"The plan was to stalk the speed and not get too far back, not get in a speed duel, and it worked out how we wanted," said Rocco, who guided Honorable Dillon to a half-length victory in the seven-furlong stakes for 3-year-olds.
Honorable Dillon, the 5-2 second betting choice in a field of eight, stalked the early pace of :22.07 and :44.64 set by Singanothersong while pressed by Undrafted along the backstretch. When the pacesetter tired on the far turn, Undrafted moved to the lead with Honorable Dillon right over his shoulder, setting up a heated stretch duel.
Honorable Dillon edged away from Undrafted nearing the finish line and slipped under the wire just in time as Forty Tales, the 9-5 favorite under John Velazquez, soared late to nose out Undrafted and Luis Saez for second money.
"It set up good," said Kenneally. "I thought he'd relax behind the pace. I thought there'd be some speed in the race, and there was. He relaxed beautifully and stalked on the outside and really dug in. He was a little green and was on the wrong lead in the stretch, but he gutted it out. He's determined. He's a nice horse."
Forty Tales, who had won his first two lifetime starts, didn't level off after breaking from post 1 until getting to the outside in the stretch.
"It was a difficult post going seven-eighths for a horse to make one run, but in spite of all that, he ran a great race and ate a lot of dirt," trainer Todd Pletcher remarked. "He finally got out at the top of the stretch and closed really well, just ran out of real estate."
Honorable Dillon ran seven furlongs in 1:22.53 to earn $90,000 for owner Joseph Bucci with his first stakes win and second victory in four lifetime starts for total earnings of $155,570. He was bred in Kentucky by Robert B. Trussell Jr. out of the Shy Tom mare Shy Greeting and was a $100,000 purchase by Kenneally at the Fasig-Tipton Florida select sale of 2-year-olds in training, consigned by Parrish Farms.
Kenneally said he'd talk with the owner to come up with another plan for Honorable Dillon, one that could involve longer distances.
"It's a shame that these grade II stakes aren't getting any points for the Kentucky Derby; I think it's wrong," the trainer remarked. "We may try (to stretch him out). We'd like to try at some point. He's bred to go farther than seven-eighths of a mile. Can he do it? We'll find out when we try."
In spite of the desire to try stretching out, Kenneally also said the March 2 seven-furlong Swale (gr. III) is a possible next start.
Kenneally also has Majestic Hussar, an impressive Jan. 19 allowance winner at Gulfstream, on the trail to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). The son of Majestic Warrior is being pointed towards the $400,000 Fountain of Youth (gr. II) at Gulfstream on Feb. 23.