siphonizer, conditioned by Richard Mandella, scored his most important win in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. II) last summer.