Phipps Stables' homebred Mr Speaker took to the Polytrack like a fish to water April 19, skipping home by four lengths in the $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. III) in his first try on the synthetic stuff (VIDEO).
Winner of the Dania Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) in December on the Gulfstream Park lawn and second last time out in the March 1 Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT), the bay Pulpit colt collected the first score of his 3-year-old season. He was sent off as the 2-1 favorite.
The May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) is not be an option for Mr Speaker, who does not have enough qualifying points to make the 20-horse field—although he did collect 17 points by winning the 1 1/16-mile "wildcard" event. But Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said he isn't completely ruling out another dirt start for the colt, who has excelled over turf and synthetics so far.
Mr Speaker has one previous dirt outing, which resulted in a seventh-place finish in the Jan. 25 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream.
"I don't really think that was a true indication of his dirt form," McGaughey remarked. "I think one of these days we'll try him again (on the dirt), but it ain't going to be in two weeks."
Where Polytrack is concerned, Mr Speaker sparkled. He tracked along fourth under jockey Jose Lezcano in the field of eight sophomores before swinging out in the lane to reel in tiring front-runner Solitary Ranger and Supermonic, who had pressed the pace throughout. Fractions went in :24.13 and :48.07 with three-quarters in 1:13.17 before Mr Speaker took over after a 1:37.97 mile.
"I thought Jose rode a great race on him; he had him in the slot the whole way there and was just kind of waiting on them (before moving at the end)," McGaughey said. "This is a horse we've been high on. I brought him here with the idea running the (Toyota) Blue Grass (gr. I), but it came up with a big field and I decided not to."
Rallying Divine Oath under jockey Javier Castellano was clearly second-best behind a final time of 1:44.18 on the fast main track.
"I had a beautiful trip," Castellano said. "Unfortunately, I kind of missed the break out of the gate. I think that could have cost me my position in the race. I expected to be closer to the pace but unfortunately, the way (the race) unfolded, I had to come from behind. But that's the way the race developed."
Mr Speaker paid $6.20, $3.40, and $2.40, while Divine Oath brought $3.80 and $2.80. Supermonic paid $3 a head back in third, as Ami's Holiday , Solitary Ranger, Poker Player, Z Lucky, and Ride Away completed the order of finish. Global Strike, Dynamic Impact, and Morning Calm scratched.
Bred in Kentucky out of the graded stakes-placed Unbridled mare Salute—a daughter of undefeated champion Personal Ensign—Mr Speaker improved his record to 3-1-1 from seven starts and earnings of $269,880. He carried 120 pounds in the Coolmore Lexington, while runner-up Divine Oath carried 118.