05/20/2006 12:00AM

Friendly Island pounces, then holds on

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The favorite, Friendly Island (center), beats Celtic Innis by three-quarters of a length, with the troubled Gaff another head back in third.

BALTIMORE - Friendly Island never let pacesetter Kazoo out of his sights the first part of the race, surged past that rival heading into the lane, and determinedly turned back a late bid from 24-1 shot Celtic Innis to capture the Grade 3, $190,000 on Saturday at Pimlico.

Friendly Island ($5.60), the favorite, beat Celtic Innis by three-quarters of a length, with the troubled Gaff another head back in third. Kazoo faded to fourth in the field of seven.

"I was loving my trip," winning rider Garrett Gomez said. "Kazoo got the lead, but I wasn't going to let him get away too soft."

Gaff was shuffled back heading into the far turn, was in traffic on the turn, and had Celtic Innis crowding him down the stretch.

Kazoo got away with soft fractions of 23.35 seconds for a quarter-mile and 46.33 seconds for a half-mile, but still yielded.

"It took him longer than I expected for him to get his feet under him," said Richard Migliore, who rode Kazoo. "It took about a sixteenth of a mile for him to catch his stride. Forty-six seconds is well within his scope, but then he didn't fire."

Friendly Island completed six furlongs on the fast main track in 1:09.94. Todd Pletcher trains Friendly Island for Ann and Stu Subotnick's Anstu Stables.

Friendly Island, a New York-bred, had won 6 of his previous 12 starts, but never had won a stakes race against open company. He most recently had finished second to division leader Bordonaro in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park. Friendly Island, 5, is by Crafty Friend.