Front-running Lion Heart spurted away from his four opponents with three furlongs to go in the $376,000 Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) and romped to an easy 3 1/2-length victory.
Ridden by Mike Smith for trainer Patrick Biancone and owners Derrick Smith and Michael Tabor, the $1.4 million Tale of the Cat colt completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:42 4/5 while winning convincingly over St Averil. That's an Outrage was third, 4 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
"He certainly answered the question about his ability to get a distance today," said Smith, who also rode Dahlia Handicap winner Katdogawn. "He was always well within himself. They came to him with about three-and-a-half furlongs to go - one on the inside and one on the outside - and, I'm thinking, 'well, we'll see if he can handle it from here.'
"I asked him, and he jumped right into the bridle," Smith added. "As a matter of fact, he was kind of playing a little bit. But once I got his attention heading for home, he got over on his right lead (foot) and held them all at bay. At the end, he was starting to stride away again, which is a very nice sign."
Lion Heart, sent off as the 1-2 choice, remained unbeaten in three starts with his first victory around two turns. The chestnut 2-year-old was coming off a six-length win in the Hollywood Prevue (gr. III) on Nov. 15, covering seven furlongs in 1:20 3/5. Once again Saturday, he toyed with his rivals.
Lion Heart pulled himself to the front coming away and soon assumed a two-length advantage coming out of the first turn iin :23 1/6. He continued to lead while under a snug hold through the first half in :46 2/5 and six furlongs in 1:10 3/5. When pressed a bit by That's an Outrage and St Averil going into the final turn, Lion Heart responded with a winning move and continued willingly down the lane while under a hand ride.
"He's very impressive," said Smith. "This is one of the best young horses I've ridden in a long, long time. He took the race right to them right away."
Biancone said that because of Lion Heart's speed, he had some concerns about the distance.
"I saw today he has a good ability to accelerate on the turn, which kills the heart of the other horses, he did it so easily," he said. "I'm very proud of him. Now he will have a little break and hopefully you guys will vote for him. I don't think you've seen one like that for a long, long time."
Biancone was speaking of Eclipse Award balloting for champion 2-year-old, a division which is wide open. Regardless of those results, Biancone and company can't contain their enthusiasm over next year's Kentucky Derby.
"Now we're going to point for the first Saturday in May and go backwards to give him the best program possible," he said. "I always said the normal route would be one race before the Santa Anita Derby and then the big one.
"I was maybe too cautious with him, because he is so fast," Biancone added. "He's fast at the start. After that he keeps going. We're not going to try to strangle him, he's just a natural galloper, maybe a new Secretariat, you never know."
Biancone is convinced he has the best 2-year-old in the nation, although the championship is out of his control.
"That depends on you guys," he said to reporters. "If it's up to me, I vote for him for sure. I voted for him five weeks ago, anyway. But I think he is an exceptional horse. Not because I train him, but just watching him. He is unbelievable. He has done six furlongs, seven furlongs, a mile-and-a-sixteenth and the same reserves. I said before the race he needed to give a really great display to deserve it and I think he gave a display today. He never touched him with the whip and didn't angle in or angle out, he just kept going and kept going."
Bred in Kentucky by Sabine Stable, Lion Heart, produced by Satin Sunrise, by Mr. Leader, was purchased for $1.4 million at Fasig-Tipton in February. He earned $225,600 for Saturday's victory, improving his career total to $310,800.
Lion Heart paid $3, $2.20 and $2.10. St Averil, ridden by Tyler Baze, returned $2.60 and $2.10. That's an Outrage's show was $2.10 with Gary Stevens in the irons.
Quiet Cash and Saint Afleet completed the order of finish.