Outsider Declan's Warrior, reserved off a torrid pace duel, ran down Clearly Now in the last strides to capture the $250,000 Bay Shore Stakes (gr. III) on the Wood Memorial undercard at Aqueduct Racetrack April 6 (VIDEO).
Sent off at odds of 12-1 with Jose Lezcano aboard, late-running Declan's Warrior prevailed by a head in his stakes debut for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, whose wife, Kim, is a principal owner of the winner.
"What can I say? It's such a special day for us," Zito said. "I think he's just a beautiful horse. He's so consistent. He could be a special horse. Honestly, he could be better than we think. Let's just keep taking our time and go from there."
In winning the seven-furlong test for 3-year-olds, the Kentucky homebred for Lucky Shamrock Stable was timed in 1:22.09 over a fast track. Clearly Now, the 3-1 second choice after his win in the Swale Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park March 2 for trainer Brian Lynch, was second, with The Truth and K G third.
The winner, by Majestic Warrior out of the winning Saint Ballado mare Comanche Star, is a neck away from being undefeated in four starts for Zito. He was coming off a dead-heat victory in a Gulfstream allowance/optional claiming race at 7 1/2 furlongs with Narvaez March 9. Narvaez returned to run a respectable fourth in the Florida Derby (gr. I).
Declan's Warrior is a half brother to stakes winner Canonize, who has earned $271,234 while racing in Southern California for Jay Em Ess Stable and trainer Ron Ellis.
Clearly Now took the early lead for Javier Castellano before 24-1 Retreive slipped through along the inside to take a contested advantage with Salutos Amigos also on the pace. Those three continued to show the way with The Truth and K G stalking in fourth and Declan's Warrior seventh in the field of nine.
Quarter mile fractions were :22.03 and :44.70. Reaching the homestretch, the leaders were four abreast as The Truth and K G rallied on the outside for Jose Ortiz. Approaching the eighth pole, Clearly Now edged away to a clear lead under right-handed urging, but he could not hold off the late charge of the energized Declan's Warrior, who rallied wide from fifth in the lane to get up at the wire.
"I was a little worried because there was so much speed today, but I had to ride my horse the way he wants to run; let him sit and try to catch them at the end," Lezcano said. "He did it. When I asked him the last part he really kicked good and won the race."
Maleeh, the slight 5-2 favorite, finished sixth.
Declan's Warrior increased his earnings to $217,770 with the victory. The good-looking chestnut colt likes to run them close. All of his decisions have been by a neck or less.
"First time he ran, breaking his maiden at Belmont, that's how he came. He came with a run," Zito said. "I told Jose, don't take him out of his game, because that's a no-no. We've done that since we were kids, you know, you take a horse out their game, and it never works. In this particular situation, it worked out. The speed got going, and he got going in the end."
The winner carried 116 pounds, seven fewer than the runner-up, and paid $26.40, $9.10, and $5.90 as the sixth choice. Clearly Now returned $4.60 and $3.50 and was part of an exacta worth $141.50. The Truth and K G, making his graded stakes debut for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, was $6.10 to show.
Salutos Amigos was fourth, followed by Honorable Dillon, Maleeh, Retreive, Clawback, and Silver Morgan.