Lewis Lakin's Greater Good rallied from well off the pace to collar runaway pacesetter Rockport Harbor for a half-length victory in the $250,000 Rebel (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park.
Under a relaxed ride from John McKee, Greater Good won for the third straight time, getting the 1 1/16-mile test for 3-year-olds in a slow 1:44 4/5. The previously unbeaten Rockport Harbor was a clear second with outsider Batson Challenge coming on for third.
Despite the loss, Rockport Harbor is expected to remain a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) hopeful as his recovery from foot problems continues. The Derby prospects for Afleet Alex were dealt a serious blow.
"I'm tickled to death," said Rockport Harbor conditioner John Servis, who trained 2004 Derby and Preakness (gr. I) winner Smarty Jones. "I've never been so happy about getting beat in my life. He ran a great race and will move forward."
Trained by Robert Holthus, Greater Good, who carried top weight of 122 pounds, is following the path that Smarty Jones took in winning last year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I). After winning the Southwest and Rebel, Smarty Jones captured the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) in his final prep for the Derby.
This year's Arkansas Derby is April 16.
The 3-5 favorite in the six-horse field, Afleet Alex came under a ride on the far turn from John Velazquez as he futilely chased Rockport Harbor and quit in the stretch, finishing last.
The result created an interesting payoff. With heavy betting on the favorite in the show pool, Greater Good, the third choice, paid $11.20, $4.00 and $11.20. Rockport Harbor returned $3.40 and $9.80. Batson Challenge, sent off at 60-1, was $31.60 to show.
Rockport Harbor, with Stewart Elliott aboard, stumbled coming out of the gate and was rushed up to lead through an opening quarter mile in :24. He opened up a lead of several lengths on the backstretch with Afleet Alex stalking through a half in :47 1/5 and six furlongs in 1:12 2/5. Rockport Harbor's early troubles caught up with him in the final furlong and he could not hold off Greater Good, a bay colt who doesn't win in fast times but always seems to be there at the end.
Greater Good broke well from his outside post and led heading into the clubhouse turn before taking back behind the pacesetters. He tracked in third most of the way before being passed by Batson Challenge on the far turn and coming under pressure from McKee.
McKee pulled out his whip with just under an eighth of a mile to go.
"I know I got to him the last sixteenth of a mile. I don't know how many times I hit him," McKee said. "With both horses digging in, he gave me his best."
Rockport Harbor was making his first start since injuring his right rear leg while winning the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) at Aqueduct last November. He bruised the foot after his arrival at Oaklawn over the winter and trainer John Servis had said his horse was at perhaps 75 to 80% of his peak level.
Greater Good, a family-bred son of Intidab
, has won the first two legs of Oaklawn's 3-year-old series after beginning his 2005 season with a three quarter-length triumph in the Feb. 19 Southwest at a mile. Prior to that, he capped a juvenile season in which he won three of five starts by taking the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) at Churchill Downs Nov. 27.
Greater Good earned $150,000 for his fifth win in seven career starts. He has banked $436,275.
Copy My Notes, also trained by Holthus, was fourth, followed by Jazzy Gallop and Afleet Alex.
Velazquez knew something had to be wrong with Afleet Alex, who never finished worse than second in his previous seven starts.
"I thought I was right where I wanted to be down the backside and was ready to fire when we straightened out in the stretch, but there was no fire," Velazquez said. "He did everything well today but run."