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Hudson Steele strong in Dixie

DIXIE STAKES | PURSE: $300,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 3 | 1 1/8 MILES

Roger J. Weiss's Hudson Steele, who captured Pimlico's Henry S. Clark Stakes in his return from a year-long layoff, followed up with another convincing display in Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Dixie Stakes over the same course. Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Javier Castellano, the lukewarm 3-1 favorite enjoyed a perfect rail-skimming trip just behind the leader, angled out turning into the stretch, and put the race away by 2 1/2 lengths.

Castellano was completing a turf stakes double on Preakness Day, having guided Zagora to a clear-cut success in the Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap earlier on the card. While Zagora closed from farther back, Hudson Steele took up an inside stalking spot as Straight Story carved out the first quarter in :24. Boxeur des Rues engaged the leader through a half in :47 3/5, but Straight Story began to inch away again when reaching six furlongs in 1:12.

Rounding the far turn, Castellano peeled Hudson Steele off the fence to commence his move. For a second, it appeared that he might swing outside both Straight Story and Boxeur des Rues, but he waited an instant. Boxeur des Rues veered well wide on the turn, and would have carried Hudson Steele into the outer part of the course.

Hudson Steele now dove right into that path and accosted Straight Story at the head of the lane. Making short work of that rival, Hudson Steele was well clear at the mile mark in 1:35 2/5 and finished 1 1/8 miles on the firm turf in 1:47 1/5. A lightly-raced five-year-old gelding with plenty of upside, the winner paid $8.20, $4.80 and $3.60.

"He traveled so good," Castellano said. "The pace was pretty good for him. It worked out perfectly because he was ready to move when I wanted. He exploded. It was amazing. He was so strong. I really liked the way he did it."

"He was loaded up the whole way," Pletcher said. "Javy found a seam at the top of the stretch and he responded and fired. It was a real big effort."

Humble and Hungry closed from midpack for second, a half-length ahead of Forte Dei Marmi, who flashed home from last for third.

"He was sitting on a big race," trainer Ignacio Correas said of Humble and Hungry. "I wish I had more like him. He ran a big race."

Jockey Mike Smith was ruing Forte Dei Marmi's bad luck.

"We had a bad start," Smith said. "He stumbled right out of the gate which made us a step slow and probably cost us second. Once he straightened we were clear and I had no problems the rest of the way."

Casino Host grabbed fourth. Smart Bid, Air Support, Straight Story, Trend, Vanquisher, Boxeur des Rues and Avenida Paseo rounded out the order under the wire.

Hudson Steele advanced his record to 10-6-2-1, $435,124. The son of Johannesburg was a promising three-year-old on the grass. After being elevated to second via disqualification in the 2010 Oliver Stakes, he rolled to a 2 1/4-length decision in the Jersey Derby, but was not seen again that year. Hudson Steele returned to action with an optional claiming score at Gulfstream Park in the spring of 2011, and finished a troubled, hard-charging second in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy next out. Sidelined once more, he didn't reappear until the April 28 Henry S. Clark.

Bred by Jay W. Bligh in Kentucky, Hudson Steele is out of the winning Smart Strike mare Strike the Sky. This is the family of Grade 1 winners Ida Delia and Victory Speech, Grade 2 victress Nikishka and noted sire Be My Guest.