Hot favorites were ambushed in both of Saturday's "Derbies" in the Southwest. Mary C. and Robert L. Zollars' FUSA CODE (Fusaichi Pegasus) was twice beaten by Special Kid (Lemon Drop Kid) at home at Santa Anita, but turned the tables on that 3-2 favorite in the $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park. An even bigger upset was sprung a few minutes later in the $50,000 Turf Paradise Derby, where Jim Egger and William Burns' BEER MEISTER (Pleasant Tap) blew by a gaggle of foes, including prohibitive 3-5 favorite Indian Winter (Indian Charlie), to score at 40-1.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Fusa Code brought an 0-for-4 career mark into the Borderland Derby, most recently finishing third to Special Kid in a 1 1/16-mile maiden on February 3, and accordingly left the gate here as the 7-1 fourth choice in the 10-horse field. With new rider Justin Shepherd aboard, Fusa Code was settled about three lengths off the pace set by Orion Xpress (Bertrando) through splits of :24 and :48 3/5. (Photo courtesy of Javier Morelos/Coady Photography.)
Special Kid, who had been tracking in second, and Fusa Code both accosted Orion Xpress at the six-furlong mark in 1:13, but Fusa Code was moving the better of the two challengers into the stretch. He opened up a safe margin, only to drift about and nearly gave it away. Special Kid's persistence helped him to narrow the gap, while 22-1 longshot Behold de Buy (E Dubai) was flying from the tail of the field in the final yards.
Yet neither could quite get to Fusa Code, who held on by three-quarters of a length in a final time of 1:45 for 1 1/16 miles on the fast track. The winner returned $16.60, $7.20 and $4.60. Behold de Buy's momentum helped him to nip Special Kid by a nose at the wire for runner-up honors, and another 3 1/4 lengths back in fourth came R Skydiver (Benchmark) in fourth. Orion Xpress retreated to ninth.
Fusa Code has now earned $82,844 from his 5-1-1-1 line. Fifth in his debut at Belmont Park on September 11, the dark bay gelding next finished second to Casper's Touch (Touch Gold) at Churchill Downs on November 19. Fusa Code shifted base to Santa Anita this winter, checking in fourth to Uncle Sam (Tapit) and Special Kid in an off-the-turf maiden on December 27. He came his closest yet last time out, going down by a half-length, and took a big stride in the right direction on Saturday.
With the Borderland Derby being the local stepping stone to the March 27 Sunland Park Derby (G3), Fusa Code figures to be a prominent candidate for that $800,000 prize.
Bred by Northwest Farms in Kentucky, Fusa Code brought $55,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. He is out of the multiple stakes-winning Lost Code mare Lasting Code, and further back, comes from the family of Group 1-placed multiple stakes hero Cannonball (Catienus). Fusa Code's fourth dam, Zeal (Round Table), is a full sister to the classy racemare Drumtop (Round Table), a 10-time stakes star and the dam of noted sire Topsider (Northern Dancer).
At Turf Paradise, Southern California invader Indian Winter gave his legions of backers anxious moments even before the race began. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee, who scratched from last Sunday's San Vicente S. (G2) at speed-favoring Santa Anita, didn't keep Martin Pedroza in the irons for his jaunt into Arizona. Indian Winter was instead piloted by local rider Juan Rivera, and the partnership got off on a rocky note. The odds-on favorite was so fractious in the gate that Rivera climbed out of the saddle momentarily.
Once re-mounted, Indian Winter broke outward from his rail post and was bumped. Six lengths back in third off a fast opening quarter in :22 3/5, he became rank on the backstretch, tossed his head up in the air, drifted off the rail, and was only two lengths off the pace by the time the half was reached in :46 4/5. Meanwhile, the patiently-handled Beer Meister, who was making his first start past 6 1/2 furlongs, was lagging well back in last under Glenn Corbett. (Photo of Beer Meister courtesy of Coady Photography.)
Up front, The Great Caper (Albert the Great) had been hounded throughout by Arcadian (Songandaprayer), who put his head in front through six furlongs in 1:10 4/5. Indian Winter was now reorganized and traveling well while advancing in third, hinting that he might be able to put his earlier troubles behind him.
Swinging for home, however, The Great Caper spurted away again and was two lengths on top in midstretch. Indian Winter wasn't making headway in second, but Beer Meister was rolling into view wider out. Picking up in grand style, the unheralded longshot pulled away by two lengths. Beer Meister negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 4/5 on the fast track and sparked mutuels of $82.40, $20.80 and $6.40.
Twice the Appeal (Successful Appeal) also rallied boldly for second, but in the process, lugged in at the sixteenth-pole and interfered with Mr Artistic M D (Mr. Greeley). After an objection lodged by Mr Artistic M D's rider Scott Stevens, the stewards disqualified Twice the Appeal and placed him fourth. As a result, Indian Winter, who just scraped home for third by a neck from the compromised Mr Artistic M D, was elevated to the runner-up spot. Mr Artistic M D was promoted to third. The Great Caper tired to fifth in the eight-horse field.
Beer Meister's successful stakes and two-turn bow improved his record to 4-2-2-0, $39,620, all at Turf Paradise. Entered for a $20,000 tag in his debut on December 31, the Manuel Ortiz Sr. pupil proceeded to crush his maiden claiming rivals by 11 1/2 lengths. The dark bay colt closed for runner-up honors in an entry-level optional claimer on January 14 and again in a second-level allowance on January 29, both times as the odds-on favorite.
Bred by Elisabeth Alexander in Kentucky, Beer Meister was led out unsold after bringing a bid of $19,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. His dam is the winning Nanas Cozy Account (Langfuhr).