Al and Saundra Kirkwood's Southern Africa took the overland route with Jon Court but proved to be much the best in winning the $300,000 Walmac Lone Star Derby (gr. III) for 3-year-olds Saturday in Grand Prairie, Texas.
The Southern California-based Southern Africa, a dark bay son of Cape Town
, was five wide midway on the far turn and gave away plenty of ground to the Irish-bred Shamoan, who made his move just off the rail for Jose Valdivia Jr. But when the two hooked up in the stretch, Southern Africa was too much to handle, going on to a 1 1/4-length win in time of 1:41 4/5 for the 1 1/6-mile event.
Mike Puhich trains the winner, who began his career in Great Britain, where he won at Royal Ascot last July.
"Al and Sandy have been so patient with me just letting me do what was best for the horse and not getting wrapped up in the Derby fever," Puhich said. "I think it was the best thing for him, and I think down the line he's going to be as good as any of those horses out there. We'll see how he comes out of the race, but the Belmont Stakes is definitely one of the races we're going to look at. It depends on how he's doing and how the Preakness goes."
The Lone Star Derby attracted a field of 11 sophomores, most of whom hadn't quite achieved the top echelon of their division or were late developers. Southern Africa was overlooked at 8-1, although he was coming off a second-place finish, beaten just a length, as the 8-5 favorite in Sunland's WinStar Derby April 2. He won the Borderland Derby at the same track prior to that.
The horse that beat Southern Africa in the WinStar, Thor's Echo, was the pacesetter Saturday, cutting average splits of :22 4/5, :46 4/5 and 1:11 2/5. Southern Africa, wide throughout while stalking the leaders, went even wider on the final turn to get the lead from Shamoan, who led briefly after getting through along the inside. Southern Africa finished impressively under strong pressure from Court.
"I just basically sat back," Court said. "I knew there would be some speed in the race, and I just rode the horse in his natural way of running. It seems to be his style to win."
Real Dandy edged the late-flying Magna Graduate, who closed from last, by a head for third, 1 3/4 lengths behind the runner-up.
Awesome Twist, the winner of his last two races by a combined 13 lengths against maidens and first-level allowance horses, finished last as the 8-5 favorite.
Southern Africa finished fourth behind Declan's Moon in both of his starts in the United States last year. He began his 3-year-old campaign with a seventh-place finish in the Sham at Santa Anita before winning the Borderland. Overall, he has won four of nine starts. The victory, worth $165,000, increased his earnings to $300,070.
Michael Anderson and Ahamdi Hassan bred Southern Africa, who is out of the British mare Al Fahda, in Kentucky. He paid $16.40, $9 and $5.40.
Shamoan, who began his career in Ireland and had raced exclusively on the grass prior to Saturday, returned $16.60 and $9.20 for trainer Eoin Harty.
"We came here with an unknown and he ran huge," Valdivia said of Shamoan. "He had been working like a monster on dirt, and today he proved he can run with them on either surface. That's a huge plus. I think this horse is going to keep getting better and better."
Real Dandy, who was second to Scipion in the Risen Star (gr. III) in February, was $4 to show with Roman Chapa aboard.
After Magna Graduate came Thor's Echo, Storm Surge, Barometer Rising, Forever Wild, General Charley, Yes He's a Pistol, and Awesome Twist.