HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence’s Focus Group found an opening along the rail in midstretch and surged through to nose out his first career graded score in Saturday’s Pan American Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park.

Horse Racing Picks

Breaking from the rail as the 9/5 favorite under Irad Ortiz, Jr., Focus Group settled along the inside in midpack while Village King and Salute the Colonel dueled two-wide up front through opening fractions of :24.93, :51.62, 1:18.37, and 1:44.87. Rounding the far turn for the second time, the bettors’ choice remained perfectly positioned just behind the pacesetters. At the top of the stretch, an opening emerged along the rail and Focus Group surged through. Under a steady drive the length of the stretch, Focus Group dug in and just nipped a game Melmich along the outside by a nose for the victory. The Chad Brown trainee completed the 1 1/2-mile marathon event in 2:30.03 over the firm turf course.

“I got a perfect trip, I saved all the ground I could,” said Ortiz, Jr., who won his third stakes race on the card. “(Village King) got out a little bit, so I was a little lucky I got through there, which was probably the key for us. Javier (Castellano, aboard Melmich) had to check a little bit because he had a horse there and that’s why I won the race. We got lucky (that) we got the win. He’s a nice horse who always tries. From this race, I think he’ll improve.”

Village King lacked the final kick needed to keep pace and faded late to finish third ahead of Canessar, who was forced to steady in midstretch after Melmich lugged in and cut him off. Jockey Feargal Lynch lodged a claim of foul against Melmich for the alleged interference, but after reviewing the stretch run, the stewards took no action.

Highland Sky nosed out Soglio for fifth, while Bigger Picture necked out Nessy for seventh. Salute the Colonel weakened steadily in the stretch to complete the order of finish.

Focus Group’s win, his first in a graded event, was his fourth in his past six starts and improved his overall record to 12-5-0-3. The lightly-raced 5-year-old son of Kitten’s Joy increased his career earnings mark to $438,164.

“I’m really proud of this horse,” Brown said. “He got a great trip on the inside. He saved all the ground. I thought he was a couple works short. I was trying to get a race into the horse with the Man o’ War (G1) in mind up in New York (on May 11). It worked out. I thought he’d be a little short to win, but he got a great trip. The trip he got from Irad was the difference.”

Focus Group returned $5.80 to win, $4.40 to place, and $3.40 to show. Melmich brought back $8.40 to place and $5.20 to show, while Village King paid $5.60 to show.