Claiborne Farm's homebred Conserve saved just enough energy to hold off the late challenge from Riviera, winning the $287,000 Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) in wire to wire fashion Tuesday at Churchill Downs. Under Shane Sellers, Conserve completed the mile race in 1:35.12 over firm turf.
"He's always had the talent, but he never liked getting into a dog fight," said Sellers. "His last race Frank (Brothers, Conserve's trainer) told me to let him run like he wanted to run. I did and that's really helped. He's running a lot better down the lane."
Conserve was given a short freshening after his front-running victory in the Makers Mark Mile (gr. IIT) at Keeneland in April, and swept his second straight graded one-mile turf race with the Firecracker win. The win is his fifth in six races at a mile on turf, and his sixth overall from 18 races. 4-year-old Conserve (Boundary--Slew and Easy, by Slew o' Gold) earned $177,940 for the win.
Riviera finished two lengths ahead of third-place King Slayer, with Inkatha 3/4 lengths farther back in fourth. Northcote Road was fifth, followed by Beckon the King, Cat Scan, and Saratoga Sunrise.
The second wagering choice, Conserve returned $7.60, $3.60, and $2.60. The winning exacta combination, completed by the favorite, paid $23.40. (Chart, Equibase