Nick Zito experienced little better than anguish, embarrassment and futility in the Triple Crown series this spring as his highly touted battalion of 3-year-olds misfired in one race after another. On Sunday afternoon, however, one of them put a little shine back on the team's reputation as Sun King seized the lead at the start, fought off a challenge from High Limit and pulled away to easily win the Grade III $300,000 Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park.
The Richards serves as a prep for the major summer objectives for 3-year-olds, the Haskell Invitational, the Travers Stakes and also the West Virginia Derby.
"That was the real Sun King," a happy and relieved Zito said in the winners circle.
The Leonard Richards was the main support for the Grade II $1 million Delaware Handicap, the richest race in the 68-year history of the track. In that 11/4-mile race for fillies and mares, Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey overcame the No. 12 post position on the far outside by patiently allowing his mount, Island Sand, to move into contention before attacking leader Two Trail Sioux and pulling away to win by 33/4 lengths.
At first it appeared that three runners from the Preakness Stakes -- Sun King, High Limit and runner-up Scrappy T -- would renew hostilities in the Leonard Richards, but Bowie-based trainer Robbie Bailes scratched Scrappy T after discovering a hind-end injury in the horse during a workout Thursday.
High Limit, fifth in the Preakness, was bet down to odds of 3-5 by the crowd of 13,110, but broke a step slow, allowing Sun King's rider, Rafael Bejarano, to go to the front.
When Sun King reached the far turn in the 11/16-mile race, High Limit engaged him on the outside before fading to third.
Golden Man had raced the day before, finishing third in the Grade III Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park, yet rallied to place second. It was unclear whether any modern-day horse had ever placed in graded stakes races on back-to-back days.
Sun King, 15th in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness, won in a time of 1 minute 43.33 seconds. Island Sand earned $600,000 in the Delaware Handicap and finished in a time of 2:02.89.
Top Maryland-based filly Silmaril, trained by Chris Grove at the Bowie Training Center, finished ninth in the Delaware Handicap.