OAK TREE DERBY | PURSE: $150,000 | GRADE 2 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | 1 1/8 MILES
ARCADIA, Calif. -- In the days leading up to Saturday's $150,000 Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita, trainer Mike Pender said that his longshot Ultimate Eagle had "a bolt of confidence" from two consecutive wins at Del Mar.
Saturday afternoon, Ultimate Eagle backed up Pender's impressions.
Leading throughout the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby, Ultimate Eagle ($70.40) held off a late threat from the French invader Venomous to win his stakes debut under jockey Martin Pedroza.
Ultimate Eagle set fractions of 23.27 and 47.09 seconds, leading by about a half-length for the first six furlongs. Pedroza said an extra burst of energy from Ultimate Eagle in the stretch was the difference. "When I asked him to go, he really took off," Pedroza said.
Ultimate Eagle led by two lengths with a furlong remaining and won by a half-length over Venomous. Cozy Kitten finished third, a half-length in front of 9-5 favorite Midnight Interlude. Rafael Bejarano rode Midnight Interlude and claimed foul against Venomous for a bumping incident in deep stretch. The stewards ruled that the incident occurred too late in the race to affect the order of finish.
Ultimate Eagle ran 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:47.03. A colt by Mizzen Mast, Ultimate Eagle has won half of his six starts and $179,800.
Pender paid credit to Pedroza, who has ridden Ultimate Eagle to three wins, including a maiden race at Del Mar on July 31 and an optional claimer on Sept. 3.
"He fits the horse perfectly," Pender said.
Venomous, third in the French 2000 Guineas in May, started for trainer Tony Clout in the Oak Tree Derby. Venomous will now join Leonard Powell's Southern California stable. Ridden by Joel Rosario, Venomous was seventh with a furlong remaining and closed 5 3/4 lengths in the final furlong to make for a close finish.
"In the last sixteenth, he picked up everybody," Powell said. "It was like the others were running in slow motion."
Ultimate Eagle gave Pender and owner B.J. Wright their second consecutive Grade 2 wins in as many Saturdays at Santa Anita. They won the Oak Tree Mile on Oct. 8 with Jeranimo, who is bound for the Breeders' Cup Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5.
Ultimate Eagle was one of two horses in the 14-horse field who made their stakes debut in the Oak Tree Derby. The field featured eight stakes winners.
"We beat some pretty good horses today," Wright said.