LEXINGTON, Ky. -- After some tough beats over the winter, Eagle finally got some racing luck -- not to mention a terrific ride from Brian Hernandez Jr. -- in overtaking Noble Bird to post his first graded stakes victory in the Grade 3, $200,000 Ben Ali, the first of four straight stakes on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon at Keeneland.
Bred and owned by Will Farish of Lane's End Farm, Eagle saved ground on both turns of the 86th Ben Ali before angling out and wearing down Noble Bird, who had led the 1-1/8-mile race from the start.
"It was a great ride and a great run from the colt," said winning trainer Neil Howard.
Eagle, a 4-year-old colt by Candy Ride, finished in 1:48.57 over a fast track and returned $6 as the favorite in a field of eight older horses. Noble Bird, the 3-1 second choice, was 1-1/4 lengths behind the winner and 4 3/4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher Breaking Lucky.
Noble Bird was well rated on a solo lead by Julien Leparoux through fractions of 23.58 seconds, 47.76, and 1:11.86, all while Hernandez made key moves on the first turn and up the backstretch to gain a prime position for the final half-mile. Eagle tracked Noble Bird to the quarter pole, then swung out and grinded out his sixth triumph from 13 overall starts.
"I got a beautiful trip," said Hernandez. "I followed the fence the whole way around there. Noble Bird sprinted away from us a little turning for home, but my horse dug down and got there. He laid his life on the line."
"This colt gives you everything," said Howard. "He's a product of what the folks do every day at Lane's End."
Eagle won back-to-back allowances in Kentucky last fall before winning the ungraded Tenacious in December at Howard's winter base, Fair Grounds in New Orleans. He then ran second in the ungraded Louisiana, second in the Grade 3 Mineshaft, and was elevated to third in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap on March 26.
After the top four, the order was Doyouknowsomething, Neck 'n Neck, General a Rod, Hawaakom, and J S Bach. Are You Kidding Me and Ami's Holiday were early scratches.
The $2 exacta (6-5) paid $24.60, the $1 trifecta (6-5-1) returned $103.80, and the 10-cent superfecta (6-5-1-4) was worth $80.08.
Pro Football Hall of Fame member John Elway was on hand to present the winner's trophy.