Dark Islander wins the Oak Tree Derby Saturday at Santa Anita.

Dark Islander wins the Oak Tree Derby Saturday at Santa Anita.


Dark Islander Skips Home in Oak Tree Derby

(from Santa Anita report)
Donald M. Kerr's Dark Islander made it back-to-back victories for Irish-bred imports in the $150,000 Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) when he burst home for an impressive victory in the turf event for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita Park on Saturday.

Dark Islander defeated Obrigado by 1 ¼ lengths after running nine furlongs in 1:46.21. His win came one year after Aragon also won his first U.S. stakes race in the Oak Tree Derby.

With Jose Valdivia in the saddle, Dark Islander rallied boldly to register the most decisive victory in the Oak Tree Derby in six years. Obrigado, ridden by Alex Solis, closed strongly for the place while 13-10 favorite A.P. Warrior settled for third, 2 ¼ lengths further back.

Only last month, Dark Islander had been victorious in the one-mile turf race in Bath, England, over a firm surface, a condition his connections reasoned would be much more available in the United States.

The son of Singspiel, who captured the 1997 Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), accelerated dramatically coming off the turn on Saturday. "When I turned him loose, he just exploded," commented Valdivia.

The winner paid $8.80, $4.60, and $2.60. Obrigado paid $3 and $2.40. The show price on A.P. Warrior, ridden by David Flores, was $2.20.

After Aragorn took last year's Oak Tree Derby by a nose, he won four additional graded stakes while becoming a top candidate for next month's NetJets Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT).

"I'll tell you one thing," said Valdivia about Dark Islander. "I don't think we saw the best of him today. If you only knew how many phone calls I got from people telling me how much money had been offered for this horse. I knew he was any kind of colt."

While racing in England for Kerr and trainer John Hills, Dark Islander earned $88,352 with an overall record of 3-1-2 in 10 starts. The Oak Tree Derby's winning purse of $90,000 more than doubled his earnings.

"This is a horse that's been progressing and the ground has gone soft in England now and he's a fast ground horse," said trainer Hills. "It was either come to California or wait for Dubai. We decided to come here and go to the Hollywood Derby."

The Hollywood Derby (gr. IT) is Nov. 26 at Hollywood Park

Dark Islander's winning time was faster than the 1:46.48 Aragorn recorded last year and the second fastest ever in the race. Johar, who dead-heated for victory in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Turf, set the stakes record of 1:46 in 2002.

Solis was pleased with the effort of Obrigado. "The winner ran great," he said, "and my horse stayed with him through the stretch." Flores offered no excuse for A .P. Warrior other than that the favorite did not relax as much as Flores would have liked during the early running.

Icy Ridge came home fourth, followed by Potential and Refinery, who set the pace of :23 1/5, :47 2/5 and 1:11.

(Chart, Equibase)