ARCADIA, Calif. — Bob Baffert loves the spot he's in, having a solid Kentucky Derby candidate with three months to go until the first Saturday in May.
Pioneerof the Nile rallied from off the pace to win Saturday's $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a half-length over Papa Clem in his 3-year-old debut.
The colt ran 11⁄16 miles in 1:41.90 on Santa Anita's synthetic surface.
Garrett Gomez steered Pioneerof the Nile down the middle of the track, and they just edged Papa Clem and Rafael Bejarano at the wire.
I Want Revenge was a length farther back in third. Bittel Road, trained by Todd Pletcher, was fourth in the field of nine.
Pioneerof the Nile comes along at the perfect time for Baffert, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner eager for another shot at the roses. He lost Midshipman, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, from his barn when the colt was sold to Darley Stable last fall and shipped to Dubai to train.
Baffert can take his time bringing Pioneerof the Nile along because the colt already has enough graded stakes earnings to ensure a spot in the Derby field, which is capped at 20 starters.
"He's moving forward," the 56-year-old trainer said. "That's what you want at this point. I'm just excited to be in this spot, that I can even think about the Kentucky Derby. I probably won't sleep tonight."
Stardom Bound impresses
Stardom Bound made a successful 3-year-old debut in the $300,000 Las Virgenes Stakes, using her trademark late run to beat seven rivals by 1¼ lengths at Santa Anita.
The gray filly gives her new owners IEAH Stables another Kentucky Derby candidate. They owned Big Brown, who won last year's Derby and Preakness before losing his Triple Crown bid with a last-place finish in the Belmont Stakes.
Michael Iavarone, who heads the IEAH partnership, said Stardom Bound is set to take on the boys in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4. Depending on how she does in that race, she could be headed to Louisville for the Derby.
"It would be great to put her against the boys. I don't know what else she has to prove against the girls," he said, describing the filly as "everything you can dream of."
Friesan Fire loves Louisiana
NEW ORLEANS — Friesan Fire showed he was a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender with an impressive victory at the Grade III, $200,000 Risen Star Stakes on Saturday, the final prep for the Louisiana Derby.
Near the lead the entire way in a field of 13 with a smooth ride from jockey Gabriel Saez, Friesan Fire went ahead near the mile mark and won by 2 lengths in 1:45.11, outrunning Flying Pegasus down the stretch.
"This horse has been training here, he likes the track and he ran well," trainer Larry Jones said. "Hopefully his best is still ahead of him. We're still not at our peak yet. Hopefully, he'll peak in the first week of May."
Flying Pegasus was second in his first race since last September after having surgery for an injured hind ankle. Uno Mas took third.
Giant Oak, the pre-race favorite, was boxed in early and never became a factor, rallying for fifth after entering the stretch in ninth place.
NEW YORK — Haynesfield moved a step closer to a Triple Crown race, easily winning the $107,600 Whirlaway Stakes Saturday at Aqueduct.
The victory was the fourth straight for the New York-bred chestnut colt trained by Steve Asmussen. Haynesfield has yet to meet top-level competition, but the 6¼-length win over Cellar Dweller suggests he is ready for more.
Haynesfield shot right to the front with Ramon Dominguez. Turning for home, Haynesfield opened a huge lead and coasted to the wire with Dominguez glancing back for challengers who never materialized.