It was a stampede for home in the $500K Churchill Downs Stakes (G1), but FLAGSTAFF under jockey Luis Saez came out the winner.
FLAGSTAFF broke beautifully and was hustled to the front, joined by three other speedsters challenging for the lead. They set a hot pace of 21.97 and 44.21, which prompted Luis Saez to ease his horse off the dueling pacesetters as they rounded the turn for home.
Saving ground and taking a breather, FLAGSTAFF was then switched to the outside as they straighted for the stretch, but was immediately engaged by WHITMORE to his outside, and LEXITONIAN to his inside. All three stormed home to the wire together, but FLAGSTAFF proved the strongest finisher — prevailing by a head in a three-way photo finish. LEXITONIAN was a head back in second, then it was a nose back to WHITMORE in third.
The final time for the seven furlongs on dirt was 1:21.82.
After the win, jockey Luis Saez analyzed the race: "Getting settled off the pace was the key," Saez said. "They were going pretty fast up front. I tried to save ground into the turn and when there was a moment to go out, so I had that good spot he came for me.
"I know Whitmore is a good horse, but my horse really dug in. When I saw everybody coming past me, I thought it was over, but he never gave up and finally he gave me the last little bit and we got there."
FLAGSTAFF paid $11.80 to win, $6.60 to place, and $4.60 to show. The winning owner was Lane's End Racing and Hronis Racing LLC, the winning trainer was John Sadler.
FLAGSTAFF is by SPEIGHTSTOWN out of INDYAN GIVING by A.P. Indy. He earned his second consecutive victory, pushing his earnings to $991,585, while notching his first Grade 1 victory of his career.
"You could've seen two or three different winners in the last jumps of that race," John Sadler said. "He got the nod today, so we're thrilled."
"He's won everywhere he's gone and always run a good race," Sadler said. "Big credit to the ownership, Lane's End Farm and Mr. Hronis and his family. They've been patient with him and it's fun to see him rewarded."
Source: Equibase, HorseRacingNation, Brad Stephens