BERNARD BARUCH H. | PURSE: $250,000 | 3-YEAR-OLD & UP | GRADE 2 | 1 1/16-MILES (TURF)
Although Dominus had never raced on turf, his pedigree strongly suggested that he'd love the surface. Trainer Todd Pletcher took the hint, tried the lightly-raced four-year-old in Saturday's Grade 2, $250,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga, and the well-bred son of Smart Strike, from the family of Honey Ryder and Hit It Rich, dominated wire to wire.
Owned by George Bolton, Stonestreet Stables and Spendthrift Farm, Dominus was sent off as the 9-5 second choice in his turf debut, and his second start off a nearly year-long layoff. Data Link had the form in the book and ranked as the even-money favorite, but as it turned out, he couldn't reel in the winner.
Dominus had the advantage of being the controlling speed, as well as an eight-pound concession from 122-pound highweight Data Link. Cruising to the front with Julien Leparoux, Dominus got away with comfortable fractions of :24 1/5, :48 3/5 and 1:12 1/5. Guys Reward sat in second, but didn't apply any pressure, and Data Link was perched closer than usual in third.
Turning into the stretch, Dominus found an impressive change of gear to spurt away, and his sudden injection of pace dealt his rivals the lethal blow. Although Data Link was trying his utmost, he couldn't outkick Dominus, who reached the mile split in 1:34 2/5. The favorite inched a bit closer through the final sixteenth, but at no point did Data Link pose a threat to the front runner, who had 1 1/4 lengths to spare in the end.
Dominus completed 1 1/16 miles on the firm Mellon Turf in 1:40 1/5 to earn his second career stakes victory, following last year's Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park. The dark bay ridgling returned $5.70, $2.90 and $2.50.
"He was the only speed in the race," Leparoux summed up. "He just galloped easy, broke easy, and it was pretty easy for him. It was very nice for me at the end. He's a nice horse. First time on the grass, he was relaxed. He ran very big today. He's a big horse. He's got this long stride, but when you ask him he's pretty light on himself, so hopefully we'll keep going like this and win more big ones."
"We kind of anticipated he would be on the lead," Pletcher said. "The fractions were comfortable and he relaxed nicely. Things went just like we hoped. I would have been disappointed if he'd gotten beat after the [:48 3/5 half]."
Data Link crossed the wire 1 1/4 lengths ahead of the slow-starting Sky Blazer, who finished well for third. Guys Reward tired to fourth, followed by Queen'splatekitten and Prince Will I Am, who was entitled to need a race off the 14-month layoff. Crimson China was scratched, and the main-track-only Alma d'Oro didn't get the chance to run.
Dominus was originally trained by Steve Asmussen. An impressive winner in his second career start, he was just caught late in his stakes debut in the Grade 3 Derby Trial. In only his fourth start, Dominus led throughout to capture the Dwyer. His first two-turn attempt came in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, where he faded to third. Shortening up in trip for the Grade 1 King's Bishop last August, he checked in a decent fourth to Caleb's Posse and Uncle Mo, and headed to the sidelines.
Nearly a year later on August 4, Dominus returned to action over the same track and seven-furlong distance as the King's Bishop, this time in Pletcher's care. He forced a fast pace before drawing off by 4 1/4 lengths in a terrific debut for the barn. Now two-for-two as a four-year-old, Dominus has compiled a record of 8-4-2-1, $439,329.
"There are tons of options," Pletcher said regarding future targets. "He's still obviously a very nice dirt horse. It puts us in a position to pursue a lot of options."
Bred by the late Edward P. Evans in Virginia, Dominus was a $270,000 RNA as a yearling at Keeneland September. He is out of the multiple Grade 2-placed stakes heroine Cuando, a Lord at War mare, making him a half-brother to the stakes-placed Arcturus.
Dominus is a very close relative of current multiple Grade 3 queen Hit It Rich, who is entered in Monday's Grade 3 Glens Falls at the Spa. Hit It Rich is by the same sire -- Smart Strike -- and out of Cuando Puede, a full sister to Dominus' dam. Cuando Puede, a Grade 3 winner, has also produced multiple stakes scorer Spanish Mission.
Cuando and Cuando Puede are in turn half-sisters to multiple Grade 1 star and $2.2 million-earner Honey Ryder, a top turf mare trained by Pletcher. This is the family of Grade 3 winners Dyna Da Wyna and Leroy's Dynameaux, and further back, Grade 2 Kentucky Oaks heroine Sun and Snow.