BALTIMORE, MD – Phipps Stable’s homebred Fire Away saved all the ground on Saturday before exploding through an open hole down the inside of the front stretch to take a dimunitive edition of Grade 3, $250,000 Dixie Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.
Breaking along the rail as the 6-5 favorite under Manny Franco, Fire Away was content to save ground behind early leader Unbridled Juan through slow early splits of :24.63, :48.65, and 1:12.20. Hugging the rail on a track sloppy (sealed) course was a move that no other foe had dared yet attempt, but Fire Away made it work to his advantage. Midway down the front stretch, Unbridled Juan drifted out slightly, allowing Fire Away enough space off of the rail to find firmer footing and wrestle away command. The Shug McGaughey trainee continued to draw off late, hitting the wire first by 3/4 of a length in a final time of 1:43.92 for the 1 1/16-mile main track event that was originally scheduled for the rain-affected turf course.
“I mean, it’s fair,” Franco said about the inside of the dirt course. “I saw the races before that horses were winning on the inside. The assistant trainer didn’t tell me to go outside or anything. I just trusted my horse and he responded. This horse, when you start asking him, he gives it to you. I just tried to keep busy on him and it worked out well.”
Though he weakened late, Unbridled Juan was able to fend off Just Howard in the shadow of the wire, taking second by a 1/2-length. O Dionysus never fired and finished fourth. The other four entrants – Divisidero, Doctor Mounty, Frostmourne, and World Approval – all scratched when the race switched surfaces.
Fire Away’s win was his first graded stakes score and improved his overall record to 22-7-4-4. The 6-year-old son of War Front increased his career bankroll to $598,397.
“The horse is doing unbelievably good,” said Robbie Medina, assistant to McGaughey. “We wanted to run on the grass, but he has Danzig on one side and Fappiano on the other, and the track is really tight. Shug and I talked this morning and I said, ‘You know, he’ll probably like that track.’ In the morning, when the track is sealed, he likes it. And, you know, he’s a different horse now that he’s 6. He’s a lot stronger. So, we took a shot and it worked out.”
Fire Away returned $4.60 to win and $2.60 to place, while Unbridled Juan paid $2.60 to place. There was no show betting due to the field size.
Editor’s note: the race was originally a Grade 2 event when scheduled for the turf but was downgraded when moved to the dirt.