ARCADIA, Calif. -- With his mind halfway on the job at hand, Pioneerof the Nile extended his stakes-winning streak to three races in Saturday's $200,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.
The victory puts Pioneerof the Nile on course for a first-time matchup with two-time stakes winner The Pamplemousse in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4.
In the Grade 2 San Felipe, Pioneerof the Nile ($2.60) ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.35, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Feisty Suances. It appeared as if the winning margin would be much greater in early stretch when Pioneerof the Nile reached the front, but he needed reminders from jockey Garrett Gomez through the stretch.
"He was good until the eighth pole," Gomez said. "He wanted to wait on horses. He did everything perfect until then."
Gomez had Pioneerof the Nile in fifth place on the first turn, about four lengths behind New Bay, who set a slow pace of 23.96 and 48.60 seconds. Sensing a slow pace, Gomez guided Pioneerof the Nile closer to the front on the backstretch and into second, trailing New Bay by about a length at the end of the backstretch.
Feisty Suances closed from fourth to finish a length in front of Jeranimo in the field of six. As expected, Kelly Leak, the winner of a one-mile allowance race on turf last month, was scratched early Saturday.
Pioneerof the Nile was such an overwhelming favorite in the show pool that there was a minus pool of $112,812.
Pioneerof the Nile has won 4 of 7 starts and $784,200 for Zayat Stables. Trained by Bob Baffert, Pioneerof the Nile is now unbeaten in his last three starts, a streak that includes the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity in December and the Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes last month. All three races have been over 1 1/16 miles.
"I liked what I saw today," Baffert said in the winner's circle. "We can tighten the screws for the Santa Anita Derby."
Baffert said he was not concerned about the way Pioneerof The Nile ran through the stretch.
"It won't be like that in the Santa Anita Derby," he said. "He'll have The Pamplemousse to deal with. He won't be able to lollygag."