10/01/2016 6:37PM

Noble Bird cruises to triumph in Lukas Classic

Coady Photography
Noble Bird, with Julien Leparoux up, leads the pack en route to victory in the Lukas Classic.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Pushed into hot fractions in the Grade 1 Met Mile and Whitney Handicap, Noble Bird weakened to fifth and sixth, respectively.

Those retreats were solved Saturday by a class drop. Running in the ungraded $175,000 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs and given the luxury of a clear lead, he reserved his form, lasting for a 1 1/2-length victory over 12-1 outsider Hawaakom.

Aside from a somewhat awkward break, the Lukas Classic could not have gone more favorably for Noble Bird when jockey Corey Lanerie, on 2016 Stephen Foster winner Bradester, conceded the lead to Noble Bird, the 2015 Foster winner.

This allowed the latter to cruise to the lead with fractions of 48:01 and 1:11.74 and, after turning back an early stretch bid from Bradester, he maintained a safe advantage over late-running Hawaakom. A 5-year-old son of Birdstone owned by John Oxley, he raced 1 1/8 miles on a wet-fast track in 1:49.03.

“Today he was happy in front and he kept going,” winning rider Julien Leparoux said.

Bradester, who earned a “Win and You’re In” berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in taking the Stephen Foster in June, faded to third, three quarters of a length behind Hawaakom.

He is no sure thing to contest the Classic. He has been campaigned in short routes over his career, suggesting a race such as the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile could appeal more to his connections.

David Carroll, assistant to winning trainer Mark Casse, credited Casse’s crew at Saratoga, led by Norman Casse, for having Noble Bird well prepared for the Lukas Classic.

“He just got down here a couple of days ago,” he said. “He came in great shape and got a great ride from Julien. I just had the pleasure of saddling him.”

Disappointing was 2-1 favorite Breaking Lucky, who came under an early ride and, after mounting a brief bid under pressure on the second turn, faded to eighth in the field of nine.