Making his first start for trainer Doug O'Neill since running third in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Nov. 4, the 9-10 choice Great Hunter won by 1 1/4 lengths over the willing Sam P., who could not match strides with the winner through the lane. It was 2 1/4 lengths back to Saint Paul. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile event, previously known as the Santa Catalina Stakes, was 1:42 4/5.
"I'm just so excited, not having been in this position ever," O'Neill said. "You never know what to expect from a horse that's had such a good campaign as a 2-year-old, as far as getting the next year started, but it couldn't have worked out better."
The only stakes winner in the field, Great Hunter was four wide early while chasing the pace from eighth place in the nine-horse field as Scat Thief and Saint Paul fought through fractions of :23, :46 4/5 and 1:11 1/5. Ridden by Corey Nakatani, Great Hunter rallied on the outside of his rivals on the far turn, challenging at the top of the lane and seizing command mid-stretch. He opened up a clear advantage late and won under left-handed urging as the stalking Sam P., ridden by Garrett Gomez, gained mildly late.
"The plan today was to kick clear and gallop out strong," Nakatani said. "He did just that."
The dark bay son of Aptitudehas not been out of the money in eight lifetime starts but his only other non-maiden victory came in Keeneland's Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) on the Polytrack Oct. 7 prior to the BC Juvenile. Since Reddam also owns Triple Crown contenders Liquidity and Notional, Great Hunter could wind up back in Lexington for the Blue Grass (gr. I) next month. Overall, Great Hunter is 3-4-1 in eight starts with earnings of $750,000.
"We don't really know which one is the best one yet, which is kind of exciting," said Reddam, who owns Cash Call lending company.
Reddam said the colt would then ship to Churchill Downs to await the Derby.
Liquidity is set for next week's Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and probably the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) after that, while Notional will go in the Florida Derby (gr. I) later this month, O'Neill said.
A $30,000 Keeneland purchase as a yearling, Great Hunter was bred in Pennsylvania by Ivy Dell Stud. He is out of the Roy mare Zenith.
He paid $3.80, $2.60 and $2.20.
Sam P., shipped to California by trainer Todd Pletcher off a fourth-place finish in the Holy Bull (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park, returned $4.60 and $3.40, completing a $16.20 exacta.
"He's the kind of colt that doesn't care about much of anything right now," said Gomez of Sam P. "But if we can get that light bulb on, he'll be a pretty good colt."
Saint Paul, jumping out of maiden ranks for new trainer Bob Baffert following an 8 1/4-length win at Calder Race Course Dec. 29, was $3.20 to show with Alex Solis riding.
Boutrous rallied from last to finish fourth, followed by French Transition, Scat Thief, Tiago, Hurry Up Austin and Tap It Light.
Reddam was interested in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) where Stormello led all the way before getting nosed out at the wire by Scat Daddy. Third-place Nobiz Like Shobiz was the odds-on favorite.
"Some of the hype came off today," Reddam said about the beaten favorite.
Saturday's race was renamed this year in honor of the late Bob Lewis, a popular owner who narrowly missed winning the Triple Crown with Silver Charm and Charismatic.
Lewis died at 81 last February. His widow, Beverly, was on hand to present the winner's trophy on a warm, sunny day that her late husband surely would have described as "delightful," one of his favorite adjectives.
"He would be enjoying it to the fullest," she said.