Fire With Fire, rated well on the lead by Tyler Baze, outfought stablemate Lucayan in deep stretch to register his first graded stakes win for trainer Neil Drysdale in the $200,000 San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. IIT) on the turf March 22 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
Unfortunately, Vagabond Shoes, the 4-5 favorite in the field of five older horses, was pulled up at the half mile pole while trailing the field and and vanned off the course. It was later reported that Hronis Racing's 7-year-old Irish-bred gelding had been euthanized after suffering a cannon bone injury to his left hind.
Trained by John Sadler, Vagabond Shoes was a group winner in Europe in addition to winning a pair of graded stakes in the United States. He won the San Marcos (gr. IIT) Feb. 8 at Santa Anita to begin the year and also took the Del Mar Handicap (gr. IIT) last summer, while adding seconds in the Eddie Read (gr. IT) and John Henry Turf Cup (gr. IIT). The chestnut was a close fifth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT).
"It really surprised me," jockey victor Espinoza said. "He was running excellent, he was dragging me around. (Niagara Falls) broke in a little bit out of the gate and we got bumped. I could feel his whole body go sideways and he had a different energy after that. I didn't want to push him, I wanted to take my time. When I went to make a move, that's when I heard something pop behind."
Vagabond Shoes was an eight-time winner with eight placings from 30 races and earned $665,497.
Drysdale collected his sixth lifetime win in the San Luis Rey, but at odds of 10-1, Fire With Fire was not the one the public expected. Lucayan, winner of the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IIT) at the Sun Luis Rey distance of 1 1/2 miles Dec. 14, was the more fancied of the Hall of Fame trainer's runners at odds of 3-1.
Drysdale's past three wins in the race came for in tandem with Fire With Fire's owner David Heerensperger, whose Bourbon Bay won the San Luis Rey in 2010 and '12.
Allowed to relax on the lead while leading Lucayan and Temeraine, Fire With Fire responded to right-handed urging from Baze mid-stretch when they were collared by Lucayan and Mike Smith. Fire With Wire inched away as they approached the wire and held on stoutly for a half-length tally.
Fire With Fire was timed in 2:25.03 on firm going after carving honest factions of :48.94, 1:12.95, 1:37.66, and 2:01.52.
"We were expecting him to be on the lead today," Drysdale said. "We know he has a short run so I asked Tyler to leave it as long as possible (before making his move in the stretch) which he did. I want to take it step by step and we'll wait to see where we go next with him."
Lucayan held on for second by a nose over Temeraine, who was angled to the outside by Gary Stevens for a late run at the leaders and came up just short. Niagara Falls trailed in the small field.
Bred in Kentucky by Patricia Pavlish, Fire With Fire is a 6-year-old son of Distorted Humor out of the multiple graded stakes-place Capote mare Cosmic Fire. The gray or roan gelding was coming off a neck victory on the turf at Turf Paradise Jan. 18 in the Cotton Fitzsimmons Handicap.
Third in last year's San Luis Rey, Fire With Fire improved his career mark to 6-7-5 in 30 starts with earnings of $515,354.
"He was really game today," said Baze, who earned his first stakes win of the meet. "Last year when I rode him to a third in this race, I think the course was a little bit hard for him that day. Today it was a touch softer, but I just let him go out there and have a good time, get on his own pace and not bother him."
Fire With fire paid $22.80, $8.80, and $7.40 across the board, topping an $87 exacta with Lucayan, who returned $4.20 and $4. Temeraine paid $4.80 to show.