Ultimate Eagle leaves the rest behind in the Strub at Santa Anita.

Ultimate Eagle leaves the rest behind in the Strub at Santa Anita.

Benoit Photo

Ultimate Eagle All Alone in Strub Triumph

Front-running colt outfights Tapizar, soars to 7 1/4-length win in first try on dirt.

Ultimate Eagle, a grade I winner on turf making his first start on dirt, won for fun in the $200,000 Strub Stakes (gr. II) at odds of 7-1 Feb. 4 at Santa Anita (VIDEO).

Odds-on favorite Tapizar , unable to get the lead from Ultimate Eagle on the backstretch, faded late to finish out of the money. With Martin Pedroza aboard, Ultimate Eagle romped by 7 1/4 lengths over a pair of Bob Baffert trainees, Jaycito and Prayer for Relief .

Ultimate Eagle gave trainer Michael Pender and owner B.J. Wright their second win in the Strub, following Jeranimo  in 2010. Ultimate Eagle's sire, Mizzen Mast , won the Strub in 2002. Ultimate Eagle, third in the Sir Beaufort Stakes (gr. IIT) at one mile on the grass last time out, has won five of his past six starts.

The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event for 4-year-olds was a solid 1:47.08 on a fast track.

"We've been envisioning this race for the last six months," Pender said afterward. "We wanted to show he's a dirt horse."

The Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 3 looms as the next potential target for Ultimate Eagle. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it," Pender said, "but we’re just so pleased with the horse."

Bred in Kentucky by B.P. Walden and D. Hanley, Ultimate Eagle is a dark bay colt out of the Captain Bodgit mare Letithappencaptain. He sold for $70,000 at Ocala as a 2-year-old in training in April 2010 and suffered a serious case of colic before ever racing.

"It took so much to get to this point, with the near-death experience," Pender said. "It’s just an unbelievable miracle that we’re here today.”

Ultimate Eagle and Tapizar played a cat-and-mouse game for the lead through the clubhouse turn before Ultimate Eagle took over on the backstretch and opened a daylight lead on the San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) winner. Pedroza was able to give Ultimate Eagle a breather leaving the backstretch as Tapizar, the 4-5 favorite in the field of eight, and Jaycito, on the inside, drew closer.

But Ultimate Eagle bounded away from them rounding the final bend and was firmly in control as they reached the homestretch. Corey Nakatani gave Tapizar a reminder to keep going but the strapping bay colt had little response. Through the lane, Ultimate Eagle continued to put distance on the rest of the field as Pedroza put him to mild urging. He was patting the horse's neck as they went under the wire.

"I wanted to let Corey (Nakatani) go (on Tapizar) but my horse was pulling so hard I didn’t want to choke him down," Pedroza said of his early strategy. "After that he did the rest. Without a doubt this is the best horse. He’s like a freak. Believe me this horse is just learning how to run.”

Jaycito, ridden by Martin Garcia, held second by 2 1/4 lengths over the belated closer Prayer for Relief, who had Rafael Bejarano aboard.

Ultimate Eagle, who shared the top weight assignment of 123 pounds with Tapizar and Prayer for Relief, won the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) at odds of 34-1 and the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) at 14-1 last year. He has now won five of nine career starts while banking $467,800.

Pender said: "When Pedroza let out a notch and opened up going to the half-mile pole, I looked at my groom, and I said, ‘It’s over.’ We were standing together. I said the race is over. He took it to him at the half-mile pole, there was no catching him.

“This is a special horse and people have to start realizing it. Just because he wins on the turf, it doesn’t mean that he can’t do it anywhere else.”

The colt didn't make it to the races until last April. He was winless in three starts on synthetic tracks before being switched to the turf last summer and breaking his maiden at Del Mar. He has been nearly invincible since.

"He's an amazing horse. He was originally our Derby horse, but he got colic," Wright said. "Mike (Pender) has said all along that he'd love dirt."

Ultimate Eagle paid $17, $8.40, and $6.40 for the win while keying a $140.60 exacta. Jaycito, a grade I winner at 2 making his first start since last August at Del Mar, returned $10 and $8.20. Prayer for Relief, who was third in the San Fernando last time, paid $4.20.

Tapizar finished fourth, beaten by nearly 11 lengths, followed by Balladry, Clubhouse Ride , Beer Meister, and Indian Winter.