12/04/2010 8:13PM

Valli With a Vow surges from last to first in Pago Hop

Lou Hodges Jr.
Valli With a Vow, under James Graham, draws clear to win the Pago Hop.

A chilled-out version of Valli With a Vow is making strong strides. Valli With a Vow won just once in her first nine starts, but she swept to a powerful allowance-race victory Oct. 31 over Woodbine’s grass course, and was equally sharp Saturday at Fair Grounds capturing the $60,000 Pago Hop under James Graham.

“She was very relaxed” going into the Pago Hop,” said Ruth Schmidt, assistant to trainer Josie Carroll. “That was part of her issue: She wouldn’t relax.”

Valli With a Vow relaxed more than Graham expected early in the Pago Hop, where Ice Mist set a taxing pace of 23.30 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.93 for the first half-mile. Valli With a Vow was last of 14 a half-mile into the race, the right place to be with the leader going so fast.

“I actually wanted to be a little bit closer,” Graham said. “She didn’t take me, and I didn’t force her.”

But Valli With a Vow, rallying wide on the better part of a Fair Grounds course favoring outside paths, took off in the stretch. Moving far faster than any foe through the last quarter-mile, Valli With a Vow came between tiring Ice Mist and finishing Silver La Belle in the final furlong to power home on top. She paid $19 to win, and was timed in 1:38.65 for one mile on firm turf.

The winner is a 3-year-old daughter of Broken Vow bred and owned by Darrell and Lendy Brown. Silver La Belle held second, followed by Camindora and Battle Buster. The favored Kitty Love was kept close to the rail the entire trip, never fired, and finished ninth.

Strike Again overtakes Gran Estreno

Often on the Fair Grounds grass course he who rallies last rallies best, and so it was in the $60,000 Buddy Diliberto Memorial Handicap, where Strike Again ran down heavily favored Gran Estreno to score by three-quarters of a length. Strike Again was sixth turning into the long Fair Grounds stretch, but came home strongly while closing outside on the firmer part of the course.

“The turf seems to be pretty soft on the inside,” winning rider Miguel Mena said. “I just went out there trying to keep him off the pace and come running on the outside.”

Strike Again gave trainer Malcolm Pierce his second straight win in the Diliberto, but Pierce gave credit to trainer Donnie Von Hemel, who was training Strike Again at Remington Park until about a week ago.

“Donnie gets the big credit for bringing this horse to this race,” said Pierce, who sent out Strike Again for owner-breeder Pin Oak Farm.

Caberneigh and Ready Set made a moderate early pace, going the first quarter-mile in 24.35 seconds and the opening half-mile in 49.02. Gran Estreno broke from post 1, and had come through on the inside to lead into the first turn before being passed by Caberneigh and Ready Set. Jockey Robby Albarado let those two go, waiting to attack just before the quarter pole, where Gran Estreno moved three-wide and seized control of the race. But by deep stretch his run had slackened, and Strike Again pushed past to win going away.

Strike Again, a 4-year-old son of Dixie Union, won his second stakes and fifth career start. He paid $15 and was timed in 1:45.03 for 1 1/16 miles on firm turf. Vanquisher, another late-runner, finished third.