Devil's Preacher Wins McKnight in Spirited Rally

When pacesetter Bob's Proud Moment faltered in the final eighth of a mile of the off the turf $200,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. III) Saturday at sloppy Calder Race Course, upsetter Devil's Preacher was there to take full advantage, rallying late to win the 1 1/2-mile marathon.

Seven scratches reduced the field to six and downgraded the McKnight from a grade II turf race to a grade III, pending a final decision by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

The defections left 3-1 Bob's Proud Moment, ridden by Manoel Cruz, to fight it out with 3-2 choice Ramazutti and John Velazquez.

After Ramazutti led early, Bob's Proud Moment took over, completing the first quarter in :24 1/5 and the half in :48 while opening up a 2 1/2-length lead over Ramazutti. Bob's Proud Moment maintained his solid advantage after six furlongs in 1:13 3/5 and the mile in 1:40 1/5. But as he reached the eighth pole, Bob's Proud Moment began to drift out while shortening stride and could not hold off Devil's Preacher, who finished willingly under a strong hand ride from Rafael Bejarano to win by 1 1/2 lengths in 2:38 1/5.

The final quarter-mile went in :30 1/5.

Bejarano said he was happy with his position but expected to be tracking Ramazutti.

"(Ramazutti) started to back up kind of early, and I could tell I was the one with the only chance to catch Bob's Proud Moment on the front end," Bejarano said.

"That horse was getting very tired in the stretch and my horse was being lazy finishing, so it wasn't pretty but we got the job done."

RA Hill Stable's Devil's Preacher, trained by George Weaver, had a maiden win to show in his 10 starts prior to Saturday.

Devil's Preacher paid $13.40, $6.80, and $3.80 for his first stakes win. The 3-year-old Pulpit gelding has earned $215,514 with a record of 2-3-3 in 11 starts. He ran second in a first-level allowance race in his last start Nov. 6 on the turf at Aqueduct.

He had previously finished fourth in Belmont Park's Jamaica Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) Oct. 14 and second by a neck to Rock Lobster in Saratoga's Saranac (gr. IIIT) Sept. 3.

Twin Hopes Farm Inc. bred Devil's Preacher, who is out of All the Crown (by Chief's Crown), in Kentucky. The bay was a $475,000 Keeneland yearling buy in 2004.

"We wanted to run him on turf, but with his pedigree, we thought for $200,000 we'd give him a chance," Weaver said. "He's been a difficult horse to train from the beginning of his career and has had trouble with the gate. He's a well-bred expensive yearling, but we decided after his last race to geld him."

Devil's Preacher, making his first start on dirt, won under 110 pounds -- five fewer than the runner-up. The winner broke his maiden in February at Gulfstream Park.

Bob's Proud Moment ($3.80, $2.60) was a clear second by 2 1/4 lengths with Ramazutti ($2.60) finishing third. The Peruvian-bred Teofilo finished fourth, nearly 12 lengths behind Ramazutti, with Embossed fifth. Spider Power was pulled up after giving way on the far turn.

Scratched was Always First, Bee Charmer, Big Prairie, Dave, Dreadnaught, Interpatation, and Revved Up.

(Chart, Equibase)