PIMLICO SPECIAL | PURSE: $300,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | 1 3/16 MILES
In a head-bobbing finish to the Grade 3, $300,000 Pimlico Special on Friday, Pin Oak Stable's homebred Alternation just lasted to take the 1 3/16-mile test for his fourth straight stakes score on the year. Guided by Luis Quinonez, the four-year-old son of Distorted Humor overcame a three-wide journey to overtake long-time leader Endorsement inside the final sixteenth and won the nose bob over a determined Nehro. Final time over a fast but slow-playing track was 1:57 3/5.
Away alertly, Alternation settled in a three-wide position around the clubhouse turn as Endorsement took the early advantage. Setting honest splits of :23 3/5, :46 4/5 and 1:10 3/5, Endorsement built up a three-length lead after six furlongs as Alternation remained in close striking range.
Still looking fairly strong turning for home after shaking off Yawanna Twist around the far turn, Endorsement braced for the stretch challenges of Alternation and 5-2 favorite Mission Impazible. Grinding his way to the lead while racing between rivals, Alternation edged away from Endorsement in the closing yards and then barely clung to victory over Nehro, who had his nose ahead a stride both before and past the wire. It was length back to Endorsement in third, with Mission Impazible a neck farther back in fourth. Alternation paid $10.20, $5 and $3.80 as the 4-1 second choice.
"Wow! That got a little bit tight there at the end. I didn't know if we got it or not, but fortunately we got the bob," trainer Donnie Von Hemel said. "It looked like that six pounds (he was giving Nehro) was getting to him there at the end.
"All the superlatives you want to use, he's that kind of horse. He's a top horse, and I think he's in the process of proving that right now. He beat a nice field at Oaklawn and a nice field here. He's top of the list."
For Nehro, it was another close second-place finish to go along with similar prizes in last year's Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. The Zayat Stables representative remains winless after six stakes attempts.
Completing the order of finish in the Pimlico Special behind Mission Impazible were Hymn Book, Yawanna Twist, Toby's Corner, Cherokee Artist and Eighttofasttocatch.
Alternation possesses a record of 13-8-1-1 with career earnings of $900,004. Winner in three of his first four starts, Alternation's classic aspirations were derailed a year ago when he ran fifth in the Arkansas Derby after a troubled trip. He rebounded to take the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont Park, but was fourth in both the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Grade 2 Super Derby in his next two outings. Fitted with blinkers for his sophomore finale, in the Oklahoma Derby, Alternation turned in an improved effort to finish second by a head to Redeemed.
Alternation kicked off his four-year-old season with a 3 1/2-length triumph in the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park on February 4. Up to this point a mid-pack stalking type, Alternation showed a new dimension in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap two back, taking the lead in another race lacking speed. The Distorted Humor colt set a moderate pace and went on to score by 1 1/2 lengths over Tapizar. He showed the same front-running tactics in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in his previous start and finished up 2 1/2 lengths to the good of Ron the Greek.
Alternation was bred in Kentucky and produced by the multiple stakes-winning Alternate, a Seattle Slew half-sister to Canadian Horse of the Year Peaks and Valleys. This is the extended family of Grade 3 winners Eleusis, Equality and Cryptograph. Another descended from this female family is the multiple champion filly Open Mind.
"I think the (Grade 1 Stephen) Foster (Handicap) was probably the race we were looking at the most," Von Hemel said in regards to Alternation's next race. "I think the (Grade 2) Suburban (Handicap) is coming up. Let's just enjoy this and we'll worry about that in about a week."
Friday's attendance at Pimlico was 32,473. The Maryland Jockey Club reported the 13-race program generated a handle of $13,786,798, up 28 percent from a year ago, when $10,664,681 was wagered.