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BALTIMORE, MD – Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodt’s multiple graded stakes winner Yaupon made a triumphant return to historic Pimlico Race Course Sunday, putting away pace-setting Chateau and turning back Laki – both Grade 3 winners – to snap a 2-race losing streak in the $100,000 Lite the Fuse.
The 6-furlong Lite the Fuse for 3-year-olds and up, named for the two-time Carter (G1) and Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G2) winner, returned to the Maryland stakes calendar for the first time since being run in 2002 at Laurel Park.
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Yaupon ($2.80), sent off at 2/5 in a field reduced to four by the scratches of stakes winners Lebda, Threes Over Deuces, and Valued Notion, hit the wire in 1:09.42 over a fast main track to beat Laki by 1 3/4 lengths.
Chateau was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third with Whiskey and You fourth.
Ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr. for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who teamed up to win the Suburban (G2) with Max Player Saturday at Belmont Park, Yaupon won for the first time since his last trip to Maryland, when he equaled the stakes record of 1:09.10 in the Chick Lang (G3) last fall.
Following that race, Yaupon was eighth as the favorite after a troubled trip in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) and finished eighth in his lone previous start this year, the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) March 27 at Meydan.
“Both my wife and I were glad to see him run his race and return to form,” Bill Heiligbrodt said. “He got banged around pretty good in the Breeders’ Cup and I was a little worried about that, but today, he ran like his old self. That was a really nice race and there was some decent competition in there. We were really happy with that. He’s a really nice horse, a beautiful horse.”
March 6 Tom Fool (G3) winner Chateau outran Yaupon to the front, leading after a 1/4-mile in 22.86 seconds and a 1/2 in 45.49. Laki, the 2020 Frank J. De Francis Memorial (G3) winner, tracked in third with Whiskey and You trailing.
Laki moved off the rail on the turn to get after Chateau with Yaupon on his outside, and those two were able to get past the early leader after 5 furlongs in 57.36 seconds with Yaupon steadily edging away approaching the finish.
“Today, he broke really sharp. He came from the layoff and I wanted to give him a little break,” Santana said. “I broke and he put me in a good position. I let him take a second deep breath, and at the 3/8 pole, when my horse felt the other horse, he took back off.”
Asmussen came into Sunday having gone 14 for 24 (41%) over the past 5 years in dirt sprints at both Pimlico and Laurel Park. Many of those races came with Santana in the irons.
“I owe a lot to Mr. Steve. He put me in the position that I am right now. He’s given me a lot of great opportunities and good horses,” Santana said. “Yesterday, we had a really amazing win with Max Player, and today, we win another stake with Yaupon. I really feel blessed to be part of his team.”
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