09/01/2008 12:00AM

Anak Nakal barely catches Acai


Their first-stringers had Labor Day off, but the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park still came down to a battle between Nick Zito and Rick Dutrow. The outcome was in doubt to the final strides, when the Zito-trained Anak Nakal finally caught Dutrow-trained Acai to win the $1 million race for 3-year-olds by a neck.

Rebounding from a fifth-place finish in the Jim Dandy, Anak Nakal began picking off rivals around the far turn under Joe Bravo, came three wide into the stretch, and closed with a determined surge to catch Acai in the final strides.

"It was a tremendous effort," said Zito. "Last year he was a good 2-year-old, and one thing we've learned about him is he needs firm ground. The Jim Dandy was on a wet track, and he kind of threw his shoulder out."

Posting his first win since the Kentucky Jockey Club last November, Anak Nakal ($34.60) ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.80 over a fast track, and improved to 3-1-1 from 10 starts overall. He earned $532,000 for Four Roses Thoroughbreds.

Acai, who was coming off maiden and first-level allowance wins, stalked fractions of 23.32 seconds, 47.42, and 1:11.61 while wide, drew clear from 4-1 favorite Smooth Air inside the eighth pole, and just failed to last while racing with blinkers on.

Turf Monster: True to Tradition scores

In the $250,000 Turf Monster Handicap, co-second choice True to Tradition ($12.60) posted an emphatic four-length triumph over even-money favorite Heros Reward.

True to Tradition argued the pace in between Man of Danger and Crimson Sun through an opening quarter in 22.27 seconds, took charge before going a half-mile in 44.52, and finished strongly to win the five-furlong sprint in 56.17 seconds over a firm turf course.

True to Tradition, a 6-year-old gelding trained by Scott Lake, improved to 9-5-0 from 22 career starts with earnings of $393,241.