Robbie Medina greets Fire Away and Manuel Franco after their Dixie Stakes win at Pimlico Race Course

Robbie Medina greets Fire Away and Manuel Franco after their Dixie Stakes win at Pimlico Race Course

Anne M. Eberhardt

Fire Away Takes Rail to Victory in Off-Turf Dixie

Half brother to grade 1 winner Mr Speaker won by three-quarters of a length.

The connections of Fire Away were looking forward to the $250,000 Dixie Stakes (G3) May 19 at Pimlico Race Course even before champion male turf horse World Approval scratched in rainy Maryland.

Phipps Stable's 6-year-old War Front  half brother to grade 1 winner Mr Speaker  was training so well for Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey that the team thought they had a big chance of taking down the champ, assistant Robbie Medina said.

When the Dixie was moved to the main track Saturday as rain pelted the Baltimore area, half the field was withdrawn—but Fire Away stayed in for just his second outing on dirt from 22 career starts, and jockey Manuel Franco found a rail path to victory on the sloppy (sealed) surface.

"We were looking forward to running him on the grass, even with World Approval in there, because this horse has really turned a corner," Medina said. "The horse is doing unbelievably well. When I got here this morning, Shug said, 'How's the track?' I said, 'Really tight, sealed,' and he handles that in the morning. That doesn't mean he'll handle it in the afternoon, but we got to talking and he's got Danzig on his dad's side, and he's got Fappiano on the mare's side, so we thought he'd like it, and it worked out."

Entered off a win in the April 8 Danger's Hour Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack, a mile turf test, Fire Away saved ground off the pace set by Unbridled Juan, who posted fractions of :24.63, :48.65, and 1:12.20 before the eventual winner slipped through on his inside through a 1:37.36 mile and bid for the lead. The bay horse drew off under brisk urging to win by three-quarters of a length in a final time of 1:43.92.

Fire Away was sent off the 6-5 choice in a four-horse field and returned $4.60 and $2.60. Unbridled Juan returned $2.60. Just Howard and O Dionysus completed the order of finish. Along with World Approval, Divisidero, Doctor Mounty, and Frostmourne were scratched.

"I trust my horse because I rode him before," Franco said. "I saw the races before, and horses were winning on the inside. The assistant trainer didn't tell me to go outside or nothing. He said, 'If you're on the rail, you're on the rail, that's fine.' Like I said, I just trusted my horse and he responded."

Fire Away opened his season with a third in the Feb. 10 Tampa Bay Stakes (G3T) won by World Approval at Tampa Bay Downs, then put together back-to-back wins. He has won three of his last four—all stakes—beginning with the Nov. 18 Artie Schiller Stakes going a mile at Aqueduct. His only prior dirt start was at first asking in August of 2014, when he ran ninth of 10 sprinting six furlongs on the main track at Saratoga Race Course. His next 20 starts came on the lawn.

Bred in Kentucky out of the grade 2-placed Unbridled mare Salute, a daughter of Personal Ensign, Fire Away improved his record to 7-4-4, for earnings of $598,397. His half brother, the Lane's End stallion Mr Speaker, won the 2014 Belmont Derby Invitational (G1T) and three other graded stakes.

"We'll put him back on the turf," Medina said of Fire Away. "When he was a younger horse, he was a weird War Front because he wanted give in the ground and he wanted to run a distance of ground. As he's gotten older, he still likes give in the ground, but we think a mile and a sixteenth or a mile and an eighth is really about as far as he wants to go. We'll probably point to one of the races at Saratoga for him, I would guess."

The Dixie will be reviewed by the American Graded Stakes Committee, which will decide whether the 2018 running will be restored to grade 2 status. It is the policy of the committee that a race scheduled for the turf but moved to dirt after the closing of nominations because the turf course is unsuitable for racing is automatically downgraded one level for that running only, pending a review.

Video: Dixie S. (G3)