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It's Day of the Underdogs in Derby Preps

Blue Grass Stakes: Halory Hunter, owned in part by Celtic Coach Pitino, cruises to victory over Lil's Lad.

April 12, 1998|BOB MIESZERSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What Halory Hunter couldn't do in New York or Florida he did in Kentucky on Saturday.

Beaten by Lil's Lad in their four previous encounters, Halory Hunter easily turned the tables in the $700,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, beating the 2-5 favorite by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:47 4/5 for the 1 1/8 miles.

Besides a new state, there was another difference with the winner, who paid $10 as the 4-1 third choice in a field of five.

Gary Stevens was the Jade Hunter colt's rider for the first time and continued his recent roll. Two weeks ago, he won two races in Dubai, including the $4-million World Cup, and last weekend, he won the Santa Anita Derby with Indian Charlie.

Far off the early pace in all three of his races at Gulfstream Park earlier in the year, Halory Hunter, who is owned by a partnership that includes Boston Celtic Coach Rick Pitino and trained by Nick Zito, was kept closer by Stevens.

While Lil's Lad was coasting with a clear lead through 23 3/5 and 47 splits, Stevens asked his mount for run along the inside with a little more than a quarter of a mile to run, then drew away for his first stakes win and first victory since Sept. 26.

"Nick acted very, very confident all through the day," said Stevens, who will ride Indian Charlie in the Kentucky Derby on May 2. "When I got into town, I saw that [Halory Hunter] had a quick work over the track [59 4/5 on April 4] and I asked Nick if he had pumped a little more speed into him. He just smiled at me.

"Along the backside, we moved to the inside and he just drug me into the race. From the three-quarters out, I felt very, very good about my place. I felt like I had a lot of horse underneath me and I was very confident."

Zito, who has won the Kentucky Derby twice in the decade with Strike The Gold and Go For Gin, was convinced people would see a different Halory Hunter in his new surroundings.

"I was ecstatic with the way he was coming up to the race," Zito said. "What a time to run a big race. It's a great feeling. What can I say about [Stevens]? He's the best jockey in the world."

For Lil's Lad, it was the first time he hadn't crossed the wire first since Oct. 18 at Belmont Park. He certainly had no excuses and, as has become his habit, he drifted out again entering the stretch.

"I knew we were in trouble [on the far turn]," said jockey Jerry Bailey. "I knew then we didn't have the same kind of horse. I tried, but he just didn't accelerate for me like he usually does. He's capable of running a whole lot better."

Cape Town, who backed into a victory in the Florida Derby when Lil's Lad was disqualified, wound up five lengths behind the winner. The defeat didn't deter trainer Wayne Lukas, however.

"I said before the race this would not change anything as far as our Derby plans," he said. "Nothing surprises me in the Blue Grass. You have to treat it as it is."

*

Coronado's Quest, who was winless in three starts earlier in the year in Florida, welcomed a return to Aqueduct on Saturday.

The 11-10 favorite in the $500,000 Wood Memorial, the 3-year-old Forty Niner colt led every step of the way under Robbie Davis and won by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:47 2/5 for the 1 1-8 miles. He has won all four of his starts at Aqueduct.

Even with the victory, trainer Shug McGaughey said the high-strung colt isn't likely to return to Churchill Downs in three weeks.

"I'd love to be able to go, but I'm not sure if we have the right horse to take down there," McGaughey said.

Prosperous Bid, the 7-2 second choice who was making his first start for trainer Bob Baffert, finished 10th in the field of 11.

Horse Racing Notes

Sea Of Secrets, the 5-2 favorite, finished fifth in the $109,100 Bay Shore Stakes Saturday at Aqueduct. The race was won by Limit Out, who won in 1:20 2/5 for the seven furlongs, a fifth a second off the track record set by Dr. Fager in 1968. . . . Earlier on the card, favored Kelly Kip easily won the $110,200 Bold Ruler Stakes and set a track record in the process.

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