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HORSE RACING

Pioneerof the Nile stays on course for Derby

His victory in the San Felipe Stakes is his final tuneup for the Santa Anita Derby.

March 15, 2009|Eric Sondheimer

The West Coast's top contender for the Kentucky Derby, Pioneerof the Nile, did nothing to lessen his reputation on Saturday by winning the Grade II $200,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

Ridden by jockey Garrett Gomez, Pioneerof the Nile ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.35 to defeat Feisty Suances by 1 1/4 lengths in his final tuneup before the April 4 Santa Anita Derby.

"He's becoming very professional," trainer Bob Baffert said of the 3-year-old son of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker. "He was a May foal, so he's not even there yet. I like what I saw today. This will tighten the screws up for the Santa Anita Derby."

In winning his third consecutive graded stakes, Pioneerof the Nile increased his lifetime earnings to $784,200 and set up a likely showdown with The Pamplemousse in the Santa Anita Derby.

It was a big day of racing for 3-year-olds, with three other graded stakes run at 1 1/16 miles in Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida.

In the $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, 56-1 longshot Win Willy stunned the 2-5 favorite, Old Fashioned, to win by 2 1/4 lengths.

Old Fashioned, trained by Larry Jones, had won his only four starts and was considered the early favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. Win Willy returned $115.60.

Jones' other top 3-year-old, Friesan Fire, a son of A.P. Indy, won the $600,000 Louisiana Derby by 7 1/4 lengths over Papa Clem under jockey Gabriel Saez.

In the $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby, Musket Man won by a neck over Join In The Dance.

Gomez had another big day at Santa Anita, also riding Life Is Sweet to a 2 1/2 -length victory over Santa Teresita in the Grade I $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap, giving Gomez 17 wins in stakes races at Santa Anita this meeting, two short of tying the record shared by Laffit Pincay Jr. and Corey Nakatani.

Life Is Sweet, a 4-year-old daughter of Storm Cat, is developing into one of the top female horses in the country under trainer John Shirreffs, who also handles last year's champion older female, Zenyatta.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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