Keyed Entry stayed far off the rail, but on the turn Strong Contender surged to the lead and to an eventual 7 3/4-length victory in 1:45.24. He returned $6.20 as the second choice of the holiday crowd of 7,207.
It was a strong effort for a horse that easily won a Gulfstream allowance to open his 2006 campaign, then was third in both the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) and the Peter Pan (gr. II).
The Dwyer, however, is known as a stepping stone for late-developing 3-year-olds, and trainer John Ward is now looking forward to the big races this summer.
"Edgar (Prado) has always thought a lot of this horse," Ward said. "He had the opportunity to get back on him after what happened to Barbaro. (Strong Contender's) first race at Gulfstream, he ran similar to how he did today. He just loomed and on the turn, and he blew by. This is probably a style that is more suitable for him. Just laying back and not being in contention early. I wasn't concerned that he moved too soon. Edgar got up in the hole pretty easy. He let him take charge and let this horse use his big, long stride."
Prado came off the mount especially pleased with Strong Contender's development.
"Today, he really performed," Prado said. "He's the kind of horse that sometimes shows speed and sometimes doesn't. He is such a big horse and he covers so much ground. Around the turn, the hole opened. I said, `If he is going to go through, I'll let him go.' When I rode him at Gulfstream, I really didn't have to shake him up. Today, I wanted to see what I had and I shook him up. I like the feeling he gave me."
Trainer Todd Pletcher won four straight races earlier on the card, but didn't like the feeling he he had when he saw Keyed Entry backed up on the turn and finish last.
"He didn't get away very cleanly and had to rush up," Pletcher said. "He stopped a little sooner than he should have. He probably needs a little vacation. He's trained well and acted well, but he is obviously not himself these last couple of races."
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito ran second and fourth, respectively, with Doc Cheney and Regent Spirit.
"Doc Cheney ran a good race," Zito said. "He's not as big as the winner. The winner is a heck of a horse. I thought Regent Spirit ran well, too."
Da Stoops was third, while Dontfearthereaper only defeated Keyed Entry.Strong Contender was bred in Kentucky by Haras Santa Maria de Araras SA and was sold for $800,000 at the 2005 Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale.
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