Stumbling to his knees at the gate, the son of Sky Classic was last at the top of the stretch and came from the far outside under Javier Castellano to catch pacesetter Shake the Bank, who set early fractions of :24.16 and :47.30 before fading to fifth. The filly Danzon finished third, with second choice (5-2) Better Talk Now trailing in fourth. Favored Einstein (2-1) finished seventh.
"The only thing that I was really worried about is when he broke out of the gates, he really stumbled," Castellano said. "I’m glad he stayed up, and I think it worked out perfect because he had to stalk from off the pace, and he finished good.”
Sent off as the fourth choice, 5-year-old Sky Conqueror paid $18.80, $9.20, and $5.80. Brilliant returned $9.40 and $6.60, while Danzon returned $9.40 to show.
Trained by Darwin Banach, Sky Conqueror last found the winner's circle in an allowance contest at Woodbine in October 2006. He also won the Northern Dancer (Can-IIT) and King Edward Breeders' Cup (Can-IIT) last year at the Canada track. Sky Conqueror was most recently fifth, beaten by 2 1/4 lengths by Kip Deville, in the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland April 13.
“We always have known he’s a fantastic racehorse," Banach said. "We’re just very proud of him. He had some bad trips in the past and he pulled it out here. I just like to see him get to the outside and get a straight run for the wire and not have to be checked and steered and turned and everything else. That’s what he did, and we got there in time."
Sky Conqueror pocketed $330,429 to increase his lifetime earnings to $1,231,585. The win was his sixth in 15 lifetime starts and the first win in the United States for the Canadian bred and trained colt.
The Woodford Reserve was Sky Conqueror's second start at Churchill Downs. He finished the 1 1/8-mile turf course labeled "good" in 1:49.01.
Shake the Bank, who led by seven lengths on the backstretch, set fractions of :24, :47 1/5 and 1:11 2/5 and was still leading by two lengths mid-stretch before Brilliant challenged and took over in deep stretch. Brilliant, with Mark Guidry aboard, just failed to last in the final strides in his first start on the Churchill lawn since winning last June's Jefferson Cup (gr. IIT).
"There was not a straw in our way," said Guidry. "We got beat by the better horse today.”
They finished one length in front of the 4-year-old filly Danzon, a group III winner in France ridden by Julien Leparoux.
Defer, Einstein, Icy Atlantic, Go Between and Milk It Mick trailed.
Einstein never fired after being within striking distance into the stretch.