07/13/2016 6:53PM

Derby Express regains form to win Snack Stakes

Linscott Photography
Derby Express wins the Snack Stakes by 6 1/4 lengths Wednesday.

Derby Express looked like he was on the fast track to nowhere in his first two starts this year, but on Wednesday in the $105,600 Snack Stakes at Indiana Grand, the leading Indiana-bred 2-year-old of 2015 got back on track.

Making his turf debut and racing in blinkers for the first time, Derby Express set a strong early pace and basically ran his competition off their feet. He was slow to change leads and straighten out in the homestretch, but once he found his rhythm again, Derby Express powered home a 6 1/4-length winner over the favored Conquest Stormy.

“Once I broke kind of sharp, I was pretty confident,” said winning jockey Malcolm Franklin.

Derby Express won all three of his races against Indiana-breds last year and dominated his two stakes starts, the Crown Ambassador around one turn and the Indiana Futurity over a route of ground. But Derby Express fractured his shin racing over a sloppy track in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes to end his 2-year-old campaign and looked little like the same horse when finishing third as the heavy favorite in the Sagamore Sired Stakes, his comeback race, and a distant seventh June 22 in the Hoosier Breeders’ Sophomore Stakes.

Derby Express probably was a little behind in his preparation for his comeback run, and he might have struggled over a sloppy track in his most recent start. Whatever the circumstances, he looked like his best self again Wednesday. Derby Express’s first quarter-mile, 22.99 seconds, was demanding, but he went along comfortably, got his half in a more reasonable 47.60, then ran his final quarter-mile in 24.65 over a course called “firm” but perhaps closer to “good” following Tuesday rain. Derby Express stopped the timer in 1:36.89 and paid a generous $28 to win.

Conquest Stormy, the Mark Casse-trained colt facing Indiana-breds for the first time, ran well in defeat, rallying inside and between horses from 11th place early to finish a clear second, nearly three lengths in front of R Luckey Charlie.

Derby Express was bred by Greenhill Racing, is owned by Sherri Greenhill, and is trained by Jeff Greenhill, who astutely added the hood for the Snack. The gray colt, by Unbridled Express and out of the very productive broodmare Pay the Toll, won for the fifth time in 10 starts.

Tequila and Salt posts upset

Tequila and Salt got an easy lead in the $103,850 Ellen’s Lucky Star Stakes and made the most of it, winning the one-mile grass race for Indiana-bred 3-year-old fillies by two lengths over Express Run.

Sassy Miss Officer, the 3-5 favorite, was a complete no-show, failing to corner well on the first turn and never getting involved, finishing a flat sixth.

Tequila and Salt, under Cisco Torres, went her first quarter-mile in 23.60 and a half in a comfortable 48.32. She darted away from her pursuers in upper stretch, took a 3 1/2-length lead to the stretch call, and never was threatened. In a spread-out field, runner-up Express Run had almost four lengths on Seven Seize, who was more than two lengths better than Dance Line.

Tequila and Salt, beaten more than 18 lengths by Sassy Miss Officer in a main-track stakes race last month, was timed in 1:38.30 for the mile and paid $14.40 to win. The filly won for only the second time in 10 starts while racing for the second time on grass. The daughter of Limehouse and the On Target mare Perth Lassie was bred by Mike and Penny Lauer, is owned by Penny Lauer, and is trained by Mike Lauer, who won his second stakes of the meet.