Updated on 09/26/2012 12:41PM

Parx: Handsome Mike upsets Pennsylvania Derby

Barbara D. Livingston
Handsome Mike pays $40.40 as the longest shot on the board in the Pennsylvania Derby.

BENSALEM, Pa. - A gambler at heart, horse owner Paul Reddam doesn’t mind taking chances.

 “We tend in our stable to try hit the ball over the fence,” Reddam said. “We strike out a lot, but every once in a while the ball does go over the fence.”

 Though he was 3,000 miles away Saturday afternoon, Reddam knocked one out of the park when Handsome Mike, the least accomplished of the seven runners in the field, ran away from the competition in the stretch to win the Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby by two lengths at Parx.

 Macho Macho, the West Virginia Derby winner, finished second by a neck over Golden Ticket, the dead-heat winner of the Travers. Alpha, the other dead-heat winner of the Travers, faded to sixth as the 3-5 Pennsylvania Derby favorite.

 Handsome Mike is based in Southern California in the stable of trainer Doug O’Neill, who teamed with Reddam to win this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness with I’ll Have Another. O’Neill is currently serving a 40-day suspension for a TCO2 overage from 2010 and the horse ran in the name of assistant trainer Leandro Mora. Neither Mora nor Reddam was present Saturday.

 Reddam, who watched the race in his living room, said he had traveled to watch Handsome Mike run in the Haskell in New Jersey and the Secretariat in Chicago. The horse finished fourth in both of those Grade 1 races.

 Reddam decided to take another shot with Handsome Mike in a big race because he didn’t think the competition in the Pennsylvania Derby was overly tough.

 “I didn’t think the division was nearly as strong as it might otherwise be with all the horses being retired or sick,” Reddam said. “To me it was worth taking a shot.”

 Injuries and illnesses have decimated the 3-year-old division with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another, Belmont winner Union Rags, Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister all retired and Haskell winner Paynter sidelined due to colitis. Dullahan is a multiple Grade 1 winner on synthetics and is being pointed to the Grade 1 Jamaica on turf at Belmont on Oct. 6.

 Reddam said he wanted Handsome Mike to be on the lead in the Pennsylvania Derby, but “I didn’t want him to get in a speed duel.”

 Irad Ortiz Jr., who was riding Handsome Mike for the first time, said he didn’t expect to be on the lead.

 But Handsome Mike was eager out of the gate and put Ortiz in a forward position entering the first turn. Alpha, a bit head-strong under Ramon Dominguez, had a head in front after the opening quarter in 25.08 seconds, but Handsome Mike retook the lead straightening away down the backside.

 Handsome Mike maintained a length advantage over Alpha after a half in 49.37 over a dry, slow surface. Alpha, under Ramon Dominguez came back on Handsome Mike and the two were virtually deadlocked through six furlongs in 1:14.02.

 Handsome Mike and Alpha came into the stretch together with Stephanoatsee attempting to join the fray from the rail.

 But under a persevering Ortiz, Handsome Mike gradually opened up and pulled away.

 Handsome Mike, whose only other win came in a 6 1/2-furlong grass race last October at Santa Anita, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.63 and returned $40.40.

 “My horse broke good, I just put my hands down,” Ortiz said. “He was relaxed, we go in front and when I asked him he responded and we won. I didn’t think I’d be on the lead when I read my program.”

 Reddam said that he would likely point Handsome Mike to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita on Nov. 3.

 Alpha, who won the Jim Dandy and shared the Travers, got strong in the starting gate, according to his rider, Ramon Dominguez.

 “He got a little mad, broke flat and horses were walking going into the first turn and he got pretty aggressive,” Dominguez said.

 Dominguez said he wanted to try and get Alpha off the inside but he couldn’t do it.

 “Down the backside I’m trying to work my way out but given the slow fractions the whole field is right on the outside so I have to work with that,” Dominguez said. “Turning for home I stayed inside the winner as far out as I could but we just couldn’t match strides.”