DEL MAR, Calif. -- When the year began, trainer Tony Dutrow justly believed Mo Town was his derby horse. Turns out, he was right.
It wasn't the Derby the first Saturday in May, rather a derby on the last Saturday in November. And it wasn't a race on dirt, rather on turf.
But make no mistake, Mo Town is back in the top form that made him one of the best 2-year-olds of 2016, and on the short list of contenders for the Kentucky Derby earlier this year. The journey took many twists and turns, but on an overcast afternoon at Del Mar, Mo Town got his derby win, proving much the best in the Grade 1, $301,380 Hollywood Derby on grass.
Mo Town ($6.20) got off poorly and trailed early in the nine-horse field, but unleashed a terrific turn of foot the final three furlongs under John Velazquez to win by one length over Channel Maker, who proved best in a three-way photo for second. Big Score was a nose back of Channel Maker in third, and a nose in front of Sharp Samurai, the 7-5 favorite, who tired in deep stretch while seeking his fifth straight victory.
Bowies Hero was fifth and was followed, in order, by Ritzy A.P., Ann Arbor Eddie, Souper Tapit, and Just Howard.
Mo Town completed 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:46.36 while covering the final three furlongs in less than 35 seconds. This was a terrific performance.
"He finished up full of run," said Dutrow, who owns Mo Town along with the Coolmore triumvirate of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith, and Susan Magnier.
Mo Town, winner of last year's Remsen, was an abject disappointment earlier this year, when he was fifth in the Risen Star and a dreadful seventh in the Wood Memorial. After a four-month break, he lost twice more in second-level allowance races before Dutrow moved him to the turf last month at Belmont Park.
The results were startling. Mo Town powered clear to a 6 1/2-length victory in that allowance race while earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 102, best of anyone in the Hollywood Derby field.
And he reproduced that form, against better competition, on Saturday.
"You don't know how satisfying this is," Dutrow said. "His 2-year-old year was phenomenal. Then he fell apart this spring, and I don't know why. It was frustrating. I can't explain why he went off form."
Dutrow said he tried the turf because Mo Town had continued to train well.
"We couldn't keep going like this," Dutrow said. "He was training fantastic, but we weren't seeing it. Had to do something to change it up. Maybe it's the obvious, that he wanted turf all along."
Mo Town, a 3-year-old colt by Uncle Mo, has now won 4 times in 9 starts. He earned $180,000 on Saturday to bring his career earnings to more than $500,000, but considering his pedigree -- he's out of a Bernardini mare --- and that he finally knocked out a Grade 1 win, the residual value of this win was exponentially more lucrative.
Dutrow said Mo Town would leave California on Monday for Payson Park, where he will be based this winter. He said he'd need to talk to his partners before mapping out future plans, but said he wasn't opposed to moving back to the dirt at some point.
"I don't want to give up on dirt racing," Dutrow said. "He's 2 for 2 on turf, but I think I can get him in the right direction on dirt, too."
Even if that doesn't work out, he's certainly got a fall-back position.