HOLLYWOOD DERBY | PURSE: $250,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | Grade 1 | 1 1/4 MILES (TURF)
British invader Seek Again, making his United States debut, rode the rail under Corey Nakatani to an impressive victory in the $250,000 Hollywood Derby, which was run for the final time Dec. 1 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
The Juddmonte Farms homebred son of Speightstown is trained by John Gosden, who last won the Hollywood Derby in 1983 with the great filly Royal Heroine.
Seek Again, racing on Lasix for the first time, won by 1 1/2 lengths at odds of 5-1 while completing the 1 ¼-mile distance over firm turf in 2:00.60.
"I was extremely confident," Nakatani said after winning the Hollywood Derby for the first time since 1993 with Explosive Red. "Any time you see the Juddmonte colors and a horse shipping from England, you know they're going to have a big turn of foot and it's just a matter if they can handle the tighter turns. He seemed to handle it. [Gosden] said he had trained him on the left handed tracks before shipping him here."
A pair of Ken and Sarah Ramsey Kitten's Joy homebreds, Secretariat Stakes winner Admiral Kitten, the narrow 3-1 choice, and Amen Kitten, occupied the second and third positions, separated by three parts of a length.
Coming off a handicap victory at York Oct. 12 at nine furlongs, Seek Again was making his first start at the 1 ¼-mile distance. The unheralded colt had raced twice over synthetic tracks in England while compiling an overall record of three wins and two seconds in seven starts with earnings of $69,030.
Les Reynolds, assistant to Gosden, said Seek Again would move to the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott for the 2014 campaign. Seek Again did not clear quarantine until Saturday and had little chance to prepare for the biggest race of his career.
"He's been a horse that's been slow to [find] himself," Reynolds said. "He just took a while to get going. I told Corey to just make sure he changed leads because he might be a little inexperienced against these guys. But he did it well and I'm very, very pleased."
Nakatani allowed Seek Again to drop back three from the rear in the field of nine 3-year-olds before he began to move the sleek chestnut up approaching the quarter pole. Seek Again was able to stay glued to the rail as he ranged into contention in the lane. When pacesetter Rookie Sensation drifted out mid-stretch, Nakatani drove his mount right to the front under right-handed urging.
After quickly taking command in deep stretch, Seek Again held sway in the final strides as Admiral Kitten, given an unhurried ride by Julien Leparoux, rallied on the outside to finish a clear second over Amen Kitten and Javier Castellano.
"My main thing was to try to get him into a rhythm, get him to break decently and get him in a rhythm," Nakatani said. "[Gosden] told me he had missed the break a couple of times and left himself with way too much to do. My main concern was to try to have a spot to run at and not get him stopped.''
Gervinho, who along with Dry Summer and Irish Surf tracked Rookie Sensation through soft quarter mile fractions of :24.19, :48.74, 1:13.20, and 1:37.12, finished fourth. Rookie Sensation, also sent off at 3-1 odds, was coming off a sharp victory in the Twilight Derby at Santa Anita Park Nov. 1.
Kentucky-bred Seek Again, out of the Danehill mare Light Jig, earned $150,000 for the victory. Under equal weight of 122 pounds, he returned $12.40, $7.40, and $5.80 as the co-fourth choice. Admiral Kitten, second in the Jamaica Handicap Oct. 5 at Belmont Park for trainer Mike Maker, returned $4 and $3.40 while rounding out a $53.60 exacta. Amen Kitten paid $12.80.
"He was flying at the end," Leparoux said of the runner-up. "The winner got the rail and everything went well for him, but my horse made a big run at the end."
Gervinho pipped Rookie Sensation by a nose for fourth, followed by Jack Milton, Infinite Magic, Dry Summer, and Irish Surf. Dice Flavor was scratched.