Updated on 05/07/2012 2:30PM

Churchill Downs: Little Mike all the way in Woodford Reserve

Barbara D. Livingston
Little Mike, with Joe Bravo riding, wraps up a wire-to-wire performance in the Woodford Reserve.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Despite the presence of other front-runners in Saturday’s Grade 1, $561,500 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, it was clear from the start what the tactics for Little Mike were: Come catch me.

None could. Under a skillful ride by Joe Bravo, Little Mike went straight to the lead and was never passed in winning a surprisingly moderately paced race by 2 1/2 lengths.

A jubilant crowd greeted Little Mike as he returned to the winner’s circle, soon after the horse scored the first Grade 1 victory of his career, and Bravo did his best to let the supporters know what he felt of the horse.

“It’s no more Little Mike – it’s Big Mike,” he announced.

As much as the horse deserved credit for the victory, outlasting a field that included eight other graded winners, Bravo also played a key role.

Breaking from the inside, he immediately took his mount well off the hedge on the Churchill Downs turf course, as far out as the five path passing the stands for the first time. This seemingly let his opposing riders know if they engaged him early with their mounts, they would pay the price.

Bravo found no takers. Ramon Dominguez took the speedy Get Stormy under a firm hold as did Rafael Bejarano on Turbo Compressor.

This allowed Little Mike, a 5-year-old Spanish Steps gelding, to set a half-mile in 48.27 seconds and six furlongs in 1:12.81 in the 1 1/8-mile Woodford Reserve. His winning time on a good turf course was 1:48.81. He paid $26.40.

The $327,242 winner’s share of the Woodford Reserve purse boosted his earnings to $830,412 for owner Priscilla Vaccarezza.

California invader Slim Shadey rallied to be second in a blanket finish for the minor awards. He finished a half-length in front of a third-place Brilliant Speed, with Doubles Partner a nose back in fourth.

John Velazquez felt a troubled trip comprised the late-running Brilliant Speed’s chances, due to weaving by horses in front of him, leaving him without the ability to immediately hit a hole.

“It definitely cost me second money,” he said.

There was no beating the winner, given how the race unfolded, and the victory left trainer Dale Romans elated after the horse had been sidelined for much of last year due to injury.

“He had a condylar fracture, so this is a pretty sweet victory for Mike,” he said. “He’s a super horse.”