Moments after the Grade III, $250,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, owner Roy Jackson squashed the notion that his colt Divining Rod would add his name to the list of Kentucky Derby hopefuls.
That Jackson had to answer the question was a tribute to how well the son of Tapit had performed in the 11⁄16-miles test, drawing off for a three-length win over six challengers at Keeneland on Saturday.
The Lexington offered 10 qualifying points towards the Kentucky Derby, but experience was the main objective for Divining Rod in his fifth career start. Trained by Arnaud Delacour, Divining Rod came into the Lexington off a third-place run in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 7, his second try against stakes company.
With Julien Leparoux up, Divining Rod rated third as Fame and Power carved out an opening half in 47.90. Entering the stretch, he shifted into the four path and began to kick clear, hitting the wire in 1:43.29 over a fast track.
"I don't think so," Jackson said when the Derby question was posed. "Arnaud has been sort of slow and easy in bringing him along because he's taken some time to mature. He's a homebred so this win is extra special to us."
Donworth, who was making just his second career start, held for runner-up honors with Fame and Power fading to third.
Protonico gets back on track in Ben Ali
Protonico, who was eased in the Grade I Donn Handicap on February 7, rebounded in monster fashion Saturday when he led every point of call in winning the Grade III, $150,000 Ben Ali Stakes by five lengths.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Protonico won the Grade III Smarty Jones last year and finished 2014 by running second in the Grade I Clark Handicap. His connections could find no obvious reason for his Donn outing and the son of Giant's Causeway certainly ran back to his old form in the 11⁄8-miles Ben Ali.
"That was just a complete headscratcher," Tristan Barry, assistant to Pletcher, said of the Donn. "He's back today to his normal self. He was training like a gorilla, towing his rider around in the morning and borderline obnoxious in the afternoon at the end of the shank."
Sent off as the 4-to-5 favorites, Protonico covered the distance in 1:48.79. Neck 'n Neck held for second with Ami's Holiday third.