Alto Racing's Winning Cause surged to the lead in the stretch and posted a one-length win in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Lexington, improving his record to three for three on Keeneland's Polytrack. Julien Leparoux rode the Todd Pletcher-trained colt.
A son of Giant's Causeway, Winning Cause earned 20 points toward the Kentucky Derby for winning the "wildcard" race in the new scoring system, but Pletcher was non-committal afterward toward pursuing the Run for the Roses. The middle leg of the Triple Crown, the May 18 Preakness, may be a more likely target for the chestnut after his first stakes triumph.
"I guess you can never have too many, but we never really talked about that with this colt," said Pletcher when asked about the Kentucky Derby. The conditioner already has five horses confirmed for the race in Verrazano, Revolutionary, Overanalyze, Palace Malice and Charming Kitten.
"We'll see how he comes out of it and see (what his next race will be). We're just happy to have this one."
River Rocks and Cerro showed speed at the start, with the former completing the opening fractions in :23 3/5, :47 3/5 and 1:12 2/5 on a short lead. Winning Cause stalked the pace in fifth down the backstretch, about five lengths back, and commenced his rally while four wide on the far turn.
Cerro took over turning for home, passing the mile mark in 1:37 3/5 with a half-length advantage, but Winning Cause was gaining fast on the far outside. The winner drove past and was always going best in the final sixteenth of a mile, scoring comfortably in his graded stakes debut.
Winning Cause completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43 4/5.
The battle was for second as 34-1 longshot General Election, who closed from last during the early stages, edged third-placer Pick of the Litter by a neck. It was another neck back to Cerro in fourth and next under the wire came 5-2 favorite Sunbean, Wings of Fortune, the filly Pure Fun, River Rocks, Examen and Hip Four Sixtynine. Where's Dominic was scratched.
"I couldn't ask for a better trip," said Leparoux, who also won the Blue Grass a week earlier aboard Java's War. "In the first turn, he put me in a good spot and I got room to get him out there (toward the middle of the track) and he just cruised around there and finished strong."
Off as the 6-1 fifth choice, Winning Cause paid $15.60, $8.20 and $6 to his supporters.
Winning Cause entered the Lexington off an entry-level allowance victory going seven furlongs at Keeneland on April 6 and broke his maiden over the track last November. He made two starts on Aqueduct's inner track this winter, finishing second in the Jimmy Winkfield prior to a fifth in the February 10 Java Gold.
"The main reason (he was entered in the race) is he's two for two at Keeneland going into this," said Pletcher, who notched his fifth Lexington win. "We know he likes the surface and thought it was worth taking a shot."
With Saturday's $120,000 payday, Winning Cause has now earned $206,140 from his 7-3-1-0 ledger.
Bred in Kentucky by Galleria Bloodstock, Winning Cause is out of the winning Kingmambo mare Raffishing Look, a half-sister to Grade 3 winner and Grade 1 runner-up Society Hostess. He counts multiple Grade 2 winner Grenzen as his third maternal dam and this is the female family of Grade 1 winner and 1991 Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up Twilight Agenda; 1990 Belmont Stakes hero Go and Go; and Irish highweight and sire Refuse to Bend.
Winning Cause initially sold for $115,000 as a 2011 Keeneland September yearling before being purchased for $200,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Maryland May two-year-old sale the following year.