Royal Assault, content to lope along near the back of the pack early under a patient Pat Day, unleashed a strong run in the stretch to win the $100,00 Sir Barton Stakes for 3-year-olds Saturday at Pimlico.
Trainer Nick Zito gained a Belmont Stakes (gr. I) candidate in Royal Assault.
``I actually toyed with the idea of running this horse in the Preakness but I said let's keep gradually trying to develop these horses like we do,'' Zito said.
The Belmont, the final leg of the Triple Crown, is June 5.
``Sarava won the Belmont a few years ago off this race,'' Zito said. ``If you've got the horse, you can do it.''
The Tracy Farmer homebred got the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.63.
Royal Assault is a stablemate of Sir Shakleton, Zito and Farmer's entrant in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
Longshot Acclimate, breaking from post 1, took over the early lead in the Sir Barton heading into the first turn. Odds-on favorite Preachinatthebar, breaking from the outside post, was four-wide around the bend, then rushed into the second spot by Jerry Bailey. The opening fractions were :24.45 and :48.56. Down the backstretch, Royal Assault was at the back of the pack, but it was a tightly bunched field of sophomores.
David Miller's Acclimate hung tough on the lead heading into the turn as Preachinatthebar loomed to his outside. P. Kerney was up close, as was Humorously, who was in tight while inside. Straightening away in the lane, Dashboard Drummer made the first move with jockey Ramon Dominguez, challenging the leaders and grabbing the advantage, getting the mile in 1:39.01. However, Day and Royal Assault were flying and hit the front by midstretch. They pulled away to win by 1 ¾ lengths.
"We were a little sluggish early as we hit a bad spot on the first turn," Day said. "We settled nicely down the backstretch, following horses into the far turn. As we turned for home, we found some room and the horse finished up strong."
Dashboard Drummer, racing for Double S Stable and Preferred Pals Stable, held second, a head in front of Humorously, who flipped in the paddock prior to the race.
"This was only his second time going long and it couldn't have went any better," Dominguez said of Dashboard Drummer. "He relaxed well. The pace was a little slower than I expected but my horse dug in and came again at the end."
"He took a tumble in the paddock and I really hope he's not hurt," jockey Gary Stevens said of Humorously. "He raced the entire race on his left lead, so I am concerned about him and how he comes out of this race."
Mike Pegram's Preachinatthebar faded in the stretch to finish fifth behind Gilbert Campbell's Tap Dancer.
"We were a little wide the first turn, but we really don't have any excuse," Bailey said.
Sent off at 7-2, Royal Assault paid $9.60, $4.40, and $3.20. Dashboard Drummer returned $7.60 and $4.80. Humorously paid $3.80 to show. The 9-7 exacta returned $61.40 and the trifecta paid $254.20.
A Kentucky-bred son of the late Kris S., Royal Assault is out of the stakes-winning Fit to Fight mare Fit for a Queen.
Winning for just the second time from five starts in the Sir Barton, the chestnut colt was coming in off a fifth-place finish behind Tapit, Master David, and Eddington in the Wood Memorial (gr. I). He had a pair of placings in entry-level allowance races at Gulfstream after breaking his maiden there on Jan. 10. The $60,000 winner's share increased his career bankroll to $111,900.