Under strong urging from jockey Pat Day, Excessivepleasure fought off favored Spensive and Apalachian Thunder to record a neck victory in Sunday's $500,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico.
The Doug O'Neill-trained In Excess gelding appeared to be empty after a brutal pace duel with Apalachian Thunder, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela. But the 3-year-old came back through the lane, wearing down Spensive, who had rallied with jockey Gary Stevens on the outside, in the closing yards. Apalachian Thunder was on the inside, 3/4-length back in third. Final time for the 1 1/16-mile test was 1:42 4/5.
Bob Baffert trained both the runner-up and third-place finisher.
Excessivepleasure broke on top, but Apalachian Thunder was keen to get the lead and held a narrow edge through opening splits of :22, :44 1/5 and 1:08 1/5 for six furlongs while opening a six-length advantage on the remainder of the eight-horse field. On the turn for home, Apalachian Thunder pulled away by more than two lengths and Excessivepleasure appeared to be finished as Spensive drove past while bringing what appeared to be a winning move on the extreme outside.
But Excessivepleasure, under firm handling from Day through the stretch, re-rallied. Apalachian Thunder dug in but was staggering home and Spensive failed to sustain his momentum. All three appeared to be tiring badly in the final furlong. The final 2 1/2 furlongs took :34 2/5.
"I was real upset (with the early pace)," O'Neill said. "I'm glad no one was around me. But he found another gear going for home and I'm really happy. I'm so grateful to have a horse like this."
Owned by Lee and Ty Leatherman, Excessivepleasure was coming off runner-up finishes in the Sunshine Millions Dash at Gulfstream on Jan. 25 and the local Border Indian Derby Handicap on March 2. Bred in California by Cypress Farms 1991 and Vessels Stallion Farm, the $17,000 Barretts October yearling buy won for the third time in five starts. He earned $270,000 for the victory, bringing his career bankroll to $442,502.
O'Neill said he didn't know what's next for Excessivepleasure.
"Derby? That's up to the Leathermans," he said. "I don't think he can go a mile-and-a-quarter, but it's up to them. It's their money."
The 7-2 third choice, the winner paid $9.40, $3.60 and $2.60. Spensive, the 3-2 favorite, returned $3 and $2.20. Apalachian Thunder's show price was $2.60.