Updated on 10/09/2012 12:44PM

Hoosier Park: Neck 'n Neck overcomes wide trip to win Indiana Derby

Linscott Photography
Neck 'n Neck wins the Indiana Derby, giving jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. a sweep of Hoosier's two biggest stakes of the day..

Trainer Ian Wilkes’s home track is Churchill Downs, and the good 3-year-old he trains, Neck ‘n Neck, likes it there, too. Before Saturday, Neck ‘n Neck won 3 of 5  starts at Churchill and 0  of 7 elsewhere. But the track at Hoosier Park evidently suits him. Rallying from 10th in an 11-horse field, Neck ‘n Neck scored a one-length victory in the Grade 2, $500,000 Indiana Derby, the biggest win of his career.

It wasn’t a bad day for jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., either. Hernandez picked up the mount on Grace Hall, who powerfully won the Grade 2, $200,000 Indiana Oaks the race before the derby, and was aboard Neck n’ Neck for the first time Saturday.

Neck n’ Neck showed himself a 3-year-old worth watching when he won the Matt Winn Stakes by more than seven lengths in June – at Churchill, of course. He was a decent second behind Alpha in the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga but,  Wilkes said, never really picked up the bit when finishing sixth in the Travers Stakes on Aug. 25.Back at Churchill shortly thereafter, Neck ‘n Neck soon began working sharply again, and he was at his best Saturday.   

Fed Biz, the 6-5 favorite, broke alertly and alternated for the lead with longshot Junebugred. The pair, pursued by Tritap, going their first quarter-mile in 23.60 seconds and the opening half-mile in 48.32. The main action, though, began unfolding as the bunched field hit the far turn. Super Derby winner Bourbon Courage found himself in traffic, as did several other horses, but Neck ‘n Neck avoided the scrum, albeit while losing ground. Leveling off nicely once into the stretch, he took aim at Fed Biz and ran him down in the final furlong. Bourbon Courage hunted a spot between horses for much of the stretch, finally swinging belatedly to the far outside and coming with a big finish to nip Fed Biz for the place. Behind Fed Biz came Morgan’s Guerrilla, Afford, Tritap, O’Prado Again, Easter Gift, Junebugred, Second City, and Stealcase. Winning time for 1 1/16  miles on fast dirt was 1:42.71. Grace Hall, who looked awesome, ran the same distance in 1:41.85 while geared down late.

Wilkes -- who trains Neck ‘n Neck, a son of Flower Alley, for owner-breeder A. Stevens Miles – said after the race that Neck ‘n Neck was not under consideration for a Breeders’ Cup start.