05/02/2004 11:00PM

Fly Esteem holds off Chief Mtn

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CALGARY, Alberta - Fly Esteem stamped himself as a leading contender for the May 15 President's Stakes when he scored a wire-to-wire victory last Sunday in a major prep for the race.

Making his seasonal debut for trainer Bob Kingston, Fly Esteem was let go as fourth favorite in the field of seven and returned $16.90. The betting public devoted most of its attention to Chief Mtn, who went off as the 3-5 favorite in the six-furlong allowance.

On a day where speed ruled - six of the eight winners on the card were on or near the lead after a quarter-mile - Fly Esteem prevailed by a neck over Chief Mtn, who did not break sharply and was fifth in the run through the first turn.

Fly Esteem went to the lead immediately under Desmond Bryan and increased his lead down the backstretch. His 3 1/2-length lead in the final furlong proved insurmountable despite a very impressive late run from Chief Mtn, who rallied three wide on the final turn. It appeared Chief Mtn was going to get up in time, but Fly Esteem dug in to hold him off.

It was another five lengths back in third to Canadian Northern, who flattened out after chasing Fly Esteem from second place down the backstretch. Griffin's Wake ran evenly in his seasonal bow to be fourth.

The three fillies in the field were never a factor, and 2-year-old champion Classa Red Wine faded to last after pressing the pace while being fanned three wide through the first turn.

A homebred son of Esteem, Fly Esteem stopped the clock in 1:11.20 and earned $17,388 in winning his third race from six tries.