02/09/2008 1:00AM

Pyro blazes after clearing traffic

Alexander Barkoff
Pyro, last entering the stretch of Saturday?s Risen Star, rallies to victory under Shaun Bridgmohan.

NEW ORLEANS - You could hear the skeptical rumblings in some quarters. Pyro was a nose away from still being a maiden. Pyro was clunking along, eating War Pass's dust last year. What had Pyro done, really, to rate his lofty ranking as a Kentucky Derby contender?

News flash: Pyro is for real.

Last at the top of the Fair Grounds stretch and trailing a very slow pace, Pyro passed all 10 of his rivals in about a quarter-mile and won the Grade 3, $300,000 Risen Star Stakes by two lengths.

Pyro ($3.80), a Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred by Pulpit, keyed a Steve Asmussen-trained exacta, with second-choice Z Fortune three-quarters of a length better than Visionaire, who had a perfect trip. Unbridled Vicar was fourth, and Blackberry Road was a tough-trip fifth.

At the quarter pole, there was no way Pyro could win his 2008 debut. He had too much to do and the leaders would have too much energy left after dawdling splits of 49.50 seconds for the half-mile and 1:14.62 for three-quarters. But then came a move only a truly gifted horse could make.

As soon as Pyro straightened onto his right lead and leveled off for the stretch run, jockey Shaun Bridgmohan gave him his cue. He passed the lagging trailers in a matter of strides, and at the three-sixteenths pole, Bridgmohan made a sharp right turn, taking him off the fence and narrowly cutting in behind Unbridled Vicar. Pyro was in the clear - and then he really started to run. He went past the mid-pack horses and took aim on his stablemate Z Fortune, who had seized the lead turning for home. Pryo mowed him down, too, and a couple strides before the wire, Bridgmohan went not to the whip, but to his bare hand, giving Pyro a couple congratulatory pats.

"Unbelievable," Bridghmohan said, watching the replay of the stretch run afterward. "I never even hit him."

Z Fortune, held off the slow early pace by Garrett Gomez, was the first to make a move, pushing to the front just before the quarter pole. No match for Pyro, Z Fortune at least validated his win in the Lecomte Stakes.

"He's on the right track," Gomez said. "He's kind of like a teenager. When I made the lead, he halfway idled down on me."

Pyro was time in 1:44.68 for 1 1/16 miles, almost a second slower than Indian Blessing had run a half-hour earlier. But Pyro ran his final quarter-mile in about 22.60 seconds and should continue to develop.

"He's a tremendous horse," Asmussen said. "He's good enough to do what we just watched."