04/28/2007 12:00AM

Chinese Dragon by a nose in San Francisco Mile


ALBANY, Calif. – Chinese Dragon, making his first start in more than a year, won the first graded stakes of his career, rallying strongly to capture the Grade 2, $300,000 San Francisco Mile by a long nose over Vega’s Lord on Saturday at Golden Gate Fields.

Trainer Bob Hess Jr. was concerned about the 5-year-old horse’s condition coming into the race, noting that he was notoriously lazy in his workouts. Chinese Dragon sat in last early before unleashing a strong closing kick and running the final quarter of the one-mile turf race in 22.95 seconds to win the race in 1:35.81. He paid $6.60 to win.

Favored Becrux set leisurely early fractions of 24.56 and 48.60 but gave way badly after stablemate Vega’s Lord pulled along side heading into the second turn.

Vega’s Lord drifted out into the lane, carrying Charmo wide and leaving a huge opening for jockey Mike Smith, who cut the corner with Chinese Dragon.

"When he slashed down inside, he won the race," Hess said.

But it wasn’t an easy victory.

Vega’s Lord dug in, and, although Chinese Dragon seemed to have him measured, he pulled up a bit once he got in front.

"When Dragon gets in front, he pulls himself up. He likes to play a little cat-and-mouse with other horses," Hess said. "Mike did a good job letting him drift out so that he knew the other horse was there."

Smith, who had ridden Chinese Dragon to third in a four-way photo in last year’s Grade 1 Kilroe at Santa Anita, said he was careful to keep his mount, who began his career in Ireland, covered as European horses prefer.

"I could have gotten out at any time," said Smith, who didn’t move out until he went past the tiring Becrux on the second turn, "but I don’t think I would have won if I had. Keeping him covered up made the race today. He runs much better that way."

Hess freely admits his long-range goal is the Breeders' Cup Mile.

"It worked beautifully," he said of Chinese Dragon’s race, "but we will be hyper sensitive about coming back too quickly. He only ran the final quarter, but he was flying, and we'll want to avoid any bounce.

"We want him to be a stallion so this race was important. He’s beaten some very good horses, but he didn’t have a graded win until today."

The victory was Chinese Dragon’s seventh in 12 starts for Carter Hale Jr., the Roncelli Family Trust et al. His $165,000 payday increased his career earnings to $513,492. The group bought him for $150,000 after his second career start.