03/08/2008 12:00AM

Pyro dazzles again in Louisiana Derby

Louis Hodges Jr.
Pyro, under Shaun Bridgmohan, overcomes traffic trouble to win the Louisiana Derby.

NEW ORLEANS - Pyro, displaying the handiness and explosiveness that carried him to victory in last month's Risen Star Stakes, again weaved his way through traffic on Saturday at Fair Grounds to capture the Grade 2, $600,000 Louisiana Derby, a race in which his performance was about the only expected result.

Pyro came home three lengths best as the 4-5 favorite, but there was disarray behind him. My Pal Charlie, a 60-1 longshot, set the pace and held on for second, while better-regarded runners such as Tale of Ekati (sixth) and Majestic Warrior (seventh) disappointed in the field of nine.

Yankee Bravo was third, a half-length behind My Pal Charlie, and Blackberry Road was fourth.

Racing over a fast track, Pyro ($3.60) completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.44, 0.43 of a second slower than the time recorded by Proud Spell in the Fair Grounds Oaks 41 minutes earlier. But it was the manner in which Pyro triumphed that will resonate. He was caught in traffic on the far turn under jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, had to await room, then knifed his way between rivals a furlong out after getting cleared for takeoff.

"I knew what I had under me," Bridgmohan said. "I wasn't panicking at all. I wanted to keep him closer to see how he would handle that scenario. We saw what an explosive kick he had coming from far back last time."

The victory was the second straight for Pyro this year following a trio of losses last fall to War Pass, including a second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. In the Risen Star, Pyro was last of 11 entering the stretch, then produced a devastating kick. On Saturday, he laid closer to the early pace in fourth, crept closer on the turn, but had to idle when he gained on the leaders on the final turn and no room developed.

"I'm very pleased, especially with the fact that he put himself in the race," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Pyro for the Winchell Thoroughbreds stable of Ron Winchell and his mother, Joan. "To get done what we're hoping to get done, which is win the Kentucky Derby, he's going to have to be a horse who can make more than one move."

Pyro is expected to have his final prep for the May 3 Kentucky Derby in the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 12. Pyro, a son of Pulpit, has now won 3 of 6 starts.

My Pal Charlie, who was coming off a first-level allowance win here on Feb. 14, set fractions of 24.10 seconds, 48.07, and 1:13.86 for the first six furlongs, disposed of the sprinter J Be K on the final turn, then bravely clung to the lead until Pyro finally passed him inside the furlong pole.

"I'm thrilled to death," said Al Stall Jr., who trains My Pal Charlie. "Who'd have thunk that?"

Garrett Gomez, who rode Majestic Warrior, said his colt "flattened out a little earlier than I would have liked."