Iliad captures San Vicente in first start for O'Neill

ARCADIA, Calif. -- The saddle towel may have been misspelled but there was nothing else out of place with the performance on Sunday of Iliad, who pressed a hot pace and then pulled clear to win the Grade 2, $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita, earning him a shot at a key Kentucky Derby prep next month.

The San Vicente marked the first start for Iliad since he was moved to trainer Doug O'Neill after owner Kaleem Shah split with Bob Baffert, for whom Iliad had made his first two starts. He had trained sharply coming into this race, and was sent off the 2-1 second choice among five runners behind 4-5 Battle of Midway.

Iliad, though, always looked in control. He got a comfortable trip from the outside post in the seven-furlong race, moved up three paths wide on the far turn, and then pulled away through the lane from the stubborn runner-up, Law Abidin Citizen, to win by 3 1/2 lengths.

Battle of Midway was another 4 1/2 lengths behind Law Abidin Citizen in third, followed by Aquamarine and Blaimir.

Flavien Prat picked up the mount on Iliad, replacing Rafael Bejarano, who took off his mounts Sunday after still feeling body sore following an accident in the final race on Saturday.

Iliad was timed in 1:21.62 for seven furlongs on the fast main track, which came after pressing a pace of 21.89 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 44.08 for the half. The six-furlong split in 1:08.52 was his.

"So exciting," said O'Neill, who used this race last year as the 3-year-old debut for Nyquist, who went on to win the Kentucky Derby. "He looked like a winner all the way around. It was pretty awesome to watch."

Iliad -- a ridgling by Ghostzapper -- was named by Shah for the classic literature by Homer, but the saddle towel he wore read "Lliad," so apparently it is all Greek to someone. In any language, though, he's fast. After disappointing in his debut at Del Mar on Dec. 3, Iliad returned just 15 days later and romped in a maiden race at Los Alamitos. When Shah and Baffert split on New Year's Eve, Shah moved the colt to O'Neill.

"We can all hope and pray for horses like these," said Shah, who was on the Derby trail two years ago with Dortmund, who finished third at Churchill Downs. "I hope he continues to move forward."

Both Shah and O'Neill said they expected Iliad to make his next start in the Grade 2, $400,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 11, which would mark his first try around two turns. And if he passes that test, his odyssey will continue.