Wayne T. Davis' ultra-consistent 5-year-old Mocito Rojo invaded from Louisiana and wore down Silver Dust in deep stretch to win Saturday night's $250,000 Lukas Classic (Grade III) by a neck – the highlight of a stakes tripleheader on a special “Downs After Dark” nighttime card that attracted a crowd of 17,053 to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Ridden by Gerard Melancon and trained by Shane Wilson, Mocito Rojo ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:48.91 to collect his seventh stakes win and fifth in a row this year.
Overall, he's won 17 of 25 starts with three seconds and one third, and the $147,250 first prize boosted his earnings to $797,000.
Mocito Rojo won the $100,000 Evangeline Mile and $75,000 Delta Mile in 2018. His campaign this year includes wins in the $60,000 Owner Appreciation Cup at Delta Downs, $300,000 Steve Sexton Mile (GIII) at Lone Star Park, $100,000 Evangeline Mile and $175,000 Governor's Cup at Remington Park.
“I think I'm still dreaming,” said 90-year-old Davis. “I've been waiting all my life to have a horse like this. He won't be ignored anymore. I think he has more heart than Secretariat – just doesn't weigh nearly as much. We'll take things one step at a time but I am just so thrilled to be here.”
Pioneer Spirit led the field of 10 older horses through early splits of :24.04, :48.73 and 1:12.51 with Silver Dust chasing just off his right hip and 2-1 favorite Quip pulling just behind the leader. Louisiana-based Melancon had MocitoRojo in a clear stalking-position in fourth.
Silver Dust, the winner of the $200,000 West Virginia Governor's (GIII) last out, put away Pioneer Spirit midway on the turn as Mocito Rojo engaged from the outside. The two battled gamely down the entire 1,234-foot stretch but it was Mocito Rojo who prevailed in the final stages. Sir Anthony, a 20-1 outsider, finished another four lengths back in third.
“The races are always tough when you head to Kentucky and tonight proved it,” Melancon said. “(Trainer) Bret(Calhoun)'s horse (Silver Dust) really dug in and tried hard the length of the stretch. I thought I finally had him in deep stretch. I haven't been to Churchill since 1985 but now it's worth it.”
Mocito Rojo, a son of Mutadda out of the Orientate mare Blushing Royale, rewarded his backers with $2 mutuelsof $19.60, $9.40 and $6.80 at odds of 8-1. Silver Dust, ridden by Jack Gilligan, paid $8 and $5.20. Sir Anthony, with James Graham up, returned $9.20 to show.
The order of finish was completed by Blueridge Traveler, Big Dollar Bill, Quip, Kukulkan (MEX), Tenfold, Pioneer Spirit and Hawaakom.
Mocito Rojo was bred in Kentucky by Paul Van Doren and Andrena Van Doren.
“Every single time he's stepped up and ran a better race,” Wilson said. “I think we'll probably take him back to Louisiana after this and decide what's next. There are many big races for him over the winter at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn. He's just getting started.”
The Lukas Classic honors the iconic 84-year-old Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The four-time winner of the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks and conditioner of 26 Eclipse Award-winning champions has been based at Churchill Downs' Barn 44 since 1989.
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