Lael Stables could have two undefeated colts for the 2006 Run for the Roses after the inexperienced Showing Up passed his audition with a game win in the $325,000 Coolmore Lexington (gr. II) at Keeneland Saturday.
The unbeaten Barbaro, a homebred owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson, won the Florida Derby (gr. I) April 1 in his last start and is already one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). Now the stable has Showing Up, who won the Lexington in his first stakes start, as a contender as well after earning $201,000 for Saturday's win.
Although making just his third start for Derby-winning trainer Barclay Tagg, Showing Up won the Lexington like an old pro, extricating himself from a tight spot on the far turn to emerge on the outside in the stretch. Under Cornelio Velasquez, the Kentucky-bred son of Strategic Mission-Miss Alethia (T.V. Commercial) went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Gotham (gr. III) hero Like Now and Fernando Jara. The 39-1 shot Bear Character ran a huge race to finish third for Rene Douglas, missing second by a neck. Greeley's Galaxy settled for fourth in the field of 10.
Tagg, who won the Kentucky Derby in 2003 with Funny Cide, said he would take Showing up back to New York and wait to see how the colt rebounds from the Lexington before making a decision on the Derby.
"He had a month between his first two races (in February and March), and he had a month between his last race and this race," Tagg said. "Ideally we were going to go in the Wood, but it didn't work out, and we couldn't go in the Blue Grass, so this was our last chance.
"But there's only two weeks before the Kentucky Derby and he's not a big, robust horse. He has to be in tip-top condition; I'm not going to put him into a tough race. Probably good judgment and good sense would say not to run, but there is only one Kentucky Derby and he's done everything we've asked of him, so you think you have to give him a chance."
The final time was a slow 1:46 2/5 on a drying-out track that was rated fast.
Showing Up, who went off as the 3-2 favorite, was bumped at the break by More Than Regal and was forced in on the rail horse, Gone Prospecting, before getting a spot on the inside. The chestnut colt raced in fifth as Like Now and Fast Parade set off on the early lead, setting fractions of :23 1/5, :46 4/5 and 1:12.
Bear Character, racing in third just off the leaders, edged up while four wide on the far turn. Showing Up, meanwhile, had run out of room along the inside and Velasquez angled out four wide approaching the stretch. Bear Character, vying with Like Now, gained a narrow lead in upper stretch, but Showing Up kept coming under strong urging. After getting the advantage on the outside, Showing Up drifted in a bit late but won driving.
"He ran big today," Velasquez said. "He had a little trouble the last quarter, but I put him in the clear. I had a lot of horse."
After the rough start, Tagg said he was concerned.
"I thought he wasn't going to run and it was going to be a disaster, but Cornelio said he had plenty of horse and he was just cruising," Tagg said. "He knew more about him than I did. It's hard to tell through binoculars. He manages to handle things smoothly and he's an absolute pleasure to train."
Like Now regained the second spot from Bear Character as the two bumped repeatedly in the final sixteenth. But trainer Kiaran McLauglin said he's inclined to skip the Derby.
"We'll talk to the owner (John Dillon), but I think we'll probably look at the Preakness," he said. "It's a little easier spot. He's a gelding, and we want to have some fun with him this year. The Derby is a little too soon to run back."
It was three lengths back to Greeley's Legacy, who was followed by More Than Regal, Chin High, Fast Parade, Hemingway's Key, Special Interest, and Gone Prospecting.
Showing Up began his career with an impressive four-length maiden special weight victory over six furlongs at Gulfstream Park Feb. 11. He followed that race a month later at the South Florida track by defeating first-level allowance rivals at one mile by 2 1/4 lengths. A $60,000 sale in May 2005, Showing Up now has $240,000 in career earnings.
He paid $5, $3.20, and $3. Like Now returned $4.40 and $3.60. Bear Character, coming off a third-place finish in the Rushaway on Turfway Park's polytrack March 25, was $9.40 to show.
"He ran hard," Douglas said of Bear Character. "I rode him real hard. He seems to be a tough one. I'm not sure what plans they have for him but he's a nice horse."