04/28/2012 11:14PM

Churchill Downs: Hierro takes Derby Trial; Preakness a possibility

Reed Palmer Photography
After Hierro scored his second lifetime victory under Julien Leparoux in the Derby Trial, trainer Steve Asmusen said he would consider pointing the 3-year-old to the Preakness.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Last year it was Dominus, owned in part by Stonestreet Stable and trained by Steve Asmussen, getting beat with Julien Leparoux aboard in the desperate final yards of the Derby Trial.

This time, no such tough luck. Hierro, with Leparoux riding for Stonestreet and Asmussen, outran favored Paynter in the final furlong Saturday night to win the 88th running of the Grade 3, $200,000 Derby Trial on an eventful evening when a fierce hailstorm interrupted the opening card of the 39-day spring meet for about 50 minutes.

Hierro returned $12 with his second victory from six lifetime starts and was pronounced a “maybe” for the May 19 Preakness at Pimlico by Asmussen.

“Obviously a couple of the others in here were considering that avenue coming in,” said Asmussen. “We’ll see how he comes out of it. Right now, we’re just really excited about what he did tonight. He validated the high hopes we’ve always had for him.”

Paynter, the 6-5 favorite under Martin Garcia, forced the pace set down the backstretch by The Black and Saint of Saints before moving boldly to take over leaving the quarter pole. Hierro, behind that front pack from the start, then angled out for the drive before edging away in the final 70 yards, prevailing by 1 1/2 lengths when finishing the one-turn mile in 1:35.27 over a sloppy track. The only prior victory for Hierro, a son of Hard Spun, was a maiden romp last fall at Churchill.

Stealcase finished third, another neck back, and was followed by Bourbon Courage, The Black, Motor City, Quick Wit, and Saint of Saints.

Tarpy’s Goal and Seve were early scratches, while a shoeing snafu in the paddock involving Nonios lasted about 15 minutes and could never be resolved, leading him to be a late scratch.

The 11-race card started at 6 p.m. Eastern amid humid and overcast conditions. About five minutes before the fifth race was supposed to begin, a monstrous hailstorm pounded Churchill and the surrounding area, turning the track from fast to sloppy while forcing cancellation of the lone turf race of the night. Finally, after the track was floated and the horses had waited out the storm in the paddock, action resumed.

“I’ve never seen anything like it here,” said Donnie Richardson, the senior vice president for racing. “And I’ve been here a long time.”

This was the second year Churchill opened its spring meet with a night card. Last year, 38,142 turned out, a record for nights since the track first began using lights in 2009. Attendance on this night was 26,527. Churchill will have three more night cards this spring, on June 2, 16, and 30, all of them Saturdays, too.