Great Hunter tunes up with Lewis win

Santa Anita, 8th Race - March 3, 2007

ARCADIA, Calif. -- After four months on the sidelines, Great Hunter returned to the races with a perfect comeback on Saturday at Santa Anita, scoring a 1 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2, $200,000 Robert Lewis Stakes while looking as though there was plenty in reserve.

Great Hunter ($3.80) was facing eight seemingly overmatched 3-year-olds, and he dispatched them with ease, despite a stubborn bid from Sam P. What was more impressive, though, was the way Great Hunter galloped out, as though he was just getting warmed up going the 1 1/16 miles of the Lewis.

"The goal is the first Saturday in May," owner Paul Reddam said, referring to the Kentucky Derby, "but it's nice to win anyway."

Great Hunter completed the distance in 1:42.89 on the fast main track. Sam P., who shipped in from Florida, finished 2 1/4 lengths in front of third-place Saint Paul, who set the early pace.

Great Hunter was eighth of nine heading into the first turn, and remained near the rear of the pack while wide down the backstretch. As the field advanced around the far turn, though, he quickly reached contention while cruising under jockey Corey Nakatani.

"I let him kick clear, and he galloped out strong," Nakatani said. "He was pretty handy the whole race."

"He has a pretty good turn of foot, but he can't use it too early," Reddam said. "Corey rode him perfectly."

Great Hunter, a colt by Aptitude, has now won three times in eight starts, and has never finished out of the money. He had not raced since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Last fall, he won the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, and that is one reason why Great Hunter likely will make his next start - and have his final prep for the Derby - in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 14, trainer Doug O'Neill said.

O'Neill also trains Derby contenders Liquidity and Notional for Reddam, and Cobalt Blue for owner Merv Griffin.