Joe Vann, making his stakes debut for Todd Pletcher, took over on the final turn and turned back the challenge of The Fed Eased in the stretch to register a commanding win in the $300,000 TVG Illinois Derby (gr. III) April 9 at Hawthorne (VIDEO).
Joe Vann, who won by 4 1/4 lengths, picked up $167,400 in graded earnings but he is not nominated to the Triple Crown.
Five minutes later, the Pletcher-trained Uncle Mo , the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), finished third in the Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I).
Ridden by Florent Geroux in the Illinois Derby, Joe Vann, who is a Zayat Stables-owned son of Silver Deputy, recorded his third consecutive win.
Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) winner Watch Me Go, the 2-1 choice in the field of a dozen 3-year-olds, appeared to have every opportunity while stalking the leaders in fourth to the final turn but failed to respond in the lane and finished sixth.
Joe Vann, racing in second, pressed the pacesetter Lagoon of Diamonds through pedestrian fractions of :23.81 and :48.37 before putting a head in front after six furlongs in 1:13.65. The Fed Eased, third on the outside, rallied to draw alongside Joe Vann in upper stretch but he couldn't match the winner as Joe Vann edged away approaching mid-stretch to win in a slow 1:51.91 for 1 1/8 miles on a fast track.
"He ran a very good race," an elated Geroux said. "I was only about a half-length off the leader. When I asked him at the quarter pole, he just took off. The thing that helped me was that I watched a couple of his races. In one of his maiden races, at Saratoga last August, he beat Mucho Macho Man, who could be one of the top Kentucky Derby contenders. I knew he was a very nice horse.
“This race was huge," the jockey added. "The win in the Illinois Derby was one of the biggest of my career."
Monticule bred Joe Vann, who is out of the Danzig mare Polish Flower, in Kentucky. The winning dark bay/brown colt was a $150,000 Keeneland yearling purchase in September 2009.
Joe Vann broke his maiden at Laurel Feb. 17 in his sixth race, winning the one-mile test by four lengths as the favorite in front-running style. He returned against optional claiming allowance rivals March 9 and went gate-to-wire once again while scoring by 5 1/2 lengths at 1 1/16 miles.
The Illinois Derby win improved Joe Vann's career mark to 3-1-1 in eight tries and increased his earnings to $217,615.
Sent off as the fourth choice, Joe Vann paid $12.60, $6.80, and $5.20 and keyed a $108.20 exacta. Zoebear, a son of Bellamy Road trained by Scott Becker for William Stiritz, returned $8.80 and $6.20 in his first start against winners. The Fed Eased, fifth in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct last time out for trainer Richard Violette Jr., was $6.20 to show.
Luis Garcia, rider of Watch Me Go, said he could not explain the favorite's failure.
"He was training like a monster," Garcia said. "On the backstretch he was off the bit a little bit. He's not like that; he's usually on the bit. When I asked him he didn't have anything. He acted like he was going to do it, but he just stayed even."