06/10/2010 12:00AM

Double Down Special maturing into star


From the start, trainer John Stinebaugh felt Double Down Special would be at his best at age 3. That has proven to be the case. Double Down Special set a world record in April, and on Saturday will start as the favorite in the Grade 1, $568,965 Ruidoso Quarter Horse Derby at Ruidoso Downs.

The 400-yard race is the first of three major Quarter Horse derbies at the New Mexico track. The others are the Rainbow and the All American.

Double Down Special had a productive 2-year-old season last year, when he won 2 of 9 starts. But this year, he has taken his game to a new level. Double Down Special set the world record in the Grade 3, $168,685 West Texas Derby at Sunland on April 3, when he covered 400 yards in 18.61 seconds. That lowered the previous mark of 18.73 established by First Moonflash in December 2008. It also was the first stakes win for Double Down Special.

"He was a gangly 2-year-old," Stinebaugh said. "You could see a whole lot of run in him. It just wasn't his time.

"He's grown up mentally and physically and has just kind of come together."

Double Down Special was freshened over the winter and has won all three of his starts this year, including his trial for the Ruidoso Derby by a dominating 1 3/4 lengths. He ran 400 yards in 19.24 seconds in the May 29 race, setting the fastest time for Saturday's finale.

"He ran an easy race in the trials," Stinebaugh said. "He didn't knock himself out at all. He cooled right out. He ran hard, but nothing pressed on him and made him gut it out. He came back really happy about that."

Salvador Martinez has the mount for owner Vanessa Bartoo.

"I think if they all get away clean, it will be a good horse race," Stinebaugh said.

Others set to start include Swingin Daddyo, who was sixth in last year's All American Futurity, and Sir Seth, whose lone loss in six starts came when he was third in last year's Ruidoso Futurity.

* Toast To Streakin, winner of three of his last four starts, tries to remain on a roll in the Grade 2, $50,000 Vals Fortune at Delta Downs. The 400-yard race is for 3-year-olds and up bred in Louisiana.

* Heza Marquette Maker, who missed by a neck in the Grade 3 Remington Park Distance Championship, is a leading contender in Saturday's $25,000 Governor's Cup Marathon Handicap at Sam Houston.