Rock Hard Ten finally had the day everyone was waiting for in the $409,300 Swaps Breeders' Cup (gr. II) for 3-year-olds at Hollywood Park Saturday, taking command in the stretch for an easy 3 3/4-length victory.
It was the first graded stakes victory for the Kentucky-bred son of Kris S., who was a head short of winning the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and a distant second to Smarty Jones in the Preakness (gr. I). He was a fading fifth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in his most recent start June 5.
"Yeah, it was nice (to get the stakes win) but I didn't really think today was a do-or-die situation," said winning trainer Jason Orman. "I was a little concerned about coming out of the Belmont and coming back so quick, but he gave us every sign that he bounced out of that good ... and he proved it today, that it didn't take as much out of him as people might have thought.
The massive dark bay tracked pacesetting Boomzeeboom in second into the final turn of the 1 1/8-mile Swaps, moved up on the outside and quickly took control of the matter while clocking the distance in 1:47 2/5.
The 3-5 choice in the field of six drifted out a bit in the stretch under left-handed urging and finished under strong handling from Corey Nakatani after kicking well clear.
A notoriously bad actor at the gate, he handled it well this time after getting plenty of extra tutoring by Orman and others.
"I'd just been begging to ride this horse, and he was absolutely awesome," Nakatani said. "It went without a hitch. You've got to give all the credit to Jason Orman and the gate crew, what they did with him. He was just perfect.
"I just sat there, was confident where I was at, I set him down, and said, 'OK, kid, let's go get the win.' I knew I had Boomzeeboom measured. I was pretty confident in what this horse was able to do. I thought I'd fit him like a glove, and felt that I did. He was awesome. I had to keep him focused a little bit the last part."
Suave rallied mildly for second after nearly going to his nose coming out of the starting gate with Rafael Bejarano in the saddle. He finished three lengths in front of Boomzeeboom, who was taken to the lead immediately by Victor Espinoza.
Boomzeeboom set a moderate pace (:23 2/5, :47, 1:10 2/5), but could not match the winner when Rock Hard Ten challenged.
"My horse tried, Espinoza said. "He went kind of slow the first quarter, but the winner was right next to me at the three-eighths. We had no chance. He was just too good."
Capitano, Brands Hatch and Bear in the Woods trailed.
Rock Hard Ten has a 3-1-1 record in six lifetime starts. He earned $252,780 Saturday and has banked $630,380 in his brief career. Bred by Madeleine Paulson from the dam Tersa (by Mr. Prospector), the colt is owned by Paulson and Mercedes Stable LLC.
Orman said the Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Aug. 28 is under consideration.
"He looked great today. He's a beautiful horse ... he's just a really good-looking horse. I think he's developed quite a bit since the Belmont. He's grown up quite a bit, too, and matured a lot.
"We asked a lot of this horse, going from an allowance race to three grade I's, and he never disappointed us once. Every race he tried hard, and today was his day.
"He's settled down quite a bit. Today was probably the best it's probably been saddling him. He was just a young, immature horse when we took him back there (Triple Crown races) but he seemed to handle it well and develop from it."