09/28/2014 6:14PM

McLaughlin maiden Imperia takes Pilgrim

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Second-time starter Imperia, with Javier Castellano subbing for the injured Rajiv Maragh, wins the Pilgrim Stakes for 2-year-olds.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin doesn’t run a maiden in a graded stakes race very often, but he thought there was plenty more to gain than to lose by running Imperia in Sunday’ Grade 3, $200,000 Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park.

“Our percentage is so high second-time out,  especially with Lasix first time, we thought [if we lose] we could break his maiden later; if we win we can go on to the Breeders’ Cup,” McLaughlin said.

Imperia is likely headed to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf after he rallied four-wide in the stretch to win Sunday’s Pilgrim Stakes by a length over the pacesetting Vision Perfect. It was another length back to Offering Plan in third. Startup Nation, the 1-2 favorite, finished fourth.

McLaughlin said the last maiden he remembered running in a stakes race was Soldat,  who won the 2010 With Anticipation at Saratoga as a maiden. Soldat went on to finish second in the Pilgrim and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

Imperia was ridden by Javier Castellano, who was subbing for Rajiv Maragh, who suffered a broken arm in Saturday’s Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.

“Our thoughts, our prayers are with Rajiv,” McLaughlin said. “Javier was a great fill-in for him.”

Imperia was fifth early while saving ground as Vision Perfect, a 28-1 longshot under Manuel Franco, set fractions of 25.06 seconds for the quarter, 48.98 for the half,  and 1:12.56 for six furlongs while being chased by Face the Music.

Vision Perfect maintained a two-length margin in midstretch, but Imperia, who was guided into the four-path turning into the stretch by Castellano, stormed home to get the win.

Imperia a son of Medaglia d’Oro out of the Grade 1-winning mare Cocoa Beach, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.26 and returned $13 to win.

“He broke well, much better than last time,” Castellano said. “He put me in good position early, and I got to save all the ground. I had the best horse in the race. I just had to go around the horses and he took off.”