Wild Dude scored his first stakes triumph Feb. 2 when the 4-year-old colt took advantage of a duel by the frontrunners to win the $200,000 Palos Verdes Stakes (gr. II) (VIDEO) at Santa Anita Park.
Patiently ridden by Rafael Bejarano, the Florida-bred son of Wildcat Heir raced in fourth early as Moonshine Bay, with Gary Stevens aboard, and Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Secret Circle under Martin Garcia hooked up on the front end. They zipped the opening quarter in :21.95. With Moonshine Bay chased by Secret Circle, the pair stopped the timer in :44.27 and :55.97 for the half-mile and five furlongs, respectively.
Coming out of the turn, Bejarano moved Wild Dude, who had broken from the 1 hole, off the rail and then back down to the inside before the pair came out again and moved through a hole that opened as Majestic Stride, who had been racing third throughout, backed up.
Secret Circle, the 1-2 favorite for trainer Bob Baffert, assumed a narrow lead from Moonshine Bay, who had placed in four stakes for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, past the eighth pole. Secret Circle looked every bit the winner before Wild Dude was urged to the fore by Bejarano for a neck victory, getting the six furlongs in 1:08.09.
The winner paid $19.20, $5.00, and $3.20. Secret Circle, making his first start since the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup, returned $2.10 and $2.10. Moonshine Bay paid $3.60 for third. Majestic Stride finished fourth, with Sahara Sky, the third Hollendorfer trainee in the five-horse field, last.
Hollendorfer attributed inside post position as a key to Wild Dude's win.
"Our horse (Wild Dude) got lucky to get out of the one (post), and that's why we got the win," he said. "I just told him (Rafael Bejarano) to be where he wanted to be comfortable. We knew the horse had some tactical speed.
"Yes, it was a big step up for him, but he's been doing good and the race came up light, so we decided to go with three horses instead of two. Gary (Stevens on Moonshine Bay) wouldn't have gone quite so hard if the horse didn't break as good as he did, but he was right out there. Secret Circle went for it. I thought Jeff Bonde's horse (Majestic Stride) would go for it, but maybe he came away a step slow and couldn't get the lead."
"I knew with three horses in the race for Mr. Hollendorfer, I knew Gary (Stevens) was going to send Moonshine Bay to put a little pressure on the favorite (Martin Garcia, on Secret Circle)," Bejarano said. "I saved ground the first turn and waited for the stretch. I knew those two on the front end were going to keep going so I just wanted to wait so I could be clear in the stretch. I just had to wait for the right moment, the right time. My horse loves to come from behind so the only change was I didn't want to leave too much for him to do at the end so I kept him a little closer today."
Baffert said he believed Garcia thought he had the race won after getting past Moonshine Bay and was unaware of Wild Dude's momentum in deep stretch.
"(Secret Circle) was down on the inside (after he passed Moonshine Bay in the stretch) and I don't think Martin ever saw the winner coming once he put that other horse away," the Hall of Famer said. "He thought he had it won. He ran well off the layoff, he just got beat. He ran a good race; I just don't think he saw that other horse."
Wild Dude, who races for Hollendorfer and Green Smith of Bryan, Texas, has won or placed in seven of eight career starts, with four wins. He has earned $265,220.
Bred by Versatile Thoroughbreds out of the Doneraile Court mare Courtly Choice, the bay colt went through the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's October sale as a weanling, where he was purchased by Anthony Costanzo for $9,000 from the Perrone Sales consignment. Consigned by Costanzo Sales to the 2012 OBSC April sale, he was acquired by agent Christina Jelm on behalf of Hollendorfer and Smith for $42,000.
Sahara Sky, a finalist for the 2013 Eclipse Award as outstanding sprinter, trailed throughout in his first start since winning the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) last May at Belmont Park.