Bandini came through with a fabulous stretch run and won the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes in Lexington, Ky., yesterday, giving trainer Todd Pletcher a serious contender for the Kentucky Derby.
The long-striding Bandini stormed into the lead with three-sixteenths of a mile to go and put away more celebrated 3-year-old stars High Limit, Sun King and Consolidator on a picture-perfect day at Keeneland.
In the strongest Derby prep race of the season, and before a record crowd of 33,621, Bandini delivered a huge effort when it was needed most. Pletcher, who led all trainers with 35 nominees to the Triple Crown races, was in danger of missing the Derby on May 7 unless Bandini boosted his graded stakes earnings.
Did he ever. The son of 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus earned $465,000 with his victory in the Grade I Blue Grass, moving into the top 10 money-earners. If more than 20 horses are entered in the Derby, graded stakes earnings determine the field.
Bandini, ridden by John Velazquez, finished six lengths ahead of favorite High Limit, who lost for the first time in four starts.
In winning for the third time in five career starts, Bandini covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1 minute 50.16 seconds.
Closing Argument was third, followed by trainer Nick Zito's Sun King, Consolidator, Spanish Chestnut and Mr Sword.
ARKANSAS DERBY: Afleet Alex proved he could win after going two turns, passing the field in the final quarter-mile and charging to an eight-length victory in the $1 million race at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.
Afleet Alex pulled up at the quarter pole in his last outing, the 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes in mid-March, and trainers said he was suffering from a lung infection. By the time he reached the same spot in yesterday's 1 1/8-mile race, he led by three lengths and was stretching the lead.
Flower Alley finished second after breaking out early and being seemingly content near the head of the pack for the rest of the race. Andromeda's Hero finished third after chasing the leaders the whole way.
Afleet Alex, ridden by Jeremy Rose, returned $6.80, $4.60 and 3.80. Flower Alley paid $5.20 and Andromeda's Hero paid $4.00.
Greater Good, the locally trained crowd favorite who won the Rebel States, never challenged.
Oaklawn Park had its second-highest attendance ever -- 71,010. The largest crowd in track history was 71,203, when Rampage won the Arkansas Derby in 1986.