07/02/2016 7:52PM

Rated R Superstar handles Awesome Banner in Carry Back

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Leslie Martin/Coglianese Photos
Rated R Superstar, under Cornelio Velasquez, earns his first graded stakes victory in the Grade 3 Carry Back.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -  Rated R Superstar became a graded stakes winner for the first time while handing the odds-on favorite Awesome Banner his first sprint setback in five tries when he rallied from off the pace to a convincing 3 1/4-length triumph in Saturday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Carry Back Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

With Cornelio Velasquez aboard, Rated R Superstar was reserved at the rear of the pack in the run down the backstretch while the 2-5 Awesome Banner, as expected, controlled the pace through quick splits of 22.37 and 44.59 seconds for the opening half-mile. Rated R Superstar came wide with his bid rallying into the stretch and readily wore down the tiring leader despite drifting at the end.

Awesome Banner, who had won his first four sprint starts by a combined margin of 22 lengths including the Grade 2 Swale and Grade 3 Hutcheson here earlier this year, appeared well in control turning into the stretch with a clear lead, only to shorten stride late and prove no match for the winner. He was easily second-best, finishing six lengths in front of third-place finisher Bullet Gone Astray.

The victory was the third in 11 starts for Rated R Superstar, a son of Kodiak Kowboy who was Grade 1-placed around two turns as a 2-year-old. The win also provided some good medicine for trainer Ken McPeek, who was in town but unable to attend the race after becoming ill on the eve of the Carry Back.

Rated R Superstar completed seven furlongs over a track upgraded from “good” to fast just prior to the race in 1:22.09. He paid $7.40.

“I’m actually in town but I’ve got a stomach virus,” McPeek said by phone immediately after the race. “I was up all night. I guess I got it on the airplane. I’m extremely dehydrated.”

McPeek said he was hoping to get some help with the pace with Awesome Banner to set up Rated R Superstar’s late surge.

“It looked like they did [press the 1] a little bit and watching the race, I thought he could run him down,” said McPeek. “Cornelio knew the horse a little from the start at Turfway and he did a great job.”

McPeek said Rated R Superstar would likely make his next start in the seven-furlong, Grade 1 King’s Bishop next month at Saratoga.   

Dearest delivers in Azalea

Dearest left little doubt she’s the queen of the local 3-year-old filly sprint division after cruising to a 1 1/2-length victory over the 28-1 Smartly Agree in the $100,000 Azalea. The pacesetting Ballet Diva finished third.

The win was the fourth in five starts for Dearest, a daughter of Midshipman whose only setback came at the hands of Cathryn Sophia in the Grade 2 Davona Dale going a mile this past winter.

Dearest covered seven furlongs over a “good” track in 1:22.81 and paid $2.40. She was ridden to victory by Emisael Jaramillo for Gelfenstein Farm and trainer Gilberto Zerpa.

Three Rules dominates Birdonthewire

Three Rules followed up his easy debut victory with an even more impressive performance in his stakes debut, rallying from just off the pace to a dominant five-length victory over the 73-1 outsider Sonido in the $75,000 Birdonthewire for 2-year-olds. The pacesetter Francesco Appeal finished third.

Three Rules, a son of Gone Astray, is owned by his breeder, Shade Tree Thoroughbreds Inc. and was ridden to victory, as he was in his previous start, by Velasquez. He paid $2.40 after covering 5 1/2 furlongs over a “good” track in 1:22.81.

Cajun Delta Dawn upsets Cassidy Stakes

Cajun Delta Dawn rallied up the rail under jockey Juan Leyva to outfinish Lirica by a half-length to upset the $75,000 Cassidy Stakes. The winner’s stablemate, Perfect Key, finished third after controlling the pace while the 3-5 favorite Wide Gold checked home fourth in the field of eight 2-year-old fillies.

Cajun Delta Dawn is trained by David Fawkes for owner-breeder Curtis Mikkelsen. He ran 5 1/2 furlongs over the “good” track in 1:05.21 and paid a generous $36.60.