The James Baker trainee sprinted clear after breaking from the rail for jockey John Velazquez and set torrid fractions of :21.96, :43.70, 1:08.12. He completed the seven furlongs in a dandy 1:21.53 on a track rated fast to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Noonmark, the narrow 3-1 favorite in the field of eight, finished second by a head, with the stalking Hewitts gaining the show spot.
At the head of the stretch, Elite Squadron repulsed a challenge from Hewitts and drew off.
Elite Squadron is a 4-year-old son of Officer—Sweet Mama, by High Brite, bred in Kentucky by Matt Herbener. Elite Squadron was coming into the Churchill Downs off a near miss at odds of 38-1 in the Commonwealth Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland, in which he led the entire way before being nipped by Rebellion by a head. His victory here was his graded win.
“It’s a fast track today and he’s a fast horse," Velazquez said. "He was doing it comfortably. I learned a lot from last time (at Keeneland). I knew I needed to save some for the end. I waited until they came at me at the quarter pole and he had plenty.”
The colt has a fondness for the Churchill strip, having now won four of his six starts in Louisville. He earned $169,595 for his fifth win overall in 12 starts. The chestnut has banked $433,706.
"He loves the track – horses for courses," Baker said. "I was a little worried when I saw :43 for the half. I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ I was ready to cry I’m so happy."
Baker said the Aristides (gr. III) at Churchill May 31 would likely be next for Elite Squadron.
Sent off as the third choice, Elite Squadron carried 118 pounds to victory and paid $10.80, $5.60 and $4. Noonmark, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, rallied to nip Hewitts for second and returned $4.60 and $3.80. Hewitts, under Kent Desormeaux, paid $3.80 to show.
Island Warrior placed fourth, followed by Thousand Words, Junior College, Carnacks Choice and Spotsgone.