Pioneerof the Nile overcomes troubled trip

ARCADIA, Calif. -- It was the first start of the year for Pioneerof the Nile, a race he did not need to win, and he did not have the best of trips. None of it mattered. In a performance that stamped him as a one of the elite contenders for the Kentucky Derby, Pioneerof the Nile closed furiously to take the Grade 2, $200,000 Robert Lewis Stakes for 3-year-olds on Saturday at Santa Anita.

Pioneerof the Nile ran into a roadblock on the far turn, and subsequently lost position. Rather than continue that futile pattern, jockey Garrett Gomez wheeled Pioneerof the Nile to the far outside coming into the stretch, and he closed like a rocket to catch 17-1 shot Papa Clem and prevail.

He was timed in 1:41.90 for 1 1/16 miles, a significantly faster raw time than what the filly Stardom Bound did one hour earlier in the one-mile Las Virgenes Stakes.

Pioneerof the Nile ($5.40), the favorite, won by a half-length, a margin that was deceptive, for he was swiftly moving past his rivals in the final yards. Papa Clem finished one length in front of third-place I Want Revenge.

The win was the third in six starts for Pioneerof the Nile, who in his previous start won the CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park. He has won both his starts since his owner and breeder, Ahmed Zayat, transferred him to trainer Bob Baffert.

"He overcame a lot, which you want them do to," Baffert said. "I like the way he behaved today, too. He was very well behaved in the paddock."

The win was the fourth of the day for Gomez, and the third of the day for Zayat. Gomez said Pioneerof the Nile, a colt by Empire Maker, "overcame a lot of adversity."

"It was a great race so early in the year," Gomez said.

"Unbelievable," Zayat said. "He knows where the wire is."