The grade I winner Meteor Storm, knocking on the door against top-caliber stakes company since March, gained his first victory of 2005 while fully extended in Saturday's $200,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Calder Race Course turf.
The 6-year-old English-bred son of Bigstone, a winner of $1,360,022 in his 24-race career, snapped a nine-race losing streak for trainer Wally Dollase that dated back to the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) at Belmont Park in June 2004. This was the first starter for Dollase at Calder.
But far from disgracing himself, the Horizon Stable's bay horse recorded a quartet of second-place finishes in his eight prior starts this year. He posted runner-up showings in Santa Anita's San Luis Rey (gr. IIT), Churchill Downs' Turf Classic (gr. IT), the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT), and Wodbine's Canadian International (Can-I) in his most recent effort Oct. 23.
"He's had a good year, but it was disappointing not to win one until today," Dollase conceded. "It has helped him since we put the blinkers on for his last three starts, and his race in Canada was very good."
Ridden by regular jockey Javier Castellano, the second choice Meteor Storm ($8.20, $3.80, $2.8) was never far off the pace while racing fourth on the outside. He collared the outsider Demeteor in the stretch and won in determined style over the favored Revved Up ($3, $2.60) by a long neck. The final time for the 1 1/2-mile event was 2:25 4/5 on firm going.
"This was a particularly good win for him because he likes a more yielding course than it was today," Dollase said. "He'll do whatever his rider asks. Today we wanted him to sit two or three lengths off the pace, which he was able to do, and then he was able to hold off a very good horse."
Scooter Roach ($13.40), always close to the leaders with Joe Bravo aboard, was 1 1/2 lengths behind while holding on for third by a nose over Dreadnaught.
Wild Buddy popped the gate from the extreme outside to settle in as the early pace leader, cruising along in a fairly brisk :23 4/5, :48 3/5 and 1:12 4/5 considering the distance. Wild Buddy couldn't keep that up for much longer, though, and Demeteor swept up on the outside to take the lead into the stretch. But Meteor Storm was on Demeteor's outside quickly with a three-wide move. He opened up to lead by 1 1/2 lengths in upper stretch and held on over Revved Up, who closed powerfully under Brice Blanc but could not get past.
"This horse runs a good race every time," Castellano said. "I think the difference today was getting a perfect trip. We were in excellent position and just waiting to make our move. We were sitting in a better spot than (Revved Up) and that might have made the difference also."
Meteor Storm, who won both San Luis Rey (gr. IIT) and San Juan Capistrano (gr. IIT) handicaps prior to taking the Manhattan last year, won for the seventh time overall. Bred by the Juddmonte Farms, he began his racing career in France.
Options ahead could include a race in Dubai or another run at the San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita, Dollase said.
"Eventually, we hope to make a deal for him to go to stud in Australia like we did with Good Journey a few years back. There (Australia) is the best opportunity for a turf horse at stud."
Revved Up was favored off his convincing 2 1/2-length win in the 1 1/8-mile Bonnie Heath turf Cup Handicap in his only previous start at Calder. He had won three of five at the 12-furlong distance before Saturday.
Silverfoot finished fifth, followed by Rousing Victory, Request for Parole, Wild Buddy, Pellegrino, Noble Masterpiece, Demeteor, and Franklin's Tower.