Speedy Daytona Wins Hollywood Derby
Photo: Benoit Photo
Daytona (right) holds off Medici Code to take the Hollywood Derby.
Front-running Daytona wasn't supposed to be able to take the field all the way in the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) (VIDEO), but nobody told jockey Mike Smith. They controlled the pace to win the $500,000 turf test for 3-year-olds, defeating Medici Code by a half-length at Hollywood Park Nov. 25.

The Irish-bred Daytona came out of nowhere to romp on the front end in the Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) by more than four lengths at odds of 10-1 in his graded stakes debut for trainer Dan Hendricks at Santa Anita on Oct. 13. But the presence of Nobiz Like Shobiz, considered the leading 3-year-old turf horse in the nation, in the Hollywood Derby, made it hard to envision the same thing happening again.

But Smith established a glacial pace on Daytona -- :24 1/5, :48 and 1:12 1/5 -- and they were helped out when Augment, expected to challenge the pace, had to take up in close quarters and dropped back on the backstretch. With no one in position to challenge him, Daytona was in command at the top of the lane. He came home fast -- running the closing quarter mile in :23 3/5 -- to hold off 16-1 shot Medici Code, who closed steadily from the rear of the pack along the inside for Martin Pedroza. The British-bred Medici Code, winner of the La Jolla Handicap and Del Mar Derby (both gr. II) this summer, galloped out in front a few strides past the wire.

Daytona led by 2 1/2 lengths at the furlong pole and held on gamely from Medici Code under left-handed urging.

"He reminded me a lot of a horse, Lure, I used to ride," said Smith, who rode Daytona for the first time in the Oak Tree Derby. "He loves to hug the turns. I used the same strategy here and it was just enough.

"Halfway down the backside, I heard him take a big deep breath and I said 'all right.' When I called on him, he was all horse."

A son of Indian Ridge--Kyka (by Blushing John) bred by the Irish National Stud and owned by James Davenport, Tom Lenner and Skyline Stables, et al., Daytona  improved his career mark to 4-2-2 in 10 starts. His earnings jumped to $461,390 with the winners' share of $300,000. Daytona, who did not race at 2, began his career competing on Polytrack in Great Britain. But he has found a home on the California turf.

Hendricks, who has been in a wheel chair since a motorcycle accident in 2004, admitted that the presence of Nobiz Like Shobiz made him nervous. "We weren't scared of anybody, but we respected them," he said. "By the time Daytona reached the half-mile pole and they didn't move (to challenge) I felt really confident."

Bold Hawk closed well to finish third under Jean-Luc Samyn, three-quarters of a length behind Medici Code. Twilight Meteor, who had taken up the chase on the final turn, weakened to fourth. In spite of the slow fractions, the final time, 1:59.75 on firm turf, was sharp, just two-fifths off the stakes mark established last year by the Barclay Tagg trainee Showing Up.

Tagg was attempting to become the first trainer since the Hollywood Derby was moved to the turf in 1981 to win back-to-back runnings of the event with Nobiz Like Shobiz, who was sent off the even-money choice. The Grade I winning son of Albert the Great had captured three of four turf starts this year, all in graded company, and was coming off a respectable fourth-place showing in the NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) on soft turf at Monmouth Park Oct. 27.

Nobiz Like Shobiz was well positioned on the outside of his rivals in the second flight of horses but was outrun in the final turn and lost his position coming into the stretch. He struggled home eighth.

Javier Castellano had no excuses. “He broke very good and he responded to fall in right behind the speed,” he said. “At about the half-mile pole I asked him and he didn't respond. Usually he explodes when I ask him. Unfortunately, not today."

Sent off as the co-second choice in the field of 10, Daytona paid $13.20, $7.40 and $5.40, topping a $2 exacta worth $183.20 with the Darrell Vienna trainee Medici Code, who returned $11.40 and $7. Bold Hawk, winner of the Hawthorne Derby (gr. IIIT) in his last start for trainer James Toner, was $4 to show.

Twilight Meteor was followed by Mostacolli Mort, Ten a Penny, Worldly, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Warning Zone, and Augment. All carried 122 pounds. Patch of Blue was scratched.

(Chart, Equibase)

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