SHELBYVILLE, IN – Slam Dunk Racing’s Axelrod battled hard the length of the stretch and got up just in time to nip Trigger Warning by a head at the wire in Saturday’s Grade 3, $500,000 Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand Race Course.
Breaking well from post 6 under Florent Geroux, Axelrod was in danger of being pinched as the field passed the grandstands for the first time, so Geroux dropped back and was able to save ground along the inside heading into the first turn. Meanwhile, Trigger Warning took full advantage of his rail draw, using his strong early speed to beat Blame the Rider to the lead before setting the pace through splits of :23.65, :47.66, and 1:11.52. Straightening for home, Trigger Warning was still running strongly up front with a 3-length lead, but Axelrod was all-out under a drive to catch him, even slightly brushing Title Ready in the process. In the final 1/16, Axelrod seemed to find a new gear and was able to propel himself from third to first in exactly the amount of steps that he needed to win. The final time for the 1 1/16-mile main track event was 1:43.00.
“There was a lot of speed in the race and it’s just how the race unfolded,” Geroux said. “I didn’t feel like being between horses. That’s just how it is sometimes. When I began to move him in the turn, his heart started getting bigger and bigger. I just felt confident right about the 3/8 pole. Before then, not so much. That was close at the end. I mean, I’m not sure (about catching Trigger Warning). But the last two jumps, my horse just kept running on.”
Title Ready ran on well in deep stretch to finish third ahead of the favored King Zachary, who could only muster fourth by a head over Dark Vader, the second betting choice. Funny Duck was nearly 8 lengths behind in sixth and was followed by The Money Dance, Givemeaminit, and Blame the Rider, whose connections may have regretted their decision to race here, rather than in the Grade 3 Kent Stakes earlier in the day at Delaware Park, where he had been cross-entered.
Axelrod’s win was his first of 2018 and improved his record to 8-3-1-1. The Michael McCarthy-trained 3-year-old son of Warrior’s Reward increased his career earnings to $360,925 after taking home the $290,000 winner’s share of the purse.
“It’s a late-developing family, and this horse is just getting better all the time,” McCarthy said. “We gave him a little bit of a break over the winter. It seemed to do him some good, and everything he’s done since then has just been great. For $500,000, I thought it was a great spot. My owner was very bullish about sending him as well, so I’m very happy about that. When everybody is on board and these things come together and work out, it gives you a lot of satisfaction.”
Axelrod returned $26.80 to win, $9.80 to place, and $5.60 to show. Trigger Warning brought back $6.80 to place and $4.80 to show, while Title Ready paid $4 to show.