04/05/2008 11:00PM

Presious Passion opens up, hangs on

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After watching her Presious Passion run off to a long lead and then plummet through the field during the final quarter-mile of last month’s 1 3/8-mile Mac Diarmida Handicap, the last thing trainer Mary Hartmann wanted to see was Presious Passion open an even longer advantage when stretching out to 1 1/2 miles in Saturday’s $150,000 Pan American Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

But despite opening a lead of more than a dozen lengths after the opening six furlongs of the Pan Am, Presious Passion had enough left to withstand a stretch-long bid from Drilling for Oil to post a surprising 1 1/2-length victory in the Grade 3 marathon. Interpatation was third.

Although Presious Passion sped away from his seven rivals under jockey Ariel Smith over a firm and speed-favoring grass course, the early fractions of 24.60 seconds, 48.59 and 1:12.85 were far slower than the fractions he set in the Mac Diarmida. And as far as Hartmann was concerned, that was the difference.

“I was surprised he was out there on the lead like that again,” said Hartmann, who trains Presious Passion for Patricia Generazio. “But this horse is on top of his game right now, so I can’t blame Ariel for what happened. In fact I thought he did a super job slowing him down to fractions where he had something left and was able to finish.”

The Pan Am victory gave Presious Passion, a 5-year-old son of Royal Anthem, his second graded win in less than four months. He also won the 1 1/8-mile W.L. McKnight Handicap at odds of 67-1 in his 2007 finale. Presious Passion was dismissed at odds of 20-1 in the Pan Am, returning $42.60 after covering the distance in 2:26.15.

Fracas, the even-money favorite, finished seventh and was vanned off following the race for “precautionary reasons,” according to track veterinarian Dr. Mary Scollay.