Calumet Farm's Skyring, winless in 11 starts since a victory at Pimlico Race Course last May, found the winner's circle again at the Maryland track in the $300,000 Longines Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) (VIDEO).
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas had two horses in the race: second choice Optimizer and 24-1 shot Skyring. The latter took control early from post 10 in the 1 1/8-mile turf event, set honest fractions, and held off several challengers in the lane to win by a half-length over fast-closing Willcox Inn.
Optimizer, who sat third along the rail for more than a mile in the Dixie under Joel Rosario, couldn't find clearance behind Skyring and jockey Gary Stevens until too late in the game. He finished a head behind Willcox Inn, while Howe Great, fourth for most of the race, made a bid in the lane but hung late to capture fourth.
The others in the race had no late impact.
Fractions for the Dixie, raced on firm turf, were :24.45 for the opening quarter-mile, :48.32 for the half-mile, 1:11.98 for three-quarters of a mile, and 1:35.79 for one mile. Skyring finished in 1:47.87, a little more than a second off the course record.
Skyring paid $50.40, $19.40, and $9.20, topping a $266.40 exacta with Willcox Inn, who returned $7.20 and $4.60. Optimizer's show price was $3.40.
Imagining, the 2-1 favorite, raced extremely wide in the second division throughout, fading to 10th.
A 4-year-old colt by English Channel , Skyring is out of the Seattle Slew mare Violet Lady, was bred in Kentucky by Bluegrass Hall.
Skyring won the James W. Murphy Stakes at one mile on the turf at Pimlico on the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) day undercard last year. Before the Dixie it was his only stakes victory in 19 starts, though in April of this year he finished fourth in the grade I Maker's 46 Mile behind 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan at Keeneland.
"This horse loved this turf course last year," Lukas said. "That's why I told the owner, 'We need to enter both of them.' There's really not that much difference between (Skyring and Optimizer). The public totally disregarded him even though he was very good last year.
"Optimizer ran a very good race. I wasn't that disappointed. He had a little trouble and was in tight. Skyring is just a fighter."
Said Stevens: "He went to the front easy enough, and we were able to back things up. He just sprinted home. It was a very impressive performance."
Lukas and Stevens teamed to win the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) with Oxbow for owner Calumet Farm about an hour after the Dixie.
Skyring now has four wins, three seconds, and two thirds in 20 starts, nine of which have come on grass. The bay colt has earned $424,148.
Howe Great was fourth, followed by Two Months Rent and See Tobe. Doubles Partner and Swift Warrior finished in a dead-heat for seventh. Forte Dei Marmi, Imagining, and Humble and Hungry trailed. Thunder Lord and Utley scratched.