04/28/2006 12:00AM

Pellegrino ends his 17-month drought

Patrick Lang/Lang Photography
Pellegrino, under Shaun Bridgmohan, scores at 24-1 in the Elkhorn.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Trainer Roger Attfield and owner Gary Tanaka made it a sweep of Keeneland's two graded marathon turf stakes by sending out longshot Pellegrino to a three-quarter-length victory over Go Deputy in the Grade 3, $200,000 Elkhorn Stakes before 17,624 fans on closing day of the spring meet.

The victory came just two days after Attfield and Tanaka won the Grade 3 Bewitch with odds-on favorite Noble Stella. Both races are run at 1 1/2 miles.

Pellegrino, a 7-year-old Brazilian-bred son of Nugget Point, was making his first start for Attfield and first since he finished ninth in the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder. Pellegrino hadn't won a race since taking the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup nearly 17 months ago.

Under Shaun Bridgmohan, Pellegrino stalked in third as Ramazutti and Dynatonia dueled through modest fractions of 26.15 seconds, 51.48, 1:16.74, and 1:41.83 for the opening mile.

Pellegrino made a three-wide move to the leaders at the quarter pole, wrested the lead in midstretch, and had more than enough to hold off a troubled Go Deputy. Pellegrino covered the 1 1/2 miles in 2:29.84 and returned $50.20 to win.

"It worked out good when those two horses hooked up; I was able to tuck him in behind and he turned off," said Bridgmohan, who won three races on the card. "About midway out on the second turn, I eased him from behind them to give him a clear shot at them. Once I did, he drug me up where I wanted to be, and I was patient from there on and he was waiting for me to let him go."

Attfield took over the training of Pellegrino from California-based Don Burke after the McKnight and said that training on the forgiving surfaces of Payson Park probably benefited the horse.

"We thought we had him in very good shape coming into the race but when you never had a horse before you don't really know them so I was delighted with him because we really felt he was going to run a good race,'' Attfield said. "He had two really good works here; we thought he enjoyed the turf course and he was in good shape. Fortunately we were right about something for a change.''

Attfield said Pellegrino would ship to Woodbine for the summer and point to races such as the $700,000 Northern Dancer Breeders' Cup Turf on July 23.

Leparoux and Bejarano tie for title

Julien Leparoux and Rafael Bejarano finished in a tie for leading rider at the meet with 17 wins apiece. Leparoux became the first apprentice rider to win or share a title in the history of Keeneland.

"I wish I'd have won,'' Leparoux said, "but they are very good jockeys. To be tied with Rafael, that's nice.''

Leparoux could have won the title if not for an accident in the sixth race. Leparoux was aboard the first-time starter Sanibel Storm, who was three lengths in front at the eighth pole of the 4 1/2-furlong maiden race. All of a sudden, Sanibel Storm ducked into the rail and unseated Leparoux, who somersaulted onto the safety rail and hit the ground.

Leparoux got up quickly and was hurrying back to the jockeys' room when Keeneland officials insisted he stop in First-Aid.

After a brief examination, Leparoux was cleared to ride the remainder of the card.

"I don't know what happened,'' Leparoux said. "I think maybe she got scared of something, but not from the whip because I hit her before and she didn't move so I think maybe when the other horse came up to her or [seeing] the people, she just got scared."

Zito wins training title

Though Todd Pletcher won the last race of the meet with Zinzan, it wasn't enough to prevent Nick Zito from winning the trainer title, 12-11.

It was Zito's first Keeneland spring title since 1997. Zito has won or shared each of the last three Keeneland fall titles. Zito's win total included Sun King's victory in the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup and Wanderin Boy's score in the Ben Ali.

Meanwhile, Zinzan will be the answer to the trivia question, "Who was the last horse to win a race on Keeneland's dirt surface?" Keeneland will switch to Polytrack in time for the fall meeting.

Ken and Sarah Ramsey were the meet's leading owners with six wins.

Attendance record set

Keeneland established an all-time record for total and average daily attendance at this meet. Total attendance for the 15 days was 244,145, surpassing the previous mark of 235,220 set during last year's 16-day meet.

The daily average figure of 16,276 surpassed the previous mark of 15,522 established during the 2004 spring meet, which was also 15 days.

* When Joangel won Friday's fourth race, it was the seventh victory with a 2-year-old at the meet for trainer Steve Asmussen. Keeneland ran 12 baby races this meet.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee