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It's Another Victory for Imperialism

He beats favorite Lion Heart by a neck to win the San Rafael Stakes and join Kentucky Derby mix.

March 07, 2004|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

For a horse that began his career in a $25,000 maiden claimer at Calder, Imperialism has come a long way.

Taking advantage of a hot pace in front of him in Saturday's $200,000 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita, the 3-year-old gray son of Langfuhr has put himself squarely in the Kentucky Derby picture for owner Steve Taub and trainer Kristin Mulhall.

Purchased privately for an undisclosed amount earlier this year, Imperialism is unbeaten in two starts for his current connections after defeating the previously perfect and 1-1 favorite Lion Heart by a neck under jockey Victor Espinoza.

A winner at seven furlongs in the San Vicente at 14-1 on Feb. 7, Imperialism was half that price when he stretched out an eighth of a mile Saturday. Maybe he'll get more mutuel respect when he returns in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 3.

Imperialism, who won three times in 11 starts at Calder, was last for the first half a mile but rallied wide and was up to beat Lion Heart, who battled through some fast fractions in his first start since he won the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 20, in 1:36.11 for the mile.

"He's matured a lot," said the 21-year-old Mulhall, who has a .350 winning percentage for the meet. "He's grown up and filled out quite a bit. Assuming he comes out of this race well, he'll go to the Santa Anita Derby."

Wherever he shows up next, Imperialism will have only one owner. Taub, a Santa Monica car dealer who has owned horses for well over 20 years, recently declined an offer of $250,000 for a 25% interest in the horse. "My advisor told me I was crazy, but I still turned it down," he said. "I handicapped the race and I thought that if he got out of the right side of the bed today and had a clean trip, we were going to have some fun."

Although Lion Heart was a loser for the first time in four starts, Patrick Biancone, the Tale of the Cat colt's trainer, wasn't discouraged. Lion Heart finished 4 1/2 lengths clear of third-place finisher Consecrate despite being engaged by longshot sprinter Hosco through 22.67, 45.71 and 1:10.10 splits. He should be tighter for the local Derby.

"I think he'll benefit from this," Biancone said. "He fought well at the end and this is the first time he was in a real race."

*

Drawing the outside post in a field of 14 didn't hinder 9-1 shot Sweet Return in the $350,000 Kilroe Mile.

The 4-year-old, English-bred colt made it three graded stakes wins in a row for owner John Brunetti's Red Oak Stable and trainer Ron McAnally with a half a length victory over Singletary.

Gary Stevens rode Sweet Return, who completed the distance in 1:33.87 on turf. He has won five of 16 lifetime, including the Hollywood Derby and San Marcos in his previous starts.

*

Lion Tamer, the 8-5 favorite, won the $200,000 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship by three-quarters of a length at Gulfstream Park. Earlier on the card, Last Song, the 3-1 second choice, upset 1-2 favorite Society Selection in the $200,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes.

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Todd Pletcher, who trains Lion Tamer, also had a stakes victory at the Fair Grounds.

He won the $300,000 Fair Grounds Oaks with Ashado, the 11-10 favorite who beat 3-1 third choice Victory U.S.A., who is trained by Bob Baffert, by 3 3/4 lengths in 1:43.07 for the 1 1/16 miles.

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