Owner B.J. Wright and trainer Michael Pender capped their superb Turf Festival at Hollywood Park when Ultimate Eagle went gate to wire to win the $250,000 Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) at odds of 14-1 Nov. 27 (VIDEO) .
Wright and Pender won the $250,000 Citation Handicap (gr. IIT) a day earlier with favored Jeranimo.
Ultimate Eagle, now four-for-four since Pender switched the 3-year-old son of Mizzen Mast to turf this summer, won by three-quarters of a length and completed the 1 1/4-mile event for 3-year-olds in 2:01.43 on firm turf. Ultimate Eagle was ignored in the betting in spite of his half-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) Oct. 15 at Santa Anita Park.
"We were very confident," Wright told TVG afterward. "We think we have the best 3-year-old in the country."
Martin Pedroza rode Ultimate Eagle to victory over a tough field that included a number of shippers. Phipps Stable's Imagining, shipped in from New York by trainer Shug McGaughey, tracked Ultimate Eagle all the way around the track and held on for second. British invaders Western Aristocrat and Slumber finished third and fourth, respectively.
"It's miraculous considering where this horse came from," Pender said following his first grade I triumph. "(Ultimate Eagle) had colic (in June 2010) and was basically pronounced dead on the table. Somehow, by an act of God, he was brought back to life."
Equipped with blinkers by Pender as well when moved to the turf, Ultimate Eagle has shown his mettle during the current winning streak. He was determined to get the early lead in the Hollywood Derby and was able to slow it down while maintaining his edge over Imagining, ridden by Javier Castellano, and Irish Art. Ultimate Eagle clipped off a half-mile in :49.07 and reached the quarter-pole in 1:37.85 with plenty left in the tank.
Cloud Man, advancing from the mid-pack on the turn for home, was pulled up abruptly in apparent distress. As that was happening, Ultimate Eagle and Imagining separated themselves from the rest of the field and were clear in upper stretch. Ultimate Eagle, under urging from Pedroza, held Imagining at bay through the lane.
"This is just a beautiful horse to ride," said Pedroza, whose last grade I win came aboard E Z Gentleman in the 2010 Triple Bend Handicap. "People think he has to be on the lead, but he doesn't. I wanted to be on the lead, but it wasn’t necessary.
"When he gets to the front he relaxes immediately. I was pretty confident, and he came through like I thought he would."
Vinery Stables' Western Aristocrat, ridden by Corey Nakatani, and Juddmonte's Slumber, with Garrett Gomez aboard for the colt's United States debut, put in willing late bids but were too late to catch the first two. Imagining finished a half-length in front of Western Aristocrat, with Slumber a neck farther back in fourth.
"He's a young horse and is just going to get better and better," Castellano said of Imagining. "I thought I was going to catch the other horse but he just couldn't get by."
Cloud Man was removed from the course by van. The 3-year-old Thunder Gulch colt suffered pastern and cannon bone fractures to his left front leg. Surrey Star, who was virtually eased in the final quarter of a mile, was vanned off with discomfort in his right front leg.
Nakatani said Western Aristocrat was affected when Cloud Man suddenly dropped back rounding the turn.
"(Cloud Man) was just inside me and I had to hesitate," Nakatani said. "I thought it cost me the race, because that point in the race is so crucial. If he was able to keep his momentum going I think I could have made up that length and a half. It's unfortunate, but thankfully everybody came back unscathed."
Willcox Inn, the slight 3-1 favorite over fifth-place finisher Venomous, never got untracked after racing at the rear of the pack to the quarter-pole and finished eighth.
Bred by B.P. Walden and D. Hanley in Kentucky, Ultimate Eagle sold for $70,000 as a 2-year-old at Ocala in April 2010. The dark bay/brown colt is out of the Captain Bodgit mare Letithappencaptain.
He did not race at 2 and lost the first three starts of his career on Hollywood Par's Cushion Track this spring before beginning his winning streak with a maiden win on the turf at Del Mar July 31. After a two-length win over optional claiming allowance rivals at Del Mar Sept. 3, he was jumped into stakes company in the Oak Tree Derby, which he led gate to wire at odds of 34-1.
"I was hoping he would assert himself and get the lead by himself, but (Imagining) was pressing him every step of the way from the half-mile pole home," Pender said. "He just refused to let up.
"Ultimately I'd like to get him back on dirt. He trains so much better on dirt and hasn’t really handled synthetic surfaces all that well. We'll take it a day at a time from here."
Ultimate Eagle owns a 4-0-2 lifetime mark in seven starts with earnings of $329,800.
Under equal weights of 122 pounds, Ultimate Eagle paid $31.40, $13, $7.60. Imagining returned $14.60 and $10.80 in his stakes debut and was part of a whopping $556 exacta. Western Aristocrat paid $8.20 to show.
El Pocho scratched.