Protonico winning the Ben Ali Stakes.
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Protonico winning the Ben Ali Stakes.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Protonico Bounces Back with Ben Ali Score

Sumaya U.S. Stables' Protonico secures third graded stakes win of his career.

After being eased during his seasonal debut in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) Feb. 7 at Gulfstream Park, Protonico  bounced back with an easy victory in the $150,000 Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) April 11 at Keeneland.

With the front-running victory, Sumaya U.S. Stables' Protonico secured the third graded stakes win of his career. The 4-year-old son of Giant's Causeway  won last year's Discovery Handicap (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack and the Smarty Jones Stakes (gr. III) at Parx Racing.

With a pair of recent bullet works signaling his readiness, including a four-furlong breeze in :47 2/5 April 5 at Keeneland, Protonico took control of the 1 1/8-mile race from the start under jockey Javier Castellano. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Protonico led through a half-mile in :47.49 and then left no doubt in the stretch, easily drawing off while completing the test in 1:48.79 on a fast track.

It marked the first gate-to-wire victory for Protonico since his career debuta six-furlong maiden race in September of 2013 under Castellano at Delaware Park

"When we were handicapping the race, I didn't see much speed," Castellano said. "I took advantage—my horse has speed. I rode him before (when he broke his maiden in September 2013 at Delaware Park) and was in the lead wire to wire. I tried to do the same today, and it worked out very well. The way he did it (was) very easy. Turning for home, when I asked he responded so well."

Sent off the 4-5 favorite, Protonico returned $3.60 to win, $2.60 to place, and $2.20 to show. A. Stevens Miles Jr.'s Neck 'n Neck earned his second straight stakes placing, and returned $6.40 to place and $4.60 to show. Ami's Holiday  finished 2 1/2 lengths behind the runner-up, finishing third and returning $4.40 to show.