05/03/2008 12:00AM

Elite Squadron takes them all the way


The strategy for Elite Squadron was the same as in his last race. The only difference is that this time he held on - and more.

Leading from soon after the opening bell, Elite Squadron pulled away to a 4 1/2-length victory Saturday in the 74th running of the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Handicap, helping to erase the bitter memories of his previous race, the April 12 Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland, when he led every step except the last few before being defeated by a head at 38-1.

"This was great," said Jimmy Baker, the veteran who trains Elite Squadron for Tom Walters. "That last race was a tough one to take, but this makes up for it, Derby Day and all."

Ridden by John Velazquez, Elite Squadron returned $10.80 as third choice in a field of eight older horses after finishing the seven-furlong CD Cap in 1:21.53.

Noonmark, the lukewarm 3-1 favorite who raced in midpack most of the way, rallied late to get second by a head over Hewitts, a California invader who chased Elite Squadron for much of the way.

Elite Squadron, a 4-year-old colt by Officer, now has won 5 of 12 starts. His share of the $282,000 purse was $169,595, bringing his bankroll to $433,706.

The victory in the CD Cap was the second for Velazquez, who won in 2004 aboard eventual sprint champion Speightstown.

After Hewitts, the order of finish was Island Warrior, Thousand Words, Junior College, Carnacks Choice, and Spotsgone. Wanderin Boy, who raced Friday, was an early scratch.