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BALTIMORE – John Oxley’s Noble Bird regrouped from a poor performance two weeks ago, rolling to an 11 ¼-length victory over Idolo Porteno in Friday’s $300,000 Sagamore Spirit Pimlico Special (G3) on Pimlico’s Black-Eyed Susan (G2) undercard.
The 46th running of the historic 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special was the first of four graded stakes and second of seven overall stakes on the 14-race Black-Eyed Susan Day program.
The winning time of 1:55.18 for the 1 3/16 miles was the fastest in the four runnings since the Special resumed after a three-year hiatus.
Noble Bird, with Julien Leparoux aboard for trainer Mark Casse, became the heavy favorite with the scratches of morning-line favorites Stanford and Page McKenney and paid $3.60 to win.
The 5-year-old chestnut quickly shook off 45-1 longshot Warrioroftheroses for the lead, with Leparoux able to reel off sensible fractions of 23.53 seconds for the first quarter-mile, 47.48 for the half and 1:12.12 for six furlongs. With none of his five rivals able to make a dent on his lead, Noble Bird hit the mile in 1:36.80, cruising the last three-sixteenths in a solid 18.38 under intermittent encouragement.
“The last time I rode him he didn’t break good. This time I learned from that,” Leparoux said. “I thought just be patient with him. The key for today was to let him alone. He relaxed beautifully. I tried to sit behind [Warrioroftheroses] but he wanted to go. He likes being out front looking at everything.”
The Argentine-bred Idolo Porteno, ridden by Florent Geroux, finished six lengths in front of Warrioroftheroses, who edged Savoy Stop by a head.
Noble Bird either runs really well or terrible, and how he starts often determines how he finishes. The son of 2004 Belmont Stakes (G1) and Travers (G1) winner Birdstone won last year’s Stephen Foster (G1), then lost Saratoga’s Whitney (G1) by 24 lengths, coming out of the race with a hip injury that knocked him out for the rest of the season.
He started back in an Oaklawn Park allowance race, losing by 12 lengths before setting the pace in Keeneland’s Ben Ali (G3), weakening late to be second. The bad-boy Noble Bird returned in Churchill Downs’ Alysheba (G2) on the Kentucky Oaks (G1) undercard, hopping at the start and losing by 13 lengths in the stakes he lost in a photo finish in 2015.
Noble Bird, a $105,000 Saratoga yearling purchase, now is 5-4-0 in 15 starts, earning $755,785 with the $180,000 payday.
“It was the exact opposite of what happened to him last time,” winning trainer Mark Casse said. “I’ve been doing this for 37 years and he’s one of the toughest horses I’ve ever trained. After his last race I said, ‘No, he’s the toughest.’ He makes good riders look bad.
“As a 2-year-old, I told Mr. Oxley that this hore was going to win the Kentucky Derby, that’s the ability that he displayed,” he added. “He’s his own worst enemy. Today? That’s how good he is. They went the half-mile in 47 [seconds] and they thought he went in 50. He’s just a really talented horse.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Stanford will train up to Belmont Park’s Metropolitan Mile (G1) June 11. Page McKenney was withdrawn with what trainer Mary Eppler described as a minor tendon injury. Stanford and Page McKenney finished 1-2 in the $1.25 million Charles Town Classic (G2) last month.
The Special’s rich past includes the iconic 1938 match race won by Seabiscuit over Triple Crown winner War Admiral. The stakes was discontinued after 1958 but revived in 1988 by the late Maryland Jockey Club president Frank De Francis. The Special’s winners include Triple Crown winners Whirlaway, Citation and Assault and modern-day Horses of the Year Criminal Type, Cigar, Skip Away, Mineshaft and Invasor.
Winning Trainer Mark Casse (Noble Bird): “It was the exact opposite of what happened to him last time. Before his last start, I told a couple news people that I’ve been doing this for 37 years and he’s one of the toughest horses I’ve ever trained. After his last race, ‘No, he’s the toughest.’ He makes good riders look bad. He’s so sensitive about his mounts. As a 2-year-old, I told Mr. Oxley that this horse was going to win the Kentucky Derby, that’s the ability that he displayed. He’s his own worst enemy. Today? That’s how good he is. They went the half-mile in 47 (seconds) and Julien (Leparoux) thought they went in 50. He’s just a really talented horse.”
Winning Jockey Julien Leparoux (Noble Bird): “The last time I rode him he didn’t break good. This time I learned from that. I thought just be patient with him. The key for today was to let him alone. He relaxed beautifully. I tried to sit behind [Warrioroftheroses] but he wanted to go. He likes being out front looking at everything.”
(On scratches of Stanford and Page McKenney) “Looking at the way he ran today, he would have been on the lead anyway. It was nice. We’ll take easy wins when we can. At the half-mile, I looked and no one was coming – that was good. I looked around on the turn and still no one was there.”
Trainer Ignacio Correas (Idolo Porteno), 2nd): “Very happy with him. Very, very happy, I’m very happy to be back in Maryland, a place that I call home. And I’m very happy with the performance of Idolo Porteno, that he’s back on track.”
Jockey Florent Geroux (Idolo Porento), 2nd): “The horse ran very good. Going into the first turn, I got in a little tight, but after that, the winner got away from me pretty good. At the top of the stretch, all I was doing was just chasing him. A very nice horse. He’s a Grade 1 winner on the dirt and the turf. He’s not nobody. He was Horse of the Year in Argentina in 2014.”
Trainer Damon Dilodovico (Warrioroftheroses, 3rd): “The track the last few days has been speed favoring. I always wanted to run him long on this racetrack. We wanted the lead but [Noble Bird] had other things on his mind.”
Jockey Daniel Centeno (Warrioroftheroses, 3rd): “He ran pretty good. This was a tough race but he kept up. We tried to go to the lead, but sat behind [Noble Bird]”
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