Daytona, coming off a Dec. 30 win in the San Gabriel Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita, kicked off his 4-year-old season with an emphatic wire-to-wire win in the $150,000 Fair Grounds Handicap (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) Feb. 9.
The 1 1/8-mile turf route, part of Louisiana Derby Preview Day at the New Orleans oval, was a fourth consecutive stakes victory for the Irish-bred Indian Ridge gelding, who also took the 2007 runnings of the Oct. 13 Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) and Nov. 25 Hollywood Derby (gr. IIT) for trainer Dan Hendricks.
“He’s a special horse," Hendricks said. "That’s one of the most relaxed races I’ve seen him run. Mike (Smith) just sat and rode perfect. We learned a lot – he can change course, he can ship, and he can win again."
The Fair Grounds Handicap was a troubled event for millionaire Better Talk Now, who raced last in the field of 10 for most of the race and only got up to sixth by the wire. Daytona, however, was clearly the best as he broke first and never faltered. Under jockey Mike Smith, he clicked through the quarter in :23.97 and ran the half in :48.55. Steve Asmussen trainee Inca King was second, while French Beret vied for third, and Jazz Quest raced fourth.
They went through three-quarters in 1:12.41 with Daytona opening a 3-length lead as they hit the head of the stretch. Jazz Quest, closing quickly, was still no match for the leader, who went the mile in 1:37.45 and hit the wire 2 1/2 lengths in front. The final time was 1:50.09.
“I was worried about the soft ground and long stretch," Smith said. "It's so different than California. But this horse has such good balance. Every step, he kept paying attention. He ran a big race.”
Daytona returned $6.40, $4.60, and $3.60 to win. Jazz Quest brought $17.40 and $10 to place under James Graham, while Sterwins and Patrick Husbands paid $5.60 to show. Save Big Money, French Beret, Better Talk Now, Silverfoot, Inca King, Baby First, and Warn completed the order of finish.
Of the gelding's next start, Hendricks said he would be considering multiple options, including a return to Fair Grounds for the $500,000 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) March 8.
“We’ve got to think about it," he said. "We’ve got to decide whether to come back to Fair Grounds, stay home (in California), or go to Dubai.”
Bred in Ireland by the Irish National Stud, Daytona is out of the Blushing John mare Kyka. He now owns a 6-2-2 record from 12 starts and is unbeaten in stakes efforts over the turf. He has amassed earnings of $641,390 for owners Jeff Davenport, Tom Lenner, Jess Ravich, and Thomas Murray.