With the big, sweeping move around the final turn that has become his trademark, Lord Avie won the rich Florida Derby today and recouped some of his own lost prestige.
The long-range favorite for the Kentucky Derby had suffered an unexpected defeat at Gulfstream Park two weeks ago, but today he demolished the horses who had upset him. He scored the easiest victory of his career as he ran away from Akureyri by 4 1/2 lengths.
To the 30,113 spectators who watched him, Lord Avie's powerful finishing kick probably seems his greatest quality. In fact, he demonstrated today that his one virtue is his consistency. He runs almost the same race every time he sets foot on a track.
He runs it when he is beaten, and he ran it again today, covering the 1 1/8 miles in a very unimpressive 1:50 2/5 over a fast track. He won big because the horse behind him ran so dismally.
The time suggests that none of the trailers will be contenders in the Triple Crown races, and leaves doubts whether Lord Avie will be able to keep winning when he meets more respectable opposition.
But the Teletimer was of little concern to trainer Danny Perlsweig, who exclaimed, "I feel vindicated. I think he has been reestablished as the top 3-year-old."
Perlsweig said his major concern before the race was not his own horse but the way the Florida Derby would develop. Perlsweig thought a slow pace had helped cause Lord Avie's defeat in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, and hoped there would be enough early competition today to soften up the front runners.
He got his wish because of Five Star Flight, a promising but unseasoned, colt whose trainer predicted he would win this $226,750 event in a romp. Five Star Flight went to the lead and battled several challengers, speeding the first half-mile in 47 seconds.
Jockey Eddie Maple, aboard Akureyri, restrained his horse a few lengths behind this speed duel in excellent position, while Chris McCarron let Lord Avie dawdle in the back of the pack.
As the field reached the final turn, Maple made his move, swooping four wide around the leaders, and for a split second it appeared that he was going to win this race with ease. But just as he accelerated, Lord Avie was starting to make his move.
Lord Avie zoomed past Akureyri in mid-stretch, and the outcome of the Florida Derby was no longer in doubt. As all of the speed horses collapsed, longshot Linnleur rallied to be third.
Lord Avie returned $4, $3, and $2.60. Akureyi paid $4.20 and Linnleur returned $9.20 to show.
Perlsweig said Lord Avie will next run in the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah, then ship to Keeneland for the Blue Grass Stakes as his final prep before the Kentucky Derby. The colt's preparation has gone perfectly according to plan, even the defeat in the Fountain of Youth came at the right time. "I wouldn't say I was happy to get beat," Persweig said, "but it did take a lot of pressure off.It let the air out of the balloon for a while."
But if from Perlsweig's perspective everything seems perfect, handicappers who believe in the importance of time know that the air must inevitably be let out of his balloon again. The Florida Derby represented Lord Avie's maximum effort and yet his time was the slowest for a winner of this race in a decade.