Odds-on choice Dortmund , passed in upper stretch by rival Firing Line , fought back gamely along the inside to score a determined head victory in the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) Feb. 7 at Santa Anita Park (VIDEO).
Martin Garcia was aboard the undefeated 3-year-old son of 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness (both gr. I) winner Big Brown en route to victory for trainer Bob Baffert and owner Kaleem Shah. Dortmund, the 3-5 favorite, spoiled the quest of Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, aboard Firing Line, for his 5,000th North American victory.
Posting his fourth win in as many tries, Dortmund ran the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:42.20 over a fast track. Firing Line was a clear second, with Rock Shandy a distant third in the field of five sophomores.
Bred in Kentucky by Emile Gerlinde Fojan, the winning chestnut colt is out of the Tale of the Cat mare Our Josephina.
Baffert won the Lewis for a record sixth time. The stakes was demoted to a grade III this year for the first time since it was contested as the Santa Catalina in 1998.
"He was pretty sharp today," Baffert said of Dortmund. "In the paddock, he was pretty sharp and I knew he was going to want to go. I had this race penciled in and I wanted him to run well so maybe I could skip other races and wait for the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I)."
The $1 million Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles is April 4.
It was the second straight race in which the imposing Dortmund denied an unlucky Firing Line, who was also a head shy in the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) in their first clash Dec. 20. Simon Callaghan trains the runner-up, a son of Line of David, for owner Arnold Zetcher.
"Turning for home when (Firing Line) came up on him, for an instant I felt like Bill Belichick of the Patriots. I thought, 'Oh, man, that's too bad.' It looked like that horse was going to go by him, but then he's such a fighter, he just kicked in," Baffert said. "You really don't know about these horses until you put them in that scenario, and that's twice now that he just fought and came on to win like that. That was him."
"He's a really good horse," said Garcia added. "He's just a big baby, he's still learning. I broke sharp and I put myself in a good position. When I asked him to go he started moving slowly. It looked like Firing Line went by me, but in the end, when I asked him, he just started coming back. Firing Line gave us pressure, but my horse just took off again."
Breaking alertly from the outside in the compact field, Dortmund settled comfortably in second for Garcia, just off 29-1 Tizcano at the rail, with Firing Line in a stalking spot third along the inside. Tizcano showed the way through an opening quarter mile of :23.18 before Dortmund poked his head in front after a half mile in :48.80.
Firing Line advance on the outside to confront Dortmund approaching the quarter pole as they completed six furlongs in a solid 1:10.70. Those two, leaving the rest behind, ran head-and-head out of the turn before Firing Line inched his way into the lead in upper stretch.
Dortmund was in deep water, but in the battle through the Santa Anita stretch, he found something more in the final furlong, regaining the lead strides from the wire to prevail in a terrific finish.
"I was disappointed," said Stevens after being denied his milestone win aboard the promising Firing Line. "I saw that Martin (Garcia) was asking his horse and he wasn't getting any response and I was sitting there with a lot of horse. I thought I would never say that I moved too early at the eighth pole in a dirt race, but I moved too early.
"At the three eighths pole, I saw Dortmund wasn't responding and I was smiling. I said 'We'll see what he does' and we were opening up and he was idling. I thought we buried the one we had to beat and then I saw the shadow coming back at me."
"These things are always easy after the event and he's still learning," Callaghan said of Firing Line. "I think one thing for sure is he's a very good horse and he got beat by a very good one."
It was an eye-catching 21 1/2 lengths back to Rock Shandy, ridden by Victor Espinoza, in third. They were followed by Hero Ten All and Tizcano. Sebastian's Heart scratched.
Dortmund was a $140,000 buy last spring at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale by Donato Lanni, agent, from the consignment of Breaking Point Farm, which purchased the colt for $90,000 at the 2013 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale.
His sire, Eclipse Award 3-year-old champion male Big Brown, stands at New York's Dutchess Views Farm in 2015 after previously shuttling between Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky and Vinery Australia. Dortmund's dam, Our Josephina, was a graded stakes-placed performer who earned more than $190,000. She has produced four winners from five starters, with Dortmund her first stakes victor.
Dortmund earned 10 points toward a starting berth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and now ranks third with 20 points overall.
The winner paid $3.20, $2.10, and $2.10 across the board, topping a chalky $4.60 exacta with Firing Line, who returned $2.20 and $2.10. Rock Shandy paid $2.10 to show.
Dortmund picked up $90,000 for the win and now has earnings of $449,400.