Circular Quay Takes Orbit in Louisi

Circular Quay Takes Orbit in Louisi
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Circular Quay wins Louisiana Derby with five-wide move on far turn.
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Favored Circular Quay, able to avoid the traffic issues he encountered in the Risen Star (gr. III) one month ago, circled the field five wide coming off the far turn under John Velazquez and rallied impressively to win the $594,000 Louisiana Derby (gr. II) by 2 1/4 lengths at Fair Grounds Saturday.

The chestnut son of Thunder Gulch snapped a three-race losing streak after winning the first three starts of his career and went over the $1 million mark in earnings. The well-regarded colt has been favored in all seven of his starts for trainer Todd Pletcher and owners Michael and Doreen Tabor, who bred him.

Circular Quay had a nightmare trip last time in the Risen Star, forced to swerve in the stretch to avoid a fallen horse on the inside and coming home fifth. Circular Quay drew the rail post Saturday but, after a ground-saving trip for Velazquez while racing near the rear of the pack to the the final turn, they angled out on the bend to avoid any problems. Circular Quay reached contention in upper stretch, overtaking the pacesetter Ketchikan leaving the eighth pole and winning as much the best.

“He didn’t redeem himself so much as he just got a good trip today,” said Pletcher, Eclipse Award-winning trainer for the last three years straight. “He was probably the best horse last time. Thank goodness he came out of it okay. Today, this was his natural running style – to come from the back of the pack with a late run.”

Pletcher said he would consider the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct April 7 next for Circular Quay.

“I think he’s shown from day one that he’s among the best of his generation," he said. "He’s never disappointed us.”

Ketchikan, ridden by Larry Melancon, ensured a fast pace when he swept past the expected front-runner Liquidity soon after the start. With Liquidity, ridden by Corey Nakatani, straining to press Ketchikan, fractions were quick for the 1 1/16-mile distance -- :23 3/5, :46 2/5 and 1:110 4/5 -- with the late-running Circular Quay poised to take full advantage. The winning time was 1:43, a full second faster than 3-year-old filly Mistical Plan turned in for the distance a race earlier in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II).

“Today, we finally got a good trip and we got it done,” said a smiling Velazquez.“That’s about all I can say. We got a good trip and we got it done.”

Trained by Albert Stall Jr., the B. Wayne Hughes-owned Ketchikan ran a big race to hold second in his stakes debut, with Zanjero, ridden by Garrett Gomez, rallying mildly for third, three lengths behind the runner-up.

“I just wanted to get him to relax, but he was pulling me to the lead, so I let him go," Melancon said. "It took one of the best 3-year-olds in the country to run us down.”

Stall agreed -- with some reservations.

“He ran off down the backstretch,” said Stall of his $500,000 Mister Greeley colt. “He must have gotten a little cranked up. I’m a little disappointed. He’s been beautiful. The talent is there – we’ve just got to re-direct it.”

Out of the Belong to Me mare Circle of Life, the Kentucky-bred Circular Quay was winning for the first time since taking Saratoga's seven-furlong Hopeful (gr. I) Sept. 4. He ran second in both the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) on Keeneland's all-weather track Oct. 7 and the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile Nov. 4, when he was 10 lengths behind Street Sense at Churchill Downs. The Risen Star was his first start as a 3-year-old. The victory was worth $360,000 to his connections and pushed the colt's total to $1,147,434.

Circular Quay paid $5.20, $3, and $2.20, topping a $22.40 exacta with Kethcikan, who returned $4.20 and $3.60. Zanjero, who ran third in the Risen Star last out, was $4.20 to show.

Imawildandcrazyguy finished fourth, three-quarters of a length behind Zanjero. He was followed by Birdbirdistheword, Liquidity, Slew's Tizzy and Soaring By, who broke through the starting gate prior to the start and had to be re-loaded.

“I think it kind of shook him a little," said jockey Edgar Prado said of the gate incident. After that, he wasn’t the same.”

(Chart, Equibase)

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