Trainer Todd Pletcher ran three horses in the $1-million Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) Saturday, so you gotta figure he was going to win. But it was the 3-year-old colt no one expected, 37-1 shot Red Giant, who got up at the wire to defeat Strike a Deal by a nose in course record time at Colonial Downs.
It was the second Virginia Derby win for Pletcher, who won the rich race two years ago with turf star English Channel. Pletcher, who was at Arlington Park Saturday, also won at Belmont Park in New York, where Octave took the $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I).
Strike a Deal swept past pacesetter Inca King at the head of the stretch. Under strong urging from Ramon Dominguez, Strike a Deal enjoyed a 1 1/2-length lead at the furlong marker. But Horacio Karamanos, who agreed to ride Peachtree Stable's Red Giant Saturday morning, kept digging and got up in the final bob on the outside in a terrific finish. The winning time was 1:59.62 for the 1 1/4-distance on firm turf.
"I got a good position" coming to the stretch, said Karamanos, Colonial's all-time leading rider. With the lead in sight, "I said 'Go now. Go hard. Win it,' and my horse responded very good."
Karamanos thought he caught Strike a Deal, but wasn't certain for several minutes until the official results finally flashed on the infield scoreboard.
It was the first Derby victory for Karamanos.
"It's special, the track for me," he said. "I feel this is my home because it was my first million I won in the United States was at Colonial. This is my home."
Ginny DePasquale, an assistant trainer for Pletcher, said the stretch run was exhilarating because she knew Red Giant would make it close.
"This horse has a huge heart. It just kept coming and it did not give up," she said. "He keeps going and going. Basically, he's relentless."
It was four lengths back to Soldier's Dancer and Cornelio Velasquez in third. Circular Quay, the Pletcher trainee that was sent off as the 9-5 favorite, was not a factor, finishing sixth.
"It looked like he was on the inside and when he needed to make the move, the other horse was right outside of him," DePasquale said. of the favorite. "He does his best running when he's on the outside and he just never made it to that spot."
Summer Doldrums, who nipped Strike a Deal by a head in the 1 3/16-mile Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIIT) over the course last out June 16, rallied belatedly for fourth.
Red Giant, a chestnut colt by Giant's Causeway --Beyond the Sun (Kingmambo), was never far off the pace, racing in fourth as Inca King set an even pace of :24 2/5, :48 4/5 and 1:12 4/5. Strike a Deal had the lead after a mile in 1:36 but Red Giant loomed large on the outside coming off the far turn.
The $350,000 Keeneland yearling was coming off nose victory in the one-mile Restoration at Monmouth June 17, his only previous stakes effort. The win in the Virginia Derby was his third in a row, however, and fourth in five starts since breaking his maiden April 7. The $600,000 winning share increased his earnings to $712,410 with a record of 4-2-0 in seven starts.
Edward and Marilyn Seltzer bred the winner in Kentucky.
Unbelievably, Red Giant paid $76, $28 and $10.20 while topping a $338.60. The unlucky Strike a Deal returned $5.60 and $3.40 in his second heartbreak loss in a row at Colonial for trainer Alan Goldberg. Soldier's Dancer, sixth in the Colonial Turf Cup for David Vivian, was $9.20 to show. The trifecta paid a whopping $5,114.40.
It was three-quarters of a length to Summer Doldrums, who was followed by Blazing Dynamo, Circular Quay, Duveen, Love Dubai, Inca King and Top Cross, the third of the Pletcher entrants.