Battle Won, in his second start since running in Hong Kong, drew off to win the $231,000 Churchill Downs Handicap (gr. II) by 3 1/2 lengths Saturday at Churchill Downs, the first stakes race on the card that will feature the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).
On a beautiful day in Louisville, Ky., with partly cloudy skies and the temperature in the mid 70s, the stakes lineup started with a longshot winner. Battle Won was sent postward at 16-1 and was followed under the wire by 50-1 shot Level Playingfield.
The track at Churchill is playing more toward speed than the day before and is very fast. Battle Won ran the seven furlongs in 1:20.56, just missing the track record of 1:20.50 set in 2001.
"He likes to be close to the pace, so the track helped us today," said winning rider Ramon Dominguez.
Battle Won ran eighth in the grassy Hong Kong Sprint (HK-I) last December behind possibly the best sprinter in the world, Silent Witness. He returned for trainer Charles Simon April 16 at Keeneland in a 5 ½-furlong turf race, running fourth, beaten just 1 ½ lengths, in the Shakertown (gr. IIIT).
His only work since was on the grass at Churchill but Battle Won went turf to dirt and won the Churchill Downs Handicap easily under Dominguez. The dark bay has now won three of five on the Churchill main track and has never been off the board there.
Simon said he considered sending Battle Won in Friday's Aegon Turf Sprint (gr. III), but thought the race was a little short for his style.
"Numbers-wise, he stacked up with these, and I told the owner 'Let's go for the big one.' I think seven-eighths is his best distance, and when we bought him (last year for $150,000) it was as a dirt horse. But he can run on either turf or dirt. I love to win on Derby Day, and this is my first grade II win, so I'm really thrilled."
Trickey Trevor made the lead as expected and went a quarter in :22.37 and a half in :44.12, with Battle Won sitting right behind him. The 3-1 favorite Pomeroy, from his outside post in the 12-horse field, was placed in third.
As they ran six furlongs in 1:07.85, Battle Won had taken the lead and was powering toward the wire. He hit the line as Level Playingfield, ridden by John McKee, came on for second by a half-length with Pomeroy and Edgar Prado third.
"He has been training good and at the quarter pole, he really got moving, but had no shot to beat the winner," McKee said of the runner-up.
Prado said Pomeroy was reluctant to load prior to the race, but broke running.
"We were in the second flight and he made a nice move, but couldn't run with the winner," he said.
Battle Won, a 5-year-old gelding by Honour and Glory
owned by Jay and Gretchen Manoogian, paid $35.80, $17, and $10.40. Level Playingfield returned $37 and $14.40 while Pomeroy was worth $4. The exacta returned $891.60 while the trifecta was $8,044.60.
Battle Won improved his record to 7-2-2 in 16 starts while earning $143,220 for the victory. He has lifetime winnings of $407,436.
The winner was bred in Kentucky by Glencrest Farm. He is out of the Caller I.D. mare Call Her.
Th narrow second choice Sir Shackleton finished fourth, followed by Harvard Avenue, Hasty Kris, Trickey Trevor, Grand Reward, Oceanus, Gold Storm and Rushin' to Altar. Lion Tamer scratched.