In the 6 1/2-furlong event for 3-year-olds, Sea of Pleasure was blinding early, running a :20.99 opening quarter mile and :43.01 for the half.
With Mike Smith aboard, Gayego stalked from well off the pace in third place to the turn when he began to reel in the leader at the quarter pole. He reached even terms with a furlong to run and was soon in command after a couple of taps of the whip from Smith. The winner pulled clear in the final strides under steady handling. The winning time on the blazing Cushion Track was a track record 1:13.07 as Gayego won by 2 3/4 lengths.
Sea of Pleasure, the 8-5 choice, was a clear second by more than four lengths, with Cardinal Zin third.
Making his stakes debut for trainer Paulo Lobo, Cubanacan Stables' Gayego broke cleanly, unlike his last start when a slow beginning and greenness probably cost him an allowance race victory at Santa Anita on Dec. 28. He finished second that day by one length as the odds-on favorite.
“He got away good today, and he settled real well," Smith said. "Looking back, I think the trouble we had last time helped him. In the stretch, we were gaining on (Sea of Pleasure), but I decided to go ahead and give him one reminder, just to make sure he stayed focused when he made the lead. When I did, he just took off, so I put my stick down right away. He was full of run at the wire.”
In his only other race, Gayego was a debut maiden winner by three lengths at Hollywood Park Nov. 18. The San Pedro victory, worth $47,820, increased his earnings to $83,420.
Bred in Kentucky by Hargus and Sandra Sexton, Gayego was a $32,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland in September 2006. The dark bay is out of Devils Lake, by Lost Code.
"He’s more mature now, and I was expecting him to run a big race today," Lobo said of his big colt. "We’re going to try two turns with him and the way he’s settling, I think he’ll get better.
"Yes, we did nominate him to the Triple Crown. You have to dream.”
Sent off as the third choice in a field of eight, Gayego carried 115 pounds to victory and paid $10.20, $4, and $2.80. Sea of Pleasure, a winner of both of his previous starts, returned $3 and $2.20 with Michael Baze aboard. Cardinal Zin, who fought for the lead early under Alex Solis, was $3.60 to show.
Tommys Luck finished fourth, followed by second choice Meal Penalty, Waafi, Fire Break, and Bear Creek. Latin Lobo scratched.