Even-money choice Stachys used his strong late kick to hold off Skip a Smile in the lane for a half-length victory in the $150,000 Zia Park Derby at the New Mexico track Dec. 4.
Late-closing third-place finisher in the Oct. 10 Oklahoma Derby, Stachys added the Zia Park Derby to his wins in the Manitoba Derby at Assiniboia Downs and Canterbury Park's Dean Kutz Stakes earlier this year.
Mike Biehler trains the winning 3-year-old son of Candy Ride —Wekiva Mist, by Wekiva Springs, for owners Al and Bill Ulwelling. Nelson Bunker Hunt bred Stachys in Kentucky.
Stachys won the 1 1/16-mile event in 1:44.42.
Reunited with Eddie Martin Jr,, who rode him in both of his earlier stakes triumphs, Stachys raced closer to the lead than he has in recent starts, stalking in fourth after settling early from his outside post in the field of nine.
Sightlines, prompted by Hot Fusion and Dandy's Legacy, set the pace for a half-mile, posting crawling fractions of :25.05 and :49.50. Stachys advanced smoothly on the backstretch on the outside and continued to race about four paths wide into the stretch. Dandy's Legacy took the lead along the inside, completing six furlongs in 1:14.24, and led briefly in the stretch.
Stachys, though, would take over in the lane to open a comfortable advantage and stayed on strongly as Skip a Smile, ridden by Juan Ochoa, challenged past mid-stretch after rallying five wide. It was 4 3/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Saratoga Yankee and Luis Quinonez.
“It was really slow, so we were closer (to the lead)," Martin said. "I happy because I was on the closer,”
The well-traveled Stachys raced once at 2, winning at five furlongs by 14 1/4 lengths in a maiden claiming event at Remington Park in October 2009. He began his sophomore season with three successive losses before breaking through with an allowance win at Canterbury in May. That began a three-race winning streak that included the Dean Kutz Stakes and the Manitoba Derby.
“I was looking for one more race for him this year as a 3-year old,” Biehler. “It was 60 days since his last race (the Oklahoma Derby) and that was a little long. We’ll take him to Oaklawn this spring and probably give him a start there.”
The bay gelding's overall mark stands at 5-0-2 in 10 races with earnings of $223,696. The Zia Park Derby victory was worth $87,300.
Under equal weights of 122 pounds, Stachys paid $4, $2.60 and $2.20. Skip a Smile returned $5.40 and $3.80 and completed a $23.20 exacta. Saratoga Yankee was $3.80 to show.
The Todd Fincher-trained runner-up Skip A Smile made his fifth start in the Zia Park Derby and cemented his position as a top member of his division in New Mexico. The gelded son of Skip Away won last summer’s Ruidoso Thoroughbred Derby by more than eight lengths in his second career race.
It was 1 1/2 lengths to second choice Stephen's Got Hope in fourth, followed by Spinning Touch, Dandy's Legacy, Hot Fusion, Sightlines and Raven Hawk.