The first horse ever started by trainer Todd Pletcher at the Texas track, even-money choice Red Rifle traversed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:48.73 on a fast main track to defeat Frac Daddy by 2 3/4 lengths.
With Robby Albarado aboard, 4-year-old Red Rifle went gate to wire over five opponents for his third lifetime victory from six starts. He eclipsed the former track mark of 1:48.75 set by Lost Soldier in the 1997 Maxxam Gold Cup.
Rated well from the start after breaking from the rail, the son of Giant's Causeway maintained a one-length advantage over Leadem in Ken and Frac Daddy while posting even fractions of :23.82, :48.01, and 1:12.25. Drawing off to lead by 1 1/2 lengths in the stretch, the chestnut colt was kept to his task to the wire by Albarado, who earned his fourth win in the race.
Red Rifle is owned by WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stable and was bred in Kentucky by Twin Creeks Farm and Tom and Nancy Clark out of the multiple graded stakes-placed Gulch mare May Night.
He was making his first start since a good second-place showing in a 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Park allowance Jan. 17 won by Bradester, who recently took the Mineshaft Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Red Rifle, who won his maiden debut at Gulfstream one year ago followed by an allowance score at Keeneland last April, boosted his earnings to $138,820.
"He broke in a little bit of a tangle," said Albarado. "But I had simple instructions to get him to the lead as he does not like dirt in his face. He got to the first turn within himself, settled, and came home really nicely. This is a great stepping-stone race for the rest of the year."
Ginny Depasquale, a Pletcher assistant for the past 17 years, handled the saddling duties.
"Robby worked him at the Fair Grounds on Monday and gave him a really good ride tonight," said Depasquale. "The horse showed what he is made of. He definitely has the talent. I'm not sure what Todd has in mind for him next, but I was very pleased to see this effort tonight."
The race also produced a solid performance from Frac Daddy, who stalked the pace three wide to gain second in the drive under Shane Laviolette. Frac Daddy, who ran in both the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and the Belmont Stakes (both gr. I) last year, finished six lengths clear of the show horse, Texas Air.
"It was a good race," said trainer Kenny McPeek, who won the 2013 Maxxam Gold Cup with Unstoppable U. "He's been a really nice horse from the beginning. There's no disgrace in running second when a track record has been broken. We've been back and forth on whether he's a turf or dirt horse but he can run on either. He ran a solid race so I am pleased."
Red Rifle returned $4, $2.20, and $2.10 while keying a chalky $9.20 exacta with Frac Daddy, who returned $2.20 and $2.10. Texas Air, ridden by Dakota Wood, paid $2.60 to show. Leadem In Ken, Magnum Force, and Real Appeal Deal completed the order.