HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Howe Great strode from the Gulfstream Park turf course onto the Road to the Kentucky Derby Sunday with an impressive triumph in the $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes.
Trained by Graham Motion, who saddled Animal Kingdom for a Kentucky Derby (G1) upset victory last year, the 3-year-old colt withstood constant pressure before opening up in the stretch and holding off a strong bid by Dullahan by a length.
“We talked about it before the race and decided the logical spot for him, if he did well today, would be to go to the Blue Grass (G1),” said Motion of the stakes at Keeneland on April 14, ‘and see where we go from there.”
Dullahan, a Grade 1 stakes winner making his first start of 2012, will follow Howe Great to the Blue Grass following his late-closing performance in the 1 1/16-mile turf stakes.
“I’m very pleased. I thought that was a perfect race for him in his comeback. He finished good; we just wanted to see him finish good at the end,” trainer Dale Romans said. “The one horse (Howe Great) is a quality race horse. This sets us up good, so we’ll go from here to the Blue Grass.”
Howe Great captured his fourth straight race and third in a row at Gulfstream Park, where the son of Hat Trick won his turf debut in an entry-level allowance before posting a front-running triumph in the $100,000 Kitten’s Joy Stakes.
The Kentucky-bred colt was outrun for pacesetting honors by longshot Scorcher, who was never able to crossover to the rail as the eventual winner pressed the pace from the inside. Velazquez asked the 3-5 favorite for his kick leaving the turn into the homestretch as Scorcher began to tire and Dullahan, who settled toward the back of the six-horse field early, made his bid under Kent Desormeaux with a wide sweeping move.
Howe Great sprinted to a two-length lead in mid-stretch and held Dullahan’s challenge at bay to complete the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.56.
“He hasn’t done too much wrong in his life. He’s a very classy, straightforward horse. The more he races, the more relaxed he has become,” Motion said. “He’s been in front in some of his races, but as you saw today he’s very tractable and relaxed, and doesn’t need the lead.”
Velazquez was impressed with Howe Great’s composure while racing lapped-on by Scorcher.
“He was on the inside but didn’t seem to mind. Around the half-mile pole I squeezed him just a little and he popped right back onto the bridle and from there I made sure to save something for the stretch,” said Velazquez, who rode Animal Kingdom to victory in the Derby. “When I asked him in the stretch, he responded right away. It’s fun to ride the kind of horses that run as soon as you ask them.”
Dullahan, the 2-1 second betting choice who finished 2 ¾ lengths clear of third-place finisher, finished well after racing four wide around the turn into the stretch.
“I think the race was perfect for him. He’s so good, he’s getting ready in a stakes,” said Desormeaux of Donegal Racing’s colt. “The other horse [Howe Great] had the recency and we loomed large around the far turn, but the winner possessed another gear. I’ll possess that gear next time.”
Howe Great, who launched his career with a second-place finish and a victory on the Parx main track, picked up his first graded-stakes earnings for Team Valor International with the $90,000 winner’s purse and will need a strong placing in the Blue Grass to qualify for the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field.
Dullahan, who captured the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) before finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last fall, already has more than enough graded earnings to claim a stall in the Churchill Downs starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
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