Fantasticat Springs Super Derby Surprise

Outsider Fantasticat held off perennial bridesmaid Borrego to grind out victory in the $500,000 Super Derby (gr. II) by a half-length at muddy Louisiana Downs Saturday.

With local rider Gerard Melancon aboard, Fantasticat, sent off at odds of 14-1, earned his first stakes victory. The bay Storm Cat colt ranged up along the inside on the far turn, angled out a bit at the top of the stretch and rallied impressively on the muddy track to pass the leader Britt's Jules while holding off Borrego, who also rallied well, in the final sixteenth of a mile. The final time was 1:51 2/5.

``We broke as good or better than anybody in the race," Melancon said. "I had ridden on the track all day and knew the rail was the best place to be. All day long the rail was better than five or six spots out.''

Borrego, ridden by Tayler Baze, swung into action on the turn while racing wide and had every opportunity to catch the winner in deep stretch. But he could not get on even terms with the determined Fantasticat. It was the fifth runner-up finish in seven starts this year for Borrego, who has not won since Dec. 23 and is still looking for the first stakes victory of his 11-race career.

Britt's Jules, who set or forced the lead with South Africa after a :23 opening quarter-mile and a :47 1/5 half and stayed in front until hooked by Fantasticat, held on grudgingly for third.

Two-to-one choice Imperialism, the third-place finisher in the 2004 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), lagged as expected at the rear of the nine-horse field, but kicked on mildly late to be fourth under Kent Desormeaux.

Desormeaux, winning jockey in the 1994 Super Derby, said he felt Imperialism came back on the wrong kind of track.

``Simply put, he got tired,'' he said. ``It was difficult for him to come back off a layoff on a track like that.''

Trained by Bobby Barnett, Fantasticat was a closing second to South Africa in his last start, the Prelude Stakes at Louisiana Downs Aug. 28. Melancon made good use of the extra half-furlong this time around and also got him into contention earlier.

Fantasticat began his racing career for Michael Tabor in Ireland. He ran twice there before being sold and subsequently transferred to the United States.

``He's really come to himself now and I think we will hear a lot more about him,'' Melancon said.

Barnett, 55, once a leading trainer on the Louisiana circuit, had started just two starters at the current Louisiana Downs meet.

Considering the track condition, Fantasticat and Borrego had an excellent pace to close behind. South Africa and Britt's Jules sprinted away at the start and by the time they reached the backstretch, they were six or seven lengths ahead of Borrego, who raced a little closer than usual Saturday. Britt's Jules assumed control going into the far turn, opening up by a couple of lengths through six furlongs in 1:12.

Racing near the back of the pack, Fantasticat moved up rapidly on the turn and got the jump on Borrego as they straightened away for the stretch drive. Borrego responded but was unable to close the entire gap while slowly gaining through the final furlong. Fantasticat completed the mile in 1:38, coming home in :13 2/5.

Fantasticat earned $300,000 for owners Russ and Shelda Sherrod of R Bar S Thoroughbreds LLC. It was the Kentucky-bred colt's third win in 15 lifetime starts and pushed his earnings to $423,584.

He paid $31.40, $12.20 and $7.40. Borrego returned $4.40 and $4 while completing a $121.60 exacta. Britt's Jules was $5.40 to show.

Following Imperialism were Caballero Negro, Cryptograph, Xirius, Mr. Jester and South Africa.

(Chart, Equibase)