Mike Pegram's odds-on favorite Wanna Runner ran his five rivals in the $300,000 Walmac Lone Star Derby (gr. III) into the ground on the far turn and cakewalked through the stretch under Victor Espinoza for an easy 5 1/4-length win Saturday in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Trainer Bob Baffert is pointing Wanna Runner, an Ontario-bred chestnut gelding, to the Queen's Plate--Canada's leading jewel for 3-year-olds--June 25 at Woodbine. In the meantime, Wanna Runner, who captured the $600,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland in his last start, is amassing quite a bankroll. The son of El Corredor
bumped his earnings to $566,950 with his fourth victory in eight starts. Saturday's win was worth $185,000.
"We've managed him gingerly," Baffert said of the winner afterward. "We don't want to press him too much. He has a great future.
"We're just having fun with him. It's fun to go to different tracks."
Wanna Runner picked up his first graded stakes win. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile event for 3-year-olds was 1:43 3/5.
"We were tempted to run in the Preakness (gr. I), and I told Mike if Barbaro hadn't run a race like that, if it had been a race like last year's, we'd take a chance," Baffert said. "But that horse is pretty special, and this horse here needed time to develop.
"I always thought (Wanna Runner) was a nice horse, but he's getting better. We didn't really push him for the (Kentucky) Derby. I ran him back at Golden Gate, and I ran him back way too soon and that set us back. I know what it takes to win the Derby, and we maybe could've taken him, but it's too hard on a horse. Mike didn't have any fever with him. I'll take him back to California to freshen up."
Wanna Runner broke with the leaders from his rail post position but was pressed on the outside by the 17-1 shot Rain On Monday, who assumed a slight advantage over the favorite and another longshot, 46-1 Wait in Line, who challenged on the outside through fractions of :23 1/5 and :47. At the head of the turn, though, Wanna Runner's superiority began to show as he edged away without much urging from Espinoza, completing six furlongs in 1:11. He took control in upper stretch and continued to draw away through the lane with an impressive finish.
Wait In Line, with Alfredo Juarez aboard, finished second with Admiral's Arch and Shaun Bridgmohan coming home a distant third, nearly 11 lengths behind the winner. Mr. Pursuit took fourth, with Rain On Monday and Red Raymond, the 3-1 second choice, trailing.
"The horse on the outside (Rain On Monday) tried to put pressure on us," Espinoza said. "But I had the best horse in the race, so I just had to let (him) go."
Baffert and Pegram teamed to win the Texas Mile (gr. III) at Lone Star last month with Preachinatthebar. Baffert has 12 stakes victories at the Texas track, many of those with Pegram-owned horses.
"Mike's been on a roll with five stakes in a row," Baffert said. "I just don't know what happened in the (Kentucky) Derby. But Wanna Runner looked like Barbaro coming down the stretch."
Wanna Runner paid $3, $2.60, and $2.10. Wait In Line, who was more than 18 lengths behind Wanna Runner while fourth in the WinStar Derby April 1, returned $19.60 and $5.40, completing a $45 exacta. Admiral's Arch, who won the Northern Spur Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn Park in his last start, was $2.40 to show.
Admiral's Arch was rated just behind the leaders in fourth but came up empty in the stretch.
"Apparently, the winner had a little more horse and just cut loose at the top of the stretch," said Admiral Arch's rider Bridgmohan. "I thought I was in the perfect spot. There were three across the track, and I was just biding my time."
Yvonne Schwabe bred Wanna Runner, who is out of the Mt. Magazine mare Shebandowana and was sold for $80,000 at Fasig-Tipton in July 2004.
"We can't wait for him to come home," Schwabe said via telephone from Ontario. "He's the best runner we've ever had down in the states."
Later on the program in 3-year-old divisions of the $125,000 Texas Stallion Stakes, Will Farish's Upstream won the Stymie Division for colts and geldings, and Tom Durant's Open Meadows prevailed in the Got Koko for fillies.