03/05/2011 6:37PM

Tampa Bay: Pletcher ships in Colizeo to capture Challenger

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Tom Cooley Photography
Colizeo, a Grade 3 winner as a 3-year-old last season, opens his 2011 season by taking the Challenger by four lengths under Willie Martinez.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – Colizeo took the lead coming into the stretch, pulled away through the final three-sixteenths of a mile, and posted an authoritative four-length victory in the $60,000 Challenger Stakes on Saturday at Tamp Bay Downs.

Under a confident ride by Willie Martinez, Colizeo sat second for five furlongs as longshot Yummy With Butter set the pace through a quarter of 23.84 seconds and half of 47.90, then Martinez sent Colizeo up to challenge for the lead in the second turn while Jardim was also stalking the pace and Mad Flatter was moving up along the rail.

Turning for home, Colizeo ($6.60) shook clear and began to pull away and continued to widen to the finish as Jardim rallied down the middle of the track to finish second, 2 1/2 lengths in front of Yummy With Butter, who held off a mild late rally from 2010 Belmont Stakes winner Drosselmeyer, the slight 2-1 favorite, for third.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Colizeo covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.94, which was just .11 of a second off the track record of 1:42.83.

"We’re really happy with him, and we’re glad we brought him over here," said Michael Dilger, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’s been training really well [at Palm Meadows}. I told Willie just to see how he broke and take it from there. I wasn’t worried about the far inside post position; it was all right for this horse. If you look at his past performances, he’s always been forwardly placed. It didn’t hinder him as much as it would hinder other horses.”

 

It was the second stakes win of the meet for Martinez, who rode the Pletcher-trained Bridgetown to victory in last month's Turf Sprint.

"When we got into the stretch he was just gliding," Martinez said of Colizeo, a Grade 3 winner last season. "That is one sweet horse and if Mr. Pletcher has any more to send up here I’d be glad to win another for him."

 

Luis Garcia, rider of fourth-place finisher Drosselmeyer, said “He ran a really good race. I wanted to win with him; he’s a really nice horse, obviously having won the Belmont last year. We wanted to try to keep him more towards the inside, but he swung out a little bit wider on the first turn than we would liked. So I just had to let him run. I started getting after him around the half-mile pole, and he started to really open up coming out of the final turn, but I had to stay on top of him through the finish line.”