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Ultimate Eagle Stuns Oak Tree Derby Foes

Ultimate Eagle, a 34-1 shot making his stakes debut, gained an early lead Saturday in Santa Anita’s Grade II, $150,000 Oak Tree Derby and simply kept on going in the mile-and-one-eighth turf event to score by one-half length over late-charging French import Venomous.

Ridden by Martin Pedroza, the dark bay son of Mizzen Mast stretched his winning streak to three for owner B. J. Wright while timed in 1:47.03, but his lack of stakes experience made him an unattractive commodity on the tote board.

Pedroza directed Ultimate Eagle though relatively soft early fractions of 23.27, 47.09 and 1:10.53 after he shook off early pressure by favored Midnight Interlude. Venomous’ furious rally presented the only real scare, and the newcomer could have even been more threatening except for steadying briefly inside the sixteenth pole under jockey Joel Rosario.

Venomous finished a half-length ahead of Cozy Kitten, ridden by Alonso Quinonez. Midnight Interlude, the 9-5 favorite in a field of 14, checked in fourth without seriously threatening. His jockey, Rafael Bejarano, claimed foul against the runner-up, saying his horse was impeded during the stretch run, but the claim was disallowed.

Mike Pender, who trains Ultimate Eagle, said that the race unfolded according to plan. “Yeah, we had intentions of taking the lead, and saying, ‘come catch me.’” Pender said. “It looked like there was contending speed, but this horse has one way of going. Pedroza fits this horse just beautifully. It’s like putting a hand in a glove.”

“I really didn’t want to be in a speed duel,” Pedroza said, “but I had a fast horse and had to use it to my advantage. I had an inside post and the other speed horse (Midnight Interlude) came beside me and I took advantage of that into the first turn.

“My horse was going fast, but he was pretty comfortable. There was never a doubt in my mind he could run this big. In my mind, he was not 40-1 or whatever his odds were. I like this horse, and I told Mike, ‘Wow,’ when I worked him last. That’s all I can say about this horse.”

The stunning stakes victory for owner Wright and trainer Pender was their second at the meet within one week’s time. On the previous Saturday, their Jeranimo had upset 4-5 favorite Mr. Commons in the Grade II, $150,000 Oak Tree Mile.

Ultimate Eagle paid $70.40, $23.60 and $12.20. Venomous, who was bred in Great Britain, paid $6.20 and $5. The show price on Cozy Kitten was $9.20.

Six of the race participants were exiting the Sept. 4 Del Mar Derby. Five of them finished with three-quarters of a length of one another that day with runner-up Midnight Interlude losing by a nose to Banned. As expected, the Del Mar Derby largely influenced Saturday’s wagering.

The exception was Venomous, the 4-1 second choice who had been competitive in Group I company in France. He will remain in the United States and join the stable of Leonard Powell. “The horse flew the last furlong,” commented Powell. “I was very impressed.”

The Oak Tree Derby’s winning purse was worth $90,000 to Wright while elevating his colt’s earnings to $179,800 from a 3-0-2 mark in six starts. He and Pender feel fortunate that Ultimate Eagle even exists.

“This was our Kentucky Derby horse before he got colic as a 2-year-old,” said Pender. “It’s a miracle he’s even here. It would make a great story.” Added Wright, “He came within a breath of dying last June. We’re very proud that he’s alive.”



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