GMB Racing's Lone Sailor has come up short in three photo finishes in the past year, but on Sunday night at Remington Park in Oklahoma City, Okla., the Majestic Warrior colt eked out the narrowest of victories, winning the Grade 3, $400,000 Oklahoma Derby by a nose over Believe in Royalty. Diamond King was another nose back in third in the head-bobbing three-horse finish.
Lone Sailor, trained by Tom Amoss and ridden to victory by James Graham, covered 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.97 and paid $8.80 to win as the second choice in the wagering. Wooderson, the 2-1 favorite from the barn of Todd Pletcher and ridden by Jose Ortiz, finished seventh of 11 3-year-olds.
Diamond King, an East Coast invader trained by John Servis and ridden by Frankie Pennington, grabbed the lead shortly after the start and set fractions of :23.21, :46.94 and 1:11.21 for the first six furlongs. G3 Super Derby winner Limation, trained by Steve Asmussen, put some pressure on the leader down the backstretch and around the far turn, but had nothing left for the stretch drive, finishing last.
Graham and Lone Sailor raced in ninth, just behind Believe in Royalty much of the way, saving ground down the backstretch and around the turn, then swinging widest of all into the stretch.
Diamond King clung to a narrow lead at the furlong pole, fighting off a challenge from Christophe Clement-trained Sea Foam – the mile clocked in 1:36.75.
But Believe in Royalty, who made a four-wide move around the turn and into the stretch, was flying on the outside and ranged up to challenge the front-running leader. Lone Sailor joined those two and the trio raced together as a team in the final sixteenth, with Lone Sailor getting the narrow victory.
“I had no idea who of the three of us won when we hit the wire,” said Graham. “But I did know this, I could feel my horse stretching his neck out, so I thought we had a chance.”
The win was just the second from 14 career starts for Lone Sailor, whose five runner-up finishes included the G2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds (beaten a neck), the G3 Ohio Derby at Thistledown (beaten a nose) and G3 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs (beaten 5 ¾ lengths). Lone Sailor lost a head decision while second in the Street Sense at Churchill Downs last October.
Lone Sailor ran eighth to Justify in the G1 Kentucky Derby and fifth to the Triple Crown winner in the G1 Preakness. He also finished third behind Good Magic in the G1 Haskell.
“(Trainer) Tom (Amoss) didn't give me any instructions,” Graham said. “He just said that he thought this horse was continuing to get better and better. I could feel that too. He would run second and second and second, but I think now he is finally figuring it out.”
Bred in Kentucky by Alexander – Groves – Matz LLC, Lone Sailor was produced from the Mr. Greeley mare Ambitious. Lone Sailor was purchased for $120,000 from the Gainesway consignment at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale by GMB Racing – the stable operated by Gayle Marie Benson, whose late husband, Tom Benson, owned the NFL's New Orleans Saints.
On a day when the incredible blanket finish of the Oklahoma Derby still had the multitude of fans buzzing an hour later as they left, there was another incredible feat that happened. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, currently the No. 1 conditioner in the country with horses' earnings of more than $21 million this year, enjoyed a huge day with jockey Ricardo Santana, the nation's ninth leading rider in money earned. The pair scored with five stakes winners of the 10 stakes events carded, a new record for stakes wins at Remington Park in a single day. A year ago, the Asmussen-Santana duo combined to win four stakes races on the Oklahoma Derby program.
When Santana was asked after winning his fourth stakes on Sunday whether he had another one in him for the final two stakes races remaining, he said, “I have two!”
Santana won the final stakes of the night, taking Adore wire to wire in the $75,000 Ricks Memorial at 1-1/16 miles over the turf to get the local record. Asmussen tied his mark from last year with five stakes wins. He won four with Santana in 2017 and one more with jockey Ramon Vazquez.
Even though Asmussen saddled four in the Oklahoma Derby this year, he couldn't go back to back after winning the race for the first time in 2017 with Untrapped. Lone Sailor was just too much for his competitors – Combatant, Limation, Lionite and Retirement Fund. His best finisher was Combatant in fourth.
So, what now for Lone Sailor, who despite his strong presence on the 3-year-old stage, won only for the second time in his career?
“I'm really not sure what Tom wants to do,” said Graham. “I think he can continue to get better.”
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