05/09/2008 11:00PM

El Gato Malo finishes fast in Lone Star Derby

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GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - El Gato Malo recaptured his best form Saturday at Lone Star Park, when he overtook front-running Samba Rooster nearing the wire for a half-length win in the Grade 3, $400,000 Lone Star Derby. Leonides dug in late to nab second by a nose over third-place finisher Samba Rooster.

El Gato Malo, who had been under consideration for the Preakness, instead was targeted for the Lone Star Derby earlier this week. With the win Saturday, he rebounded from a fifth-place finish as the favorite in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.

"It's nice to get the horse back on track," said Craig Dollase, who trains El Gato Malo.

El Gato Malo ($5.40) settled in fifth along the inside Saturday, as Samba Rooster moved to the lead after the start of the mile and a sixteenth race. Samba Rooster was up by a length through fractions of 22.98 seconds for the opening quarter, 46.27 for the half-mile, and 1:10.20 for six furlongs. El Gato Malo advanced on the final turn, angled out into the stretch, and ran down the leaders. He covered the distance on a fast track in 1:43.04.

"He ran really well," said Rafael Bejarano, who rode El Gato Malo. "It was the first time for him to run on the dirt. He was very, very comfortable through the whole race."

El Gato Malo had run exclusively on synthetic surfaces in California prior to his start at Lone Star. He won the first three races of his career by a combined margin of 16 lengths, including the Grade 3 San Rafael at Santa Anita. For his win at Lone Star, El Gato Malo earned $225,000. He has now won 4 of 6 starts and $440,200.

Dollase said El Gato Malo would fly back to California at Monday, and that next-race plans would be determined after he consults with owner West Point Thoroughbreds. The Lone Star Derby was Dollase's second major stakes win of the meet. Last month, he sent Monterey Jazz here to win the Grade 3, $300,000 Texas Mile.

El Gato Malo, who was favored in the Lone Star Derby, added blinkers Saturday. The remaining order of finish in the race was Limestone Edge in fourth, followed by My Pal Charlie, Texas Wildcatter, Golden Yank, King's Silver Son, Ide Like a Double, Real Appeal, Fort Apache, Poni Colada and Isabull.

Snug wins Texas Stallion Stakes

The Lone Star Derby, which is the co-richest race of the meet, shared a card with two other 3-year-old stakes Saturday. The $125,000 colts and geldings division of the Texas Stallion Stakes went to Snug, who rallied for a 3 1/2-length win over 4-5 favorite Gold Coyote. It was another head back in third to C E P A's Forum.

Snug ($4.40) raced about a length off the pace set by Gold Coyote, who did not get the break but easily moved to the lead and set fractions of 24.75 seconds for the opening quarter and 48.52 for the half-mile in the mile and a sixteenth race. Snug kept the leader within reach until the stretch, when he overtook him and drew clear to win in a time of 1:44.33.

"I had a lot of horse," said Justin Shepherd, who rode Snug for trainer Jim Hudson.

Snug earned $75,000 for the win, his third from nine career starts. He is a gelding by Swamp and he is owned by Heiligbrodt Racing Stable.

In the $125,000 fillies division of the Texas Stallion Stakes, Formal Flyer ($7.40) proved much the best after she overcame a bad start to win by 10 lengths over Classie Baloo. It was another head back in third to Surfboard. Formal Flyer covered the mile and a sixteenth in 1:45.67. Quincy Hamilton rode the winner for John Silverthorne Ranch and trainer Danny Pish. Formal Flyer is by Early Flyer.

*Attendance ontrack was 9,249. Handle on the 11-race card from all sources was $3,498,723.