Were it not for astute track announcer Dave Rodman, those observing the Grade III Pimlico Special via simulcast last month might have spent a good portion of the 13⁄16-mile race wondering why WinStar Farm's Revolutionary was no longer part of the nine-horse field.
Nearly 30 lengths behind at one point and out of the frame, it wasn't until the final furlong when a flash of white silks atop a dark bay blur appeared on the far outside, relentlessly charging to the wire to finish in front by a neck.
Revolutionary can make an equally powerful surge into the top portion of the handicap division on Saturday night. Fresh off his last-to-first, how-did-that-happen victory on May 16, Revolutionary heads into the Grade I, $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap as the 2-1 morning-line favorite to overtake his eight rivals at Churchill Downs.
While his stablemate Palace Malice stands as arguably the best older horse in training in the wake of his Grade I Met Mile triumph last Saturday, Revolutionary's late kick is one trainer Todd Pletcher puts up with the best of them.
Revolutionary, who finished third in the 2013 Kentucky Derby, won his third career graded stakes in the Pimlico Special. It was his first since taking the Grade II Louisiana Derby in March 2013. Revolutionary is blessed with a commercially appealing pedigree, so a Grade I victory would ensure him a premier place in the WinStar stallion barn once his racing days conclude.
"I think he showed with the Pimlico Special and third in the Derby that when he's on his 'A' game — and he's indicated to us that he is — he's capable of running with anyone," Pletcher said. "Timing-wise (the Foster) is good, but the Grade I is the biggest reason we're there."
A top-level 4-year-old is what Pletcher and WinStar had in mind when they gave Revolutionary the rest of 2013 off after he ran fifth in last year's Belmont Stakes.
Save for a seventh-place finish in the Grade I Donn Handicap this past February, progression has been evident this season from the grandson of A.P. Indy. After opening his year with a win in a 1-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park, Revolutionary rebounded off his Donn effort by running second to fellow Stephen Foster entrant Will Take Charge in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap, though some thought the winner should have been taken down after brushing with Golden Lad and drifting in during his stretch run.
"I hate to win a race via disqualification, but I think you could argue he ran as good as (Will Take Charge) did that day," Pletcher said. "We felt like he had lost a little bit of weight after the Triple Crown season and felt like he'd be a better 4-year-old with time to fill out and mature.
"I think if he can put together another performance like he did at Pimlico you'll see he's as good (as any older horse on dirt)."
Though Will Take Charge got the best of Revolutionary in their last meeting, the Eclipse Award winner is coming off his worst run in almost a year having finished sixth in the Grade II Alysheba Stakes at Churchill on May 2.
"I think we'll just forget it happened and go on to the next one," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said of Will Take Charge, who did win the 2013 Grade I Clark Handicap over the Churchill surface. "I think we're sitting right on a big one, hopefully."
In the same vein as Revolutionary, multiple graded stakes winner Departing got an extended freshening last season after finishing fourth in the Grade III Oklahoma Derby last September, only returning to the races on April 30 when he scored a 13/4-length victory over a good allowance field going 1 mile at Churchill Downs.
That Oklahoma Derby outing marked the eighth start of 2013 for the gelded son of War Front with trainer Al Stall Jr. conceding they may have gone to the well one too many times following victories in the Grade II West Virginia and Grade II Super Derby.
"We were going to shut him down anyway ... and the Oklahoma race cinched it," Stall said. "The second race back is kind of a tough race. But I think he got so much out of his first race. It wasn't an easy race, he ended up in the pocket, trapped inside, and they were all gunning him.
"He had enough experience and ability to sit there in the pocket and when they fanned out, he came right through the hole."
Moonshine Mullin, who was claimed last year by owner Randy Patterson and trainer Randy Morse for $40,000, enters off his upset win in the Alysheba. Moonshine Mullin carries a four-race winning streak and will break from post three under jockey Calvin Borel.
"If he never wins another race, beating that field in the Alysheba was tremendous," Morse said.