Pants On Fire, the lesser-regarded half of a coupled entry for George and Lori Hall and trainer Kelly Breen, outdueled favored Mucho Macho Man and held off longshot Nehro by a neck to win the $1 million Louisiana Derby (gr. II) (VIDEO) March 26 at Fair Grounds.
Entering off a sixth-place finish in the Feb. 19 Risen Star (gr. II), which Mucho Macho Man won decisively, Pants On Fire earned his first stakes victory under Rosie Napravnik. The 3-year-old son of Jump Start covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.92 on a fast track to jump into the Triple Crown picture.
Napravnik became the first woman to win the event in its 98th running. The meet's leading rider, she had five wins on the card.
Pants On Fire, who is out of the Cape Town mare Cabo de Noche, was bred in Kentucky by K & G Stables.
Normally speedy out of the gate, Pants On Fire broke poorly in the Risen Star en route to a sixth-place finish. But in the Louisiana Derby he broke well from the inside and followed pacesetter Liondrive around in opening splits of :23.43 and :47.53. Nehro, an impressive maiden winner last out, and Mucho Macho Man raced behind the two leaders.
Pants On Fire took over rounding the far turn and after running six furlongs in 1:12.02, hit the top of the lane with a narrow advantage over Mucho Macho Man. Those two battled the length of the stretch, first drifting out and then back towards the rail. Pants On Fire never gave in, even as Nehro came flying along the inside, determinedly holding off both rivals.
"He had a lot of heart," said Napravnik, who rode Pants On Fire for the first time. "They said he was best on the lead. And when (Liondrive) went out in front of us, I said if he’s stuck outside, hopefully he’s still well off. But he ran with as much heart as a horse can run with down the lane. Mucho Macho Man came up next to us and he just dug in and he really finished with all heart.”
In his 3-year-old debut, Pants On Fire finished third in the Count Fleet at Aqueduct. He came back three weeks later to miss by a head to Wilkinson in the Jan. 22 Lecomte (gr. III) after taking a lead into deep stretch. He shipped in from his South Florida base for the Louisiana Derby win.
The dark bay/brown colt’s 6-1 upset victory earned him $600,000 and upped his lifetime bankroll to $678,100. A maiden winner in four starts as a juvenile, Pants On Fire is now 2-3-1 from eight career tries.
The other half of the Breen entry, Nacho Business, finished eighth.
“I said it all week, this horse is really blossoming," Breen said. "Sometimes you see it and sometimes you don’t, and sometimes you look back and say, ‘Hey, he was doing a little bit better.’ But we saw it. He was a little sick, got over it, shipped back and forth, you know three times here. This is his third time, he’s got frequent flyer miles.
“I’m kind of shell-shocked a little bit right now. This is what you dream of, we got our ticket (to the Kentucky Derby). You know it was like going to Disneyland, that sort of thing. We stamped our ticket, hopefully the horse comes out of the race in good order and we’ll be on to Churchill."
Pants On Fire paid $14.60, $7.80, and $4.80. Nehro, who paid $31.60 and $11.40 as a 36-1 longshot, filled out an exacta (1A-2) worth $459. The trifecta (1A-2-4) was worth $1,785.40.
Oaklawn Park shipper Elite Alex rallied from last to finish fourth, followed by Machen, Wilkinson, Left, Nacho Business, Majestic Harbor , Le Mans, Mavericking, and Liondrive.
Steve Asmussen said the April 16 Arkansas Derby (gr. I) could be a possibility for Nehro, while Mucho Macho Man's trainer Kathy Ritvo was pleased with her colt's effort, especially considering he lost a shoe at the start.
"The horse blew his shoe," Ritvo said. "One of the gate guys came over and handed it to me. Apparently, he stepped on it right out of the gate and ran the whole race without that shoe. I’ll find out which one it was when I get back to the barn. It is an excuse, but Pants On Fire ran a great race.”