04/12/2008 12:00AM

Gayego holds off Z Fortune in Arkansas Derby


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Gayego put himself in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby by holding Z Fortune at bay to win the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby on Saturday. He won by three-quarters of a length before an ontrack crowd of 56,326, on closing day of the Oaklawn Park season.

Tres Borrachos finished third, four lengths behind runner-up Z Fortune.

Gayego ($6.40) broke well and tracked the pace set by Tres Borrachos, who led the field through fractions of 22.71 seconds for the opening quarter, 46.61 for a half-mile, and 1:11.09 for six furlongs. Gayego moved to the leader into the final turn, came into the stretch in command, and put in a sustained run to cover the mile and an eighth over a track rated fast in 1:49.63.

"We set some fractions," said Mike Smith, who rode Gayego for Paulo Lobo. "He did the dirty work and finished that final quarter well."

The Arkansas Derby was Smith’s third major stakes victory during the Racing Festival of the South. Last Saturday, Smith captured the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap aboard Zenyatta and the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap with Tiago.

Gayego picked up both his first two-turn win and first dirt win in the Arkansas Derby. He had been racing on synthetic surfaces in California.

"I think he did a lot of things today," said Lobo. "First of all, he tracked a very fast pace for the track and he finished very well, first time on the dirt."

Lobo said Gayego is scheduled to fly to Kentucky on Monday to begin preparations for the Kentucky Derby. The horse earned $600,000 for Cubanacan Stables, which was his third from five career starts. Gayego, a son of Gilded Time, has now earned $723,420. He came into the Arkansas Derby off a runner-up finish to Georgie Boy in the Grade 2 San Felipe at Santa Anita.

The Arkansas Derby was the final leg of a national pick four that paid $1,083.60 on a $1 ticket. The winning combination was 6-5-2-1, 4. The series also included the Commonwealth from Keeneland, which was won by Rebellion ($10.20); the Blue Grass, won by Monba ($19.60); and the Instant Racing at Oaklawn, won by Euphony ($10.20). The pool was $371,724.

The remaining order of finish in the Arkansas Derby was Indian Sun in fourth, followed by My Pal Charlie, Isabull, Blackberry Road, Golden Yank, King's Silver Son, Jazz in the Park, Ablaze with Spirit, Liberty Bull, and Shekinah. Victory Pete was scratched, which reduced the field size to 13.

Handle on the 12-race card from all sources was $10,119,450.

Sebastian County by a head

Sebastian County rated off a quick pace and then held off a surging Poni Colada by a head to win his two-turn debut in the $75,000 Northern Spur.

The one-mile race for 3-year-olds was the first of two stakes supporting the Arkansas Derby.

Sebastian County ($12.80) settled in fourth behind Comic Romeo and Ferragamo, who dueled through fractions of 22.87 seconds for the opening quarter, 46.19 for a half-mile, and 1:11.64 for six furlongs. Sebastian County began to advance on the final turn, moved to the lead into the stretch, and went on to cover the distance on a fast track in 1:37.98. It was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third to Ide Like a Double.

"The race set up nice for us, sitting right behind the leaders down the backside and just waiting for the right time to move," said Larry Sterling Jr., who rode Sebastian County for trainer Don Von Hemel.

Sebastian County races for Dream Walkin Farms.

Comic Romeo broke down in the stretch.

Euphony remains undefeated

Euphony remained perfect in three career starts when she won her stakes and two-turn debut in the $75,000 Instant Racing for 3-year-old fillies at a mile. She won by a half-length over Rasierra, while it was another four lengths back in third to Eagle's Song.

Euphony ($10.20) broke well and sat just off pacesetter Spirit Line to midway on the final turn, when she moved to the lead. In the stretch, Euphony fought off a bid from Rasierra, and covered the distance in 1:37.81. Cliff Berry rode the winner for Pin Oak Stable and trainer Donnie Von Hemel.