Ultimate Eagle Shows the Way in Hollywood Derby

A day after winning the $250,000 Citation Handicap with favored Jeranimo, owner B.J. Wright and trainer Mike Pender struck again in the $250,000 Hollywood Derby Sunday at Hollywood Park.


Ultimate Eagle, a 14-1 outsider, completed the 2011 Turf Festival with a gate-to-wire victory under jockey Martin Pedroza.


The win was the fourth in a row – all since he was switched to grass - for the 3-year-old Mizzen Mast colt out of the Captain Bodgit mare Letithappencaptain and came six weeks after he had wired the field at 34-1 in the Grade II Oak Tree Derby at Santa Anita.


Providing Pedroza with his first Grade I victory since he won the 2010 Triple Bend with E Z’s Gentleman during the Spring/Summer meet at Hollywood Park, Ultimate Eagle was hustled out of the gate to gain the advantage, then relaxed through moderate splits (24.67, 49.07 and 1:14.12 for six furlongs) with New York invader Imagining in close pursuit.


The pair separated themselves from the rest of the field entering the stretch and continued to battle with Ultimate Eagle eventually prevailing by three-quarters of a length. The final time for the 1 ¼ miles was 2:01.43.


Pushing his earnings to $329,800 in six starts, Ultimate Eagle paid $31.40, $13 and $7.60.


Imagining, a 13-1 shot making his first appearance in a graded race for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, returned $14.60 and $10.80. He wound up a half-length in front of Western Aristocrat, another colt who had made his most recent start in New York- winning the Grade I Jamaica Handicap Oct. 8 at Belmont Park – ran on for third under jockey Corey Nakatani. The show payoff on Western Aristocrat, who was 9-1, was $8.20.


No better than third in three races over Cushion Track to begin his career, Ultimate Eagle, a $70,000 2-year-old purchase, has blossomed with the surface switch. His victories have come on three different courses. Before his wins at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, the dark bay had earned his maiden victory July 31 at Del Mar.


“It’s miraculous considering where this horse came from,’’ said Pender after earning his first Grade I. “He had colic as a 2-year-old and was basically pronounced dead on the table.


“Somehow, by an act of God, he was brought back to life. He prefers the lead, but he doesn’t have to have it. I was hoping he would assert himself and get to the lead by himself, but (Imagining) was pressing him every step of the way from the half-mile pole home. He just refused to let up.


“Ultimately I would like to get him back on dirt. He trains so much better on dirt. He really hasn’t handled synthetic surfaces all that well. We’ll take it a day at a time from here.’’


Slumber was a neck behind Western Aristocrat in fourth, then came Venomous, Casino Host, Cozy Kitten, Willcox Inn, the lukewarm 3-1 favorite, Irish Art, Surrey Star and Cloud Man, who went wrong around the final turn. The 3-year-old Thunder Gulch colt suffered pastern and cannon bone fractures to his left front leg. Surrey Star, who was virtually eased in the final quarter of a mile, was vanned off with discomfort in his right front leg.


Pedroza, who has been riding since 1981, had high praise for the winner.


“This is undoubtedly the best horse I’ve ever ridden,’’ he said. “I thought Martial Law (the upset winner of the 1989 Santa Anita Handicap) was, but this horse is better. He’s a younger version. This is just a beautiful horse to ride. People think he has to be on the lead, but he doesn’t.


“I wanted to be on the lead, but it wasn’t necessary. When he gets to the front he relaxes immediately. I was pretty confident and he came through like I thought he would.’’



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