NEW ORLEANS -- Jockey Anna Napravnik put herself in position to become the first female rider to win the Kentucky Derby by guiding Pants On Fire to a mild upset victory on Saturday at Fair Grounds in the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby, a race in which favored Mucho Macho Man finished third after losing a front shoe leaving the gate.
Pants On Fire ($14.40) was coupled in the wagering with Nacho Business, both trained by Kelly Breen and owned by George and Lori Hall. He was near the front throughout, and held off bids by 36-1 shot Nehro and Mucho Macho Man to prevail in 1:49.92 for 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track.
Pants On Fire beat Nehro by a neck, with Mucho Macho Man another half-length back in third, beaten three-quarters of a length after racing with three shoes for the entire 1 1/8 miles.
Kathy Ritvo, the trainer of Mucho Macho Man, held the front shoe in her hand after the race. It was given to her by a member of the gate crew, who spotted it as soon as the horses left the gate. All the nails were still in it, and a piece of flesh was laying on it.
Instead of the day belonging to Ritvo, the crown was worn by Napravnik, 23, who has been a sensation here this winter, leading the standings.
Pants On Fire had finished sixth to Mucho Macho Man in last month's Risen Star Stakes, the major prep for the Louisiana Derby. Breen said that Pants On Fire always had seemed to be inferior to Nacho Business in his training, "but you could see him start to blossom recently," he said after the race.
"It was like the lightbulb went on," Breen said. "Six weeks ago, he could not hold a candle to Nacho Business. But he shipped good. You could see him develop. He was really doing well. You don't know what or when it why it happens. He did have a little bit of a lung infection after his last race, and we cleaned it out with antibiotics. This was good timing, a million-dollar race."
Pants On Fire, by Jump Start, has won twice in eight starts. The $600,000 he earned on Saturday gives him more than enough graded stakes earnings to make the Derby field on May 7.
Breen said he was inclined to skip any remaining preps with Pants On Fire and head straight to the Derby.