Updated on 09/17/2011 10:14AM

Buddy Gil beats them again

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Buddy Gil ($14.60) finishes a head in front of longshot Indian Express in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Buddy Gil continued his mastery of Santa Anita's best 3-year-olds by outfinishing the longshot Indian Express and favored Atswhatimtalknbout in Saturday's $750,000 , the final major West Coast prep race for the Kentucky Derby. The win gave jockey Gary Stevens his record ninth Santa Anita Derby victory.

Buddy Gil loomed up on the outside of the leaders around the final turn, and then he and Indian Express pulled away from the rest. They had a spirited battle down the stretch, with Buddy Gil proving best by a head.

Indian Express, who set or forced the early pace, was 2 1/4 lengths clear of third-place Kafwain. Atswhatimtalknbout, the 3-2 favorite, was another 1 1/4 lengths back in fourth. Domestic Dispute, Logician, Flirt With Fortune, Iron Lad, and Ocean Terrace completed the order of finish. Ministers Wild Cat was scratched the morning of the race because of a bruise to his right hind hoof.

Buddy Gil, who paid $14.60 as the fourth choice in the nine-horse field, was timed in 1:49.36 for 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track. The race was run with a rapid pace early, but the final fractions were slow, with the final three furlongs in more than 39 seconds.

Indian Express was one of three horses in the race trained by Bob Baffert. Indian Express and Ocean Terrace set a hot pace of 22.58 seconds for the opening quarter, 45.82 for a half, and 1:10.16 for six furlongs. At that point, the previously unbeaten Ocean Terrace stopped suddenly, and faded to last.

"He pulled up fine, but we have to find out what caused his distress at the half-mile," said his jockey, Kent Desormeaux.

Indian Express led nearing the top of the stretch, but then Buddy Gil and Kafwain engaged him. Atswhatimtalknbout, who hopped slightly leaving the gate, also started to close rapidly while at least four paths wide.

When the field turned into the stretch, Indian Express and Buddy Gil went on, while both Kafwain and, especially, Atswhatimtalknbout, began to flatten out.

"On the turn he picked it up like he was going to make his move, but he didn't sustain it," said Ron Ellis, who trains Atswhatimtalknbout.

Buddy Gil led narrowly with a furlong remaining, but Indian Express surged again nearing the wire.

Stevens said Buddy Gil coughed after the race. "I think he took a lot of dirt," he said. "I think that's why he hung with me the last sixteenth."

Stevens won the Santa Anita Derby for the ninth time since 1988. He had been tied at eight with Bill Shoemaker. "It didn't dawn on me until I pulled up after the race, and then I said, 'Wow,' " Stevens said.

Buddy Gil, a 3-year-old gelding by Eastern Echo, has won all three of his starts since being transferred to trainer Jeff Mullins. He won the Baldwin Stakes and San Felipe Stakes in his previous two starts. He is owned by Scott Guenther, Charlie Johnson, Donnie McFadden, Tom Schriber, and Rogers Seversen

"We're just all sitting here in awe," Mullins said. "Gary's been confident in him from the beginning. He just keeps getting better and better. If he gets a couple of notches better, we'll be in good shape."

The Santa Anita Derby was run on a clear, brisk spring day. The large crowd included Steven Spielberg, the famed Hollywood producer who is part of a group that last month bought a minority share in Atswhatimtalknbout from majority owner B. Wayne Hughes.