Californian made his first start in North America a memorable one by pulling away in the stretch under jockey Kent Desormeaux to win Thursday's $111,200 Forerunner Stakes at Keeneland by 3 1/4 lengths.
Rapid Proof was second, with Color Me Gone a length back in third. The winner completed the 1 1/8-mile distance over soft turf in 1:52.10.
The winner paid $28.60, $11.20, and $5.60. Rapid Proof returned $5.80 and $4.20. Color Me Gone showed for $4.80. The $2 exacta paid $167.60, with the $2 trifecta totaling $1,719.80.
Longshot Royal Mambo set the early pace through fractions of :23.44 for the quarter, :48.31 for the half-mile, and 1:13.67 for three-quarters before beginning to tire and give way to Californian, who broke a bit slow from the gate and was unhurried through the early going.
Californian then moved seven-wide rounding the final turn to pull away in the stretch. Rapid Proof was checked between foes at the five-eighths point, lacking running room behind the leaders rounding the final turn, before moving to the outside of Californian to hold on for second. Color Me Gone raced behind a wall of horses throughout most of the race before swinging 10 wide entering the lane to rally for third.
"He traveled very light over the ground, which was surprising because they were all bobbling out there," said winning rider Desormeaux. "He's been running on the all-weather course and we gave him all weather today.
"These Europeans are used to ground with a lot of give in it. When I pushed him forward . . . he found all the gears."
Californian is a homebred racing in the green and white silks of The Thoroughbred Corp. for trainer Kristin Mulhall. The Thoroughbred Corp. bred the son of Zafonic in Great Britain from the Rainbow mare Asterita.
"They were thinking of selling this horse but they decided to send him to the United States because he was so good on the all-weather track," Mulhall said. "We were going to stay in California and run in the California Derby, but we decided he was bred for the grass, so we tried him here. He ran great. It's nice to win at Keeneland."
The Forerunner Stakes winner was conditioned in England by Gerard Butler, who sent him out to two wins and three thirds in 11 career starts. The victory improved his career bankroll to $99,755.