The 3-year-old Song of Navarone, third-place finisher behind Triple Crown contenders Ravel and Liquidity in Santa Anita's Sham (gr. III) in his last start six weeks ago for Sunland's leading trainer, Henry Dominguez, won by 1 1/2 lengths in a time of 1:49 2/5 for the 1 1/8-mile trip. The program, which included three other stakes races, lured an all-time record crowd of 16,284.
Solemn Promise rallied for second in his second lifetime start for trainer Dale Romans while the rest of the field staggered home behind him. Forty Grams, the 4-5 favorite who set a hotly contested pace before tiring in the lane, finished third, nearly seven lengths behind the winner.
Law Breaker, the pre-race favorite trained by Bob Baffert, was scratched Sunday morning.
The WinStar is not a graded race and remains on the cusp of the derby prep trail. Baffert won the race last year with Wanna Runner and was hoping to repeat with Law Breaker, who has yet to finish worse than third in four starts.
"I wanted him (Law Breaker) in the race because I felt he'd put a lot more speed on (Forty Grams) and that would let us settle in behind the pace," said Dominguez.
George E. Coleman, a New Mexico oilman, owns Song of Navarone, by Sultry Song--Timely Legend (Navarone), who cost $190,000 at last April's Ocala sale. Prior to his Sham effort, which came as a 26-1 shot, the bay colt finished second by a neck in Sunland's Riley Allison Futurity on Dec. 31. He won his first two starts in New Mexico, giving him three wins in five starts. The WinStar win, worth $300,000, pushed his bankroll to $358,080. Song of Navarone, bred in Kentucky by E.H. Beau Lane III, is nominated for the Triple Crown.
Song of Navarone raced wide into the first turn just off the pacesetters Forty Grams and 20-1 shot Jack Hes Tops, who set fractions of :22 2/5, :47 1/5 and 1:11 3/5. The trio raced three across approaching the turn, with Song of Navarone gaining a narrow advantage on the turn as Jack Hes Tops dropped back. Song of Navarone was carried wide into the stretch as Forty Grams drifted out, but he stubbornly refused to give way. The winner drifted out in the lane after gaining command but continued to draw away.
Song of Navarone won despite spiking himself on his left front foot when he left the gate. Dominguez said that might have been the reason the colt was erratic down the stretch.
"He never did level off, he was running green, but he still had a little bit more left," Dominguez said.
Dominguez had indicated that if Song of Navarone won The WinStar, he might ship him to California to run in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) on April 7. Now he wants to see how Song of Navarone heals from his front foot injury before deciding.
"Once we dress it up, we'll know how long it's going to take to heal up," Dominguez said. "He just came out of a battle."
Espinoza won the WinStar Derby last year for the Baffert-trained Wanna Runner.
“This track has been very good luck for me," noted Espinoza, who has won seven times with eight mounts in visits to Sunland for the WinStar Derby in the past two years. "Having good horses really helps. I think I’m going to have to come here more often.”
Solemn Promise, a $375,000 WinStar Farm LLC purchase, provided some return on that investment ($132,000), with a willing effort in the stretch run to get second by more than five lengths for jockey Mark Guidry. The Broken Vow colt won his only prior start, a six-furlong maiden race, by 4 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream Park Feb. 10.
Forty Grams, the third-place place finisher in Oaklawn Park's Southwest Stakes last out, had no apparent excuse after settling the pace issue with Jack Hes Tops. The Steve Asmussen-trained Distorted Humor colt drew the services of Garrett Gomez.
Sent off as the second choice in the field of seven, Song of Navarone paid $6.20, $3.20, and $2.40. Solemn Promise returned $4 and $2.40. Forty Grams was $2.20 to show.
Jack Hes Tops finished fourth, followed by Takedown, Congo Bay, and Game of Skill.
Baffert's Tough Tiz's Sis, ridden by Espinoza, won the $200,000 WinStar Oaks earlier on the card.
The filly took command on the far turn and won by 3 3/4 lengths over Swiss Current, with Purely Surprised third.
Tough Tiz's Sis went the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.18.