In his first start in more than 10 months, Strike a Deal wired the field for jockey Ramon Dominguez in the $200,000 Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) (VIDEO), registering a bit of larceny in the race preceding the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at odds of 14-1 at Pimlico May 15.
Strike a Deal, sixth in this race a year ago, set a soft pace on the turf before inching away to a two-length lead at the eighth pole. The 6-year-old son of Smart Strike held on gamely under brisk urging from Dominguez to win by three-quarters of a length over the fast-closing Just as Well. Rahystrada finished a half-length farther back in third.
Lukewarm 7-2 choice Grassy was never a factor and finished 10th in the 12-horse field.
Nicanor, the full brother to Barbaro making his stakes debut in the Dixie, prompted the pace into the stretch but wilted to sixth.
“He was certainly ready to run today," Dominguez, who won his third race of the day on the turf, said of the winner. "I saw fit to make the lead and my horse was eager to do it. Besides (Nicanor), there wasn’t a lot of speed in the race, so I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ "
A national television audience was unable to view the Dixie Stakes as NBC, which had exclusive rights to the Preakness, was interviewing skier Lindsey Vonn during the running of the race.
Strike a Deal, trained by Alan Goldberg for owner Richard Santulli, went over the million-dollar mark in career earnings with the win. The bay horse had not been to the post since a seventh-place finish in the United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park July 4. The winner of the 2008 Red Smith Handicap (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct raced just three times last year and failed to hit the board.
“The horse doesn’t usually show speed, but today, with the speed on the outside, we had to get position," said Darren Silvers, Goldberg's assistant. "The horse showed a turn of foot to go to the lead and he was comfortable there. He stole the race.”
He set quarter-mile fractions of :23.94, :48.23, and 1:12.79 for the first six furlongs and had plenty left leaving the quarter pole. He came home in a strong final time of 1:47.81 for the 1 1/8-mile distance over firm ground.
Nicanor, who broke from the far outside in the big field, pressed the pace with Rahystrada and Forgotten Dynasty stalking the leaders. Just as Well, racing just off the rail into the far turn, swung wide in upper stretch for Julien Leparoux and rallied from seventh to make it close.
"Julien gave him a good ride and we just got beat by a better horse on the day," said Jonathan Sheppard, trainer of Just as Well. "Probably a little more distance wouldn’t hurt him, but he ran well."
Bred in Kentucky by Bee Zee, Strike a Deal is out of the Dixieland Band mare Shag. His fifth career win in 20 starts boosted his earnings to $1,052,341.
Sent off as the eighth choice, Strike a Deal won under equal weights of 118 pounds and paid $30.20, $13.60, and $8.80 while topping a $131.20 exacta. Just as Well, the second choice of the bettors, matched his runner-up showing in last year's Dixie and returned $5.60 and $4. Rahystrada, with Inez Karlsson aboard, was jostled in tight quarters mid-stretch but finished gamely. He paid $4.60 to show.
Forgotten Dynasty was one length back in fourth, a nose in front of Baltimore Bob. Nicanor, Wesley, Picou, Coolcullen Times, Grassy, Pick Six, and Lonely Whistle completed the order. Rockaby Baby was scratched.