Phipps homebred Fire Away dug in to the sloppy going to prevail in a four-way battle that emerged at the head of the lane in Saturday's $250,000 Dixie Stakes. The 6-year-old War Front son, ridden by Manny Franco for Shug McGaughey, prevailed by three-quarters of a length at the wire. Sent to the post as the 6-5 favorite, Fire Away covered 1 1/16 miles over the sloppy main track in 1:43.92. Originally a Grade 2, the Dixie was automatically downgraded when the race was taken off Pimlico's turf course; its status will be reviewed.
“The horse is doing unbelievably good,” said McGaughey's assistant Robbie Medina. “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 six. He's a lot stronger. So, we took a shot and it worked out.”
An even beginning to the Dixie saw Unbridled Juan jump into the lead heading for the clubhouse turn, with both Fire Away and Just Howard hot on his heels. Franco was sitting quietly aboard Fire Away, taking a long hold as the horse tracked the pacesetters down the backstretch.
Staying well off the rail, Unbridled Juan set modest fractions of :23.64 and :48.65, keeping about a length between himself and his rivals. O Dionysus moved out to the center of the course, widest of all, and joined Just Howard in putting the pressure on the leader around the far turn.
Franco kept Fire Away at the rail, and Unbridled Juan continued to stay well off it. As Fire Away joined the fray, a four-way battle emerged at the three-sixteenths pole. O Dionysus was the first to give way, but Fire Away just kept finding more on the inside.
At the wire, Fire Away was three-quarters of a length ahead of Unbridled Juan. Just Howard finished another half-length back in third, and O Dionysus was fourth.
“I just trusted my horse and he responded,” said Franco. “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.”
Bred in Kentucky by his owner, Fire Away is out of the multiple graded stakes-placed Unbridled mare Salute. His second dam is the great Personal Ensign; Fire Away is a fourth-generation homebred for the Phipps family. The horse has earned just shy of $600,000 in a 22 race career, compiling a record of seven wins, four seconds and four thirds.
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