FRANKLIN, KY – In perhaps the best stretch battle of the entire Kentucky Downs meet, Calumet Farm’s homebred Channel Cat outdueled a too-good-to-love Cullum Road to win Wednesday’s $400,000 Exacta Systems Dueling Grounds Derby.
Breaking well from post 9 under Luis Saez at 5/2 odds, Channel Cat sat just off the early pacesetter Fred’stwirlincandy through opening fractions of :26.40, :52.40, 1:18.22, and 1:42.60. Ranging up to take the lead with a furlong remaining, Channel Cat wasn’t able to relax for long, as Cullum Road made a bold bid in the stretch. Fighting hard side by side, the two kept running strongly through to the wire, but in the end, the Todd Pletcher-trained Channel Cat refused to yield and crossed with a head advantage in a final time of 2:15.51 for the 1 5/16-mile event over a turf course rated good.
“He likes to be covered up, like fourth or fifth,” Saez said. “But he broke so sharp and the pace was slow, so I just tried to wait for the moment to let him run, and he just took me there. He’s a really fighting horse. So when I saw the other horse came up alongside, I came close to him, and he did the rest.”
Over 3 lengths back came Captivating Moon, who loomed dangerously in the far turn but flattened out in the stretch. The 9/5 favorite Bandua ran a close second through the opening mile but couldn’t deliver the necessary kick to keep up late and faded to finish fourth by a 1/2-length over Jailhouse Kitten and a weakened Fred’stwirlincandy. Zero Gravity headed Reride for seventh, with Morning Stride and Zanesville completing the order of finish.
Channel Cat’s win was his first in a stakes race and improved his overall record to 11-3-2-2. The 3-year-old son of English Channel has now earned $431,792 in his lifetime.
“I’d seen the race before, and that filly went wire to wire,” said Pletcher. “So I was happy to see him in a good tactical position early. It’s a little bit hard to gauge exactly where you are watching races at Kentucky Downs on TV, but it looked like he was always traveling pretty well and handling the course. The fact that he was involved gave me confidence that he was handling it. So that part was good. Then it looked like (Cullum Road) had some momentum, but he fought back and was very game.”
Channel Cat returned $7 to win, $3.80 to place, and $2.80 to show. Cullum Road brought back $13.80 to place and $5.80 to show, while Captivating Moon paid $3.20 to show.