Centennial Farms' even-money choice Chelokee, passed mid-stretch by Zanjero in Saturday's $223,800 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup (gr. III) (VIDEO) for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, fought back along the inside to win by a long neck for jockey Ramon Dominguez
Zanjero, making his first start since a nightmare trip in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) last month, surged to the lead and enjoyed a one-length advantage at the eighth pole under Shaun Bridgmohan for trainer Steve Asmussen -- bidding for his fifth victory on the Churchill card -- but couldn't close the deal while drifting out late.
“We got the trip we wanted for the most part, except for a little trouble on the turn,” said Asmussen. “When he got free in the stretch, I thought we had our second race in a row, but the other horse (Chelokee) was very game.”
Chelokee gained his first graded stakes win for trainer Michael Matz. Chelokee won the Barbaro Stakes for Matz -- who trained the 2006 Derby winner -- on Preakness race day at Pimlico May 19.
Chelokee took command from Tsali approaching the quarter pole and had a clear advantage in upper stretch but may have been surprised by Zanjero, who rallied after a ground-saving trip to take the lead on Chelokee's outside. Under strong urging, Chelokee won a terrific finish while completing the 1 1/16-mile journey in 1:42 2/5.
“I was very pleased to see my horse come back the way he did,” said Dominguez. “I didn’t know what to think when (Zanjero) went by me. I knew for sure that I had a little more horse left, because at that point I had not used mine, but at the same time, that other horse made such a bold move, it kind of left me wondering whether I could keep up in contention with that kind of a kick.”
Portobello Road, pressed by Tsali, led the opening quarter mile in :24 before Tsali took over through a half-mile in :47 3/5 and six furlongs in 1:11 4/5. Chelokee, parked on the outside of the early leaders in stalking position, responded when asked to take the lead in stride on the turn. Zanjero, penned in along the inside, found room at that point as the pacesetters began to tire and had clear aim at Chelokee in the stretch. It was 2 1/4 lengths back to Sam P., ridden by John Velazquez, in third.
Chelokee's fourth win in eight lifetime starts was worth $135,525 and increased the earnings for the son of Cherokee Run to $357,425. Third in the Florida Derby (gr. I) March 31, Chelokee has won three of his past four starts. The dark bay colt, a $290,000 Keeneland yearling buy, is out of the dam Dixie Ghost, by Silver Ghost. Gulf Coast Farms Bloodstock bred him in Kentucky.
Chelokee paid $4, $3 and $2.10.
Zanjero, 12th in the Kentucky Derby and completing his fourth graded stakes placing this year, returned $4 and $2.60.
Sam P., coming out of the Derby, where he was ninth, as well, was $2.80 to show.
It was nearly six lengths back to Loose Leaf in fourth, followed by True Competitor, Tsali, Prom Shoes, and Portobello Road.