STRUB STAKES | PURSE: $200,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS | GRADE 2 | 1 1/8 MILES
ARCADIA, Calif. -- Jockey Martin Pedroza tried to coax Ultimate Eagle into a patient trip in the first half of Saturday's $200,000 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita. Ultimate Eagle would have none of it, and he turned a half-length lead on the backstretch into a convincing win by 7 1/4 lengths.
Winning his third graded stakes in his last four starts, Ultimate Eagle thoroughly dominated the Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds, the colt's first career start on a dirt surface after races on synthetic tracks and turf courses.
The win proved to owner B.J. Wright and trainer Mike Pender the impression that Ultimate Eagle has given them in recent months.
"We thought he was a monster," Wright said.
Ultimate Eagle ($17) ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.08, easily beating 9-1 Jaycito. Prayer for Relief, the 4-1 second choice, finished third, followed by 4-5 favorite Tapizar, Balladry, Clubhouse Ride, Beer Meister, and Indian Winter.
Tapizar, the easy winner of the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes for 4-year-olds last month, was near the pacesetting Ultimate Eagle for the first six furlongs, through an early pace of 23.47 and 46.80 seconds, but faded to finish 10 3/4 lengths behind the winner.
"He's shown a difficulty of putting two races together," said his trainer, Steve Asmussen.
Pedroza had hoped to have Ultimate Eagle in a stalking position behind Tapizar and jockey Corey Nakatani in the early stages, but took control of the race before the field reached the end of the backstretch.
"I let him relax, and when Corey couldn't get away I turned my horse loose and he did it all," Pedroza said.
Pedroza accented the win by petting Ultimate Eagle's mane as the colt went under the wire and then thrusting his whip into the air.
Ultimate Eagle, by Mizzen Mast, has won 5 of 9 starts and $467,800. He won two stakes on turf last fall – the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby here and the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby at Hollywood Park – before finishing third to Mr. Commons in the Sir Beaufort Stakes on turf on Dec. 26. Mr. Commons won the Grade 2 Arcadia Stakes earlier on Saturday's program.
Trainer Bob Baffert's runners finished second and third in the Strub. Jaycito had not started since a fifth-place finish in an optional claimer at Del Mar last summer, having undergone a breathing operation after that loss. Prayer for Relief, the winner of three graded stakes last year, was third in the San Fernando Stakes last month.
"They thought they ran one-two," Baffert said, wisecracking about the margin of victory.
Speaking after the race to jockey Rafael Bejarano, who rode Prayer for Relief, Baffert said, "He ran a good race, better than last time. He's coming back to form."
Ultimate Eagle might make his next start in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on March 3, the top race of the meeting for older horses.
"To see him win on the dirt is very gratifying," Pender said.