In an effort worthy of grade I status against a top-caliber field, Pin Oak Stable’s Alternation grabbed the lead inside the eighth pole and held off the late charge of Nehro to win the May 18 Pimlico Special (gr. III) by a nose.
The homebred son of Distorted Humor covered the 1 3/16 miles in 1:57.60 (VIDEO) at Pimlico Race Course. The Pimlico Special returned in 2012 following a three-year absence on the Maryland stakes schedule.
Pimlico announced a crowd of 32,473 on a sun-drenched afternoon for a program that included seven stakes of at least $100,000 including the Special and the $300,000 Black-Eyed Susan (gr. II) for 3-year-old fillies.
“What a fantastic way to start the weekend by being up over $3 million in wagering,” said Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas. “Bringing back the Pimlico Special added to excitement of the day and what a race it was.”
WinStar Farm's Endorsement took the early advantage for Martin Garcia in the nine-horse field, setting early fractions of :23.60 for the opening quarter mile and :46.88 for the first half-mile. Giving chase was Yawanna Twist, Alternation, and Toby's Corner. Endorsement held an open-lengths advantage midway down the backstretch and into the far turn, but after six furlongs in 1:10.73 he began to be challenged.
Alternation, with Luis Quinonez aboard, was to Endorsement’s right with Mission Impazible coming with a wide run after a mile in 1:36.72. Coming widest was Nehro. Down the lane Mission Impazible fought for the lead but faded in the final 100 yards as Alternation grabbed a narrow advantage and held on.
Alternation carried 124 pounds in the Pimlico Special, six more than the runner-up.
“Wow! That got a little bit tight there at the end," said winning trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel. "I didn’t know if we got it or not, but fortunately we got the bob. It looked like that six pounds (he was giving Nehro) was getting to him there at the end."
Zayat Stables' Nehro, with Corey Nakatani aboard, rallied best of all but his run fell just short at the wire. Endorsement held for third, a length back of Nehro. Endorsement finished a neck ahead of Mission Impazible.
Alternation is unbeaten in four starts this year. The dark bay or brown 4-year-old rattled off three straight at Oaklawn Park. Hewon the Feb. 4 Essex Handicap and March 10 Razorback Handicap (gr. III), both at 1 1/16 miles, and the nine-furlong Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) April 14.
"He's a top horse, and I think he's in the process of proving that right now," said Von Hemel. "He beat a nice field at Oaklawn and a nice field here. He's top of the list.
Alternation now has a 8-1-1 slate from 13 career starts with earnings of $646,940. Last year at 3 he won the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park and was second in the Oklahoma Derby at Remington Park.
The winner is a product of Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stud near Versailles, Ky. He is out of the Pin Oak-bred mare Alternate, a three-time stakes winner and multiple graded stakes-placed runner by Seattle Slew. Alternate is a half sister to 1995 Canadian Horse of the Year Peaks and Valleys.
“Everything went great, especially when you get there first," Quinonez said of the tight finish. "There were a couple horses making the pace. We put him where he was comfortable and we waited them out and rode hard to the wire.”
Alternation paid $10.20, $5, and $3.80. Nehro returned $5.60 and $4.40 and Endorsement paid $6.80 to show. The 8-5 exacta paid $91.20.
In the past 14 months Nehro has run second in three graded races: the Louisiana Derby (gr. II, by a neck), Arkansas Derby (gr. I, by a neck, Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), and the Pimlico Special (by a nose).
"It’s good to see him back," said Steve Asmussen, trainer of Nehro. "He was very unlucky to lose the head-bob like that. But he ran great.”