03/08/2008 1:00AM

Visionaire's nose hits wire first



Visionaire, under Jose Lezcano, got up in the final stride to nip Texas Wildcatter by a nose. It was 7 3/4 lengths back to Larry's Revenge in a race that may have dashed the Kentucky Derby dreams of several 3-year-olds. Saratoga Russell, the 8-5 favorite, finished eighth of nine, while Giant Moon, the previously undefeated New York-bred colt, was last.

Visionaire, trained by Michael Matz, who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby with Barbaro, was the only horse in the field that had competed in a two-turn graded stakes before the Gotham, finishing third to Pyro in the Grade 3 Risen Star. His connections chose the Gotham because they felt it was an easier spot than Saturday's Louisiana Derby, won by Pyro.

The Gotham was made much more difficult when Visionaire drew the outside post in what became a nine-horse field and then encountered an extremely sloppy surface for the first time.

Visionaire ($11) was taken back to last by Lezcano, who said he wanted to try and save ground. Lezcano, with Hall of Fame rider Jose Santos translating, said that Visionaire was "very uncomfortable'' the first half-mile and trailed the field down the backstretch.

Under Eibar Coa, Saratoga Russell set the fractions, running an opening half-mile in 46.37 seconds. Coa said at the three-eighths pole he felt his horse beginning to tire.

Texas Wildcatter, equipped with blinkers for the first time, advanced willingly to the leaders approaching the quarter pole. He easily made the lead in upper stretch under Norberto Arroyo Jr. and looked home free before Visionaire, who came five-wide into the stretch, nailed him at the wire. Visionaire a son of Grand Slam owned by Team Valor International and Vision Racing, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.60.

Lezcano said he was "very surprised' by Visionaire's sudden burst of speed, adding "I guess he's getting better.''

Matz, speaking from Florida, where he tried to watch the race on television, said the Wood Memorial here on April 5 or the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 12 might be next.

Texas Wildcatter may have put trainer Todd Pletcher back on the Derby trail with a solid second-place effort.

Giant Moon's Derby hopes took a major hit with his last-place finish. Jockey Ramon Dominguez said his horse simply didn't handle the slop at all.