07/21/2006 11:00PM

Mott repeats at 23-1

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Benoit Photo
Union Avenue captures the American Derby on Saturday at Arlington Park.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - With a pair of $1 million races this summer, Colonial Downs figured to be a hotbed for 3-year-old grass horses. But who figured that the John Marshall, a $60,000 stakes restricted to Virginia-breds, would produce the winner of the American Derby?

But that is exactly the race in which Union Avenue made his most recent start, and Saturday at Arlington, facing 13 rivals in the Grade 2, $250,000 , Union Avenue won again, paying $49.60 to win - a startling price for a horse trained by Bill Mott, who won this race last year with Gun Salute.

At Colonial on June 17, Union Avenue dominated, but though his margin this time was a half-length, Union Avenue still looked sharp beating fast-closing Can't Beat It. Another 1 1/4 lengths back came 16-1 Amigoni.

Golden Arrow, the Irish invader for trainer Dermot Weld, had perfect position turning for home, but lacked his typical late punch, finishing fifth. Stream Cat, the narrow favorite, finished eighth.

Fifty-year-old Larry Melancon, who rode regularly at Arlington in the early 1970's, sat aboard Union Avenue for the first time Saturday, and he gave him a perfect trip, settling in just behind pacesetting Tahoe Warrior through a half-mile in 48.66 seconds. Melancon said he had told the Mott operation that he was coming to Arlington on Saturday to ride Embossed in the Arlington Handicap, and was available if they wanted him. He was given the call on Union Avenue this past Monday, and his wiles helped make him a winner. Watching horses turn for home on the race replay, Melancon said: "Here's where I let him slip away a little."

Indeed, the daylight Union Avenue opened at the top of the stretch was just enough to propel him to victory, as Can't Beat It finished fast after getting hung up in traffic, according to jockey Eddie Castro, between the three-eighths and quarter-mile poles.

The restricted Virginia stakes was just the second career victory for Union Avenue, owned by WinStar Farm.

"He's just a horse that's always been on the improve," said former jockey Keith Allen, who saddled the winner Saturday. "I think he's been kind of a pleasant surprise. I don't think we ever thought early on, 'Wow, this is a graded stakes winner.' "