On the day of the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), the 2005 winner of that race, Buzzards Bay, continued his comeback story with a romping 6 1/2-length win in the $500,000 Oaklawn Park Handicap (gr. II) Saturday before 29,841 in Hot Springs, Ark.
Buzzards Bay, who went over the $1 million mark in career earnings, went gate to wire to defeat a good field in the Oaklawn while carrying top weight of 118 pounds. Jose Valdivia Jr. teamed with the 4-year-old son of Marco Bay for their second graded stakes win in a row for trainer Ron Ellis, who seems to have unlocked the key to the colt's potential. The final time for the 1 1/8-mile event was a solid 1:48 1/5.
The Florida-bred Buzzards Bay, owned by Gary Broad, had not won since last year's Santa Anita Derby before capturing the All-American Handicap (gr. III) at Golden Gate Fields Feb. 20 when the colt was teamed with Valdivia for the first time.
Valdivia said Buzzards Bay is better than ever.
"I'm very excited about him," he said. "The sky's the limit."
Ellis said he had no immediate plans for the next race.
"I'll get him home and give him a chance to recover before looking at something," Ellis said
Breaking from the rail, Buzzards Bay jumped out on top as With Distinction pressed from the outside. They clicked off lively splits of :22 4/5, :46 3/5 and 1:10 4/5 as With Distinction dropped out and Gouldings Green and the slight 2-1 favorite Magnum took up the chase. Turning for home, though, Buzzards Bay increased his advantage as Valdivia went to the right-handed stick and he widened the lead through the lane to record an impressive victory.
"He grabbed the lead and relaxed right away," jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. said.
Valdivia said he heard other riders going to their whips in the second turn.
"I still hadn't asked him for what he had left, (so) I knew we were going to be hard to catch," the jockey said.
The Argentine-bred Magnum, who ran second in last month's Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I), wound up second again with Martin Pedroza aboard, one length in front of the 23-1 shot Gouldings Green and Corey Lanerie.
The second choice in the field of eight, Buzzards Bay paid $6.60, $4.20, and $3.60. Magnum, a group II-placed performer in Argentina, returned $3.20 and $2.80. Gouldings Green was $6.20 to show.
Then came Master Command, With Distinction, It's No Joke, Purim, and Andromeda's Hero.
Purim, who was coming off a two-length win in the Razorback Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II), broke near the rear of the pack and was never involved.
Buzzards Bay, a former Fog City Stables runner who was purchased at auction last year, earned $300,000 for his fifth win in 15 starts. The fifth-place finisher in last year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) increased his lifetime earnings to $1,116,971.