The 6-5 co-favorite in a field of six jumped out of the gate on top from the one post under jockey Joel Rosario, and turned back several challenges in the six-furlong event before edging away to score by three-quarters of a length over 50-to-1 longshot City of Weston.
Merit Man was timed for the six furlongs in 1:11:39 over the 'fast' track, and returned $4.40, $3, and $2.10. City of Weston brought $14.20 and $3, while Silverton Hill Farm LLC's Little Distorted, co-favorite at 6-to-5, paid $2.20 while rallying from last to finish a non-threatening third, 4 1/2 lengths behind the runner-up.
Owned by Bruce Chandler, Robert McKee, James Glavin and trainer Bob Hess, Jr., Merit Man was making his first start since that heart-breaking nose defeat at the hands of Hightail in the $500,000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint at Santa Anita Park.
"That was a lot of fun," Hess said of the Spectacular Bid win. "He broke so sharp, Joel really had to go on with him. We love Santa Anita, but for him the series of races for 3-year-olds is better here. We'll look to run him again in about a month."
The Feb. 2 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) at seven furlongs for $150,000 seems like a logical spot for the newly-turned sophomore son of With Distinction, according to Hess.
"Everything about him says sprinting and that's what we'll concentrate on for now," the trainer remarked.
"He's a nice horse and broke well out of the gate," said Rosario. "He waited a little bit turning for home, but that's how he is. I think he's a nice horse and I know how far he can run, probably seven-eighths. I'm very glad I had the opportunity to ride him."
Merit Man, bred in Florida by Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds & Stephen Barberino out of the Precise End mare Precise Strike, was a $75,000 purchase at the Ocala Breeders Sales Co.'s April 2-year-old in training sale. He had won both of his starts prior to the Breeders' Cup, his debut at Del Mar on Sept. 2 and the Tim Conway Stakes at Santa Anita on Oct. 6, for a 3-1 record from four starts with earnings of $292,000.