George and Lori Hall's PANTS ON FIRE (Jump Start) stamped his ticket to the May 7 Kentucky Derby (G1) with a gutsy triumph in Saturday's $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) at Fair Grounds. The victory was also icing on the cake for jockey Rosie Napravnik, who was running away with the riding title in New Orleans this winter with one day remaining in the 2010-11 meeting.
Pants On Fire, part of an entry that was made the 6-1 fourth choice, broke alertly and tracked in second behind Liondrive (Lion Tamer) as that rival established splits of :23 2/5, :47 2/5 and 1:12. In the second flight were maiden winner Nehro (Mineshaft) and 3-2 favorite Mucho Macho Man (Macho Uno). With the exception of Liondrive, all stayed in the mix until the finish.
Pants On Fire caught Liondrive midway around the far turn, but didn't have much of an advantage at the top of the stretch as both Mucho Macho Man and 4-1 third choice Machen (Distorted Humor) moved up into a striking position. While Machen's bid ultimately fizzled, Mucho Macho Man bravely continued to get past Pants On Fire inside the final eighth. His bid ultimately stalled, too, as Pants On Fire gamely held off both him and a resurgent Nehro, who rallied up the rail to get within a neck of the winner at the wire. Final time for nine furlongs on the fast main track was 1:49 4/5.
"I'm kind of shell-shocked a little bit right now," said an elated trainer Kelly Breen. "This is what you dream of, we got our ticket. You know it was like going to Disneyland, that sort of thing. We stamped our ticket, hopefully the horse comes out of the race in good order and we'll be on to Churchill."
Pants On Fire returned $14.60, $7.80 and $4.80. The 36-1 Nehro completed the $459 exacta after finishing a half-length ahead of Mucho Macho Man, who capped the $1,785.40 trifecta. Finishing the 1-2-4-11 superfecta, worth $9,227.20, was 7-2 second choice Elite Alex (Afleet Alex), the deep-closing colt who made a six-wide bid in the stretch and wound up 3 1/2 lengths behind the favorite and a neck in front of Machen.
The order of finish was completed by Wilkinson (Lemon Drop Kid), Left (Arch), Nacho Business (Rahy), Majestic Harbor (Rockport Harbor), Le Mans (War Front), Mavericking (Empire Maker) and Liondrive. Populist Politics (Don't Get Mad) was scratched after competing in Friday's Crescent City Derby.
Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Nehro, was pleased with his colt's effort and said he'd think about pointing the Zayat Stables colorbearer to the April 16 Arkansas Derby (G1). Trainer Kathy Ritvo reported that Mucho Macho Man lost a shoe out of the gate.
A maiden winner in his third lifetime start over a sloppy Delaware Park oval, Pants On Fire concluded his juvenile campaign with a second against allowance foes at Aqueduct. He kicked off 2011 with a third in the Count Fleet S. at Aqueduct, then narrowly missed by a head when second to Wilkinson in the Lecomte S. (G3). Last time, in the Risen Star S. (G2), he failed to show his customary early foot, raced wide around both turns, and finished a dull sixth in a field of 10. Pants On Fire has now won $678,100 from a line of 8-2-3-1.
Bred in Kentucky by K & G Stables, Pants On Fire was produced by the winning Cabo De Noche (Cape Town), who has also produced War Chant fillies in both 2010 and 2011. Cabo De Noche is a half-sister to Grade 1-placed stakes winner Key Hunter (Jade Hunter), the dam of Grade 3 winner Liquor Cabinet (Ire) (Hennessy), as well as Grade 3-placed stakes winner Hatfield (Proud Citizen).
Pants On Fire's fourth dam was Fight Dancer (Misty Flight), the ancestress of 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam (Saint Ballado), Irish champion Minstrella (The Minstrel), and Grade 2 winners Colonial Minstrel (Pleasant Colony), A Little Warm (Stormin Fever) and Misty Gallore (Halo), among others.