Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Drilling for Oil made an early move for the lead along the inside on the backstretch, midway through the marathon heat, and inched away in the stretch. Challenged by Ramazutti and Calvin Borel along the hedge, Drilling for Oil edged to the inside to tighten up the hole near the sixteenth pole, then spurted away for his first graded stakes win as Borel checked and Ramazutti retreated.
Always First, the 118-pound high weight who was closing smartly after a seven-wide move on the final turn for Robby Albarado, tagged Ramazutti for second by a neck. Ramazutti nosed Cloudy's Knight for third, while it was more than four lengths back to 5-2 favorite Hotstufanthensome in fifth. The final time, 2:28 1/5 on firm going, was less than two seconds outside of the course mark set by Tikkanen in the 1994 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT).
The Louisville was run for the first time at the 1 1/2-mile distance after being conducted at 1 3/8 miles since 1996. The purse for this year's renewal was increased by $50,000.
Trained by Ken McPeek for owners W. Bruce Lunsford and Lansdon B. Robbins III, Drilling for Oil was most recently third at odds of 20-1 in the 1 1/2-mile Elkhorn (gr. IIIT) on the Keeneland turf April 27. The victory was the third in 11 starts for the 4-year-old chestnut colt by Giant's Causeway --Won't She Tell (Banner Sport), who earned $99,311 Saturday and has banked $180,081. Gainesway Thoroughbreds Ltd. bred Drilling for Oil, a $270,000 Keeneland yearling buy in 2004, in Kentucky.
McPeek said that Drilling for Oil is an extremely difficult horse to train, but credited Desormeaux with the tactical decision to make the early move to the lead. He said Desormeaux raised the possibility during a pre-race discussion in the paddock as Drilling for Oil was being saddled.
"He talked about it and I said if you think that's the move, then make it," said McPeek. "He thought the horse needed a 'momentum move' because he's such a galloper, so I said, 'If you get the shot, do it.' He told me in the paddock he was going to make that move before he did it."
Royal Assault, a 93-1 shot, led through the opening fractions of :24 and :47 4/5 before giving way to Drilling for Oil, who was forwardly placed while working his way to the inside from the 10 post. The six-furlong fraction was 1:13 4/5 and the mile went in 1:39 2/5.
"The horse is quirky, and as was noted by Kenny, he just doesn't focus, and I had to help him focus," said Desormeaux, a two-time winner of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) who notched his 10th stakes victory at Churchill Downs.
Sent off as the fourth choice in the field of 11, Drilling for Oil paid $14.80, $6.40 and $4.80.
Second choice Always First, coming off a close second-place finish in the Elkhorn for trainer Tom Voss, returned $4.60 and $3.80.
Voss said that Drilling for Oil's early move to the lead was too much to overcome.
"When you can get a mile and a half and control the pace, you're pretty hard to beat," said Voss. "Maybe he ought to be a little bit closer when we're running him. It might be me taking him back a little bit too much."
Ramazutti, now winless in eight starts at the 1 1/2-mile distance after being forced to steady along the hedge, was $7 to show.
Cloudy's Knight and Hotstufanthensome were followed by I Believe in Me, Murch, Louve des Reves, Royal Assault, Fri Guy and Transduction Gold. Embossed scratched.