FRANKLIN, Ky. – Channel Cat turned back a sustained stretch bid from Cullum Road when posting a hard-fought victory Wednesday in the $398,000 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs.
Luis Saez was in from New York to ride Channel Cat, a Calumet Farm homebred trained by Todd Pletcher. The colt was always close to the pace in the 1 5/16-mile race, forging to the front for the long stretch run before prevailing under strong urging.
“I was going to ride him a different way, like covered up,” said Saez. “But he broke so sharp, and he was right there in the clear, and he was pulling all the way, I just said, ‘I’ll take it,’ even though I was trying to get him settled as much as I can.”
After Channel Cat struck the front near the quarter pole, Cullum Road, a 19-1 shot under Tyler Gaffalione, loomed boldly to his outside – but Channel Cat held sway to win by a head.
“He is really a fighter,” said Saez.
Channel Cat, by English Channel, returned $7 as second choice after finishing in 2:15.51 over a turf course rated good. Captivating Moon was another 3 1/4 lengths back in third, with Bandua, the 9-5 favorite, finishing fourth in a field of 10 3-year-olds.
The stakes victory was the first for Channel Cat, whose two wins from 10 prior starts had come in a maiden and first-level allowance race. Two starts back, the colt had been a respectable fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby.
Pletcher, who watched the Dueling Grounds Derby from the Keeneland Yearling Sales in Lexington, was the leading trainer here in 2009 with a 5-for-8 record but was represented by only four starters from 2010 through 2017. Channel Cat was his fourth starter of the 2018 meet.
The Dueling Grounds Derby and its sister race, the Dueling Grounds Oaks, anchored a 10-race Wednesday card that was held over from Sunday, when racing was canceled because of heavy rain.