Ultimate Eagle, staked to an early lead by Martin Pedroza at odds of 34-1, avoided the calvary charge in the 14-horse Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT) and held on in the final strides to post a major upset in the $150,000 grass test at Santa Anita Oct. 15 (VIDEO).
The Oak Tree Derby was the stakes debut for Ultimate Eagle, a 3-year-old son of Mizzen Mast who broke his maiden July 31 at Del Mar and has now won three in a row.
Trainer Michael Pender and owner B.J. Wright, the winning connections for Ultimate Eagle, just upset the Oak Tree Mile (gr. IIT) Oct. 8 with Jeranimo, who could be headed to the TVG Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) next month at Churchill Downs.
“Yeah, we had intentions of taking the lead (with Ultimate Eagle) and saying come catch me," Pender said. "It looked like there was contending speed but this horse has one way of going. This was the way he won down at Del Mar and why change it?"
Pender said he didn't feel Ultimate Eagle, who paid $70.40 to win, was taking a big step up in class.
"This was our Kentucky Derby horse before he got colic as a 2-year-old. It’s a miracle he’s even here," he said. "It would make a great story. Pedroza fits this horse just beautifully. It’s like putting a hand in a glove.”
Ultimate Eagle, sitting under an icy Pedroza into the lane, spurted away under right-handed encouragement to grab a two-length advantage at mid-stretch. He withstood the late charge of deep closers Venomous and Cozy Kitten to win by a half-length in a time of 1:47.03 over firm ground.
“I really didn’t want to be in a speed duel, but I had a fast horse and had to use it to my advantage," the veteran rider Pedroza said. "I had an inside post and the other speed horse came beside me and I took advantage of that into the first turn. My horse was going fast but he was pretty comfortable. There was never a doubt in my mind he could run this big. In my mind he was not 40-1 or whatever his odds were.”
B.P. Walden and D. Hanley bred the winner, a $70,000 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. buy as a 2-year-old in April 2010, in Kentucky.
Ultimate Eagle, coming out of a front-running optional claiming allowance victory Sept. 3 at Del Mar, used similar tactics this time, with Pedroza hustling the dark bay/brown colt to the lead in the big field and angling to the inside. Ultimate Eagle, at a brisk tempo, led 2-1 favorite Midnight Interlude, who broke from post 13, as well as Surrey Star and Theresmyeverything. Fractions were :23.27, :47.09, and 1:10.53.
Midnight Interlude increased the pressure on Ultimate Eagle in upper stretch but the upsetter responded to urging to maintain control.
Ultimate Eagle, drifting out late, then had just enough to hold off French invader Venomous, a British-bred colt making his first United States start. Venemous was forced to weave his way through much traffic in the lane to make it close at the wire with Joel Rosario abroad. Cozy Kitten, also making up a great deal of ground late under Alonzo Quinonez, arrived on the outside just a half-length behind the runner-up. Midnight Interlude finished fourth.
Rafael Bejarano, aboard Midnight Interlude, lodged a claim of foul against Rosario, riding Venomous, for a bumping incident just before the wire, but it was disallowed by stewards.
Winning for the third time in six starts, Ultimate Eagle doubled his career earnings to $179,800 with the $90,000 purse.
The winner, out of the Captain Bodgit mare Letithappencaptain, paid $70.40, $23.60, $12.20 across the board. Second choice Venomous, trained in France by Tony Clout and expected to remain in Southern California with Leonard Powell, returned $6.20 and $5. The exacta was worth $647.
“It was a very good race," Powell said of Venomous' effort. "They went a bit fast for him early but he was nice and relaxed. Joel (Rosario) made the right decision by not hurrying him. You could see Joel was taking care of the horse. He wasn’t hard on the horse because he could see he couldn’t win it anymore, but the horse flew the last furlong. I was very impressed.”
The show price on Cozy Kitten, winner of a minor stakes at Kentucky Downs in his most recent start Sept. 17, was $9.20.
Midnight Interlude was a half-length farther back in fourth. He was followed by Cloud Man, Theresmyeverything, Surrey Star, Lil Bit O'Fun, Akkadian, Thirtyfirststreet, Dreamy Kid, Great Warrior, Arraignment, and Northern Causeway.