With the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass being the target since the Breeders' Cup, Dance With Fate delivered the best performance of his career Saturday, rallying past Medal Count to win going away by 1 3/4 lengths on Keeneland's Polytrack. The Peter Eurton-trained colt registered his first stakes victory and earned 100 points toward a possible Kentucky Derby bid.
A decision on the Derby will come later: Eurton was content to enjoy the satisfaction of realizing a long-term goal.
"I just don't know. It's three weeks and kind of quick back," Eurton said when asked about running in the Derby. "I know he loves synthetic better, (likes) turf. I just don't know if he likes dirt. I know I'm going to hear it from everybody, though."
Jockey Corey Nakatani believes Dance With Fate belongs in the Churchill Downs' starting gate.
"I don't have any doubt he can (get 1 1/4 miles)," Nakatani said. "It's just a matter of whether he'll handle the Churchill Downs surface at this point.
"He's done things right. He seems to do well on the grass, and at Churchill, I've won the (Kentucky) Oaks on a filly that won on the grass (Pike Place Dacer in 1996) so hopefully we'll get (Dance With Fate) there after this race."
Dance With Fate settled near the back of the 14-horse field after the break as Pablo Del Monte showed the way on a short lead, establishing opening splits in :23 2/5 and :47 2/5. Bobby's Kitten, Coastline and Extrasexyhippzster were all up close stalking the pacesetter entering the backstretch.
Pablo Del Monte widened his advantage on the far turn, passing the six-furlong mark in 1:12 3/5 up by 1 1/2 lengths, and the eventual winner was still 11th, 6 3/4 lengths back with three furlongs remaining. Nakatani swung his mount about six paths off the rail and Dance With Fate offered a sweeping move past rivals to reach contention entering the stretch.
Medal Count also rapidly accelerated through the far turn and appeared poised to seize command when Dance With Fate came flying forward to challenge. Dance With Fate edged past with a furlong remaining and drew away late, completing 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.
"They were actually going a little slower than I anticipated, but being on the Polytrack you don't know what's going to happen," Nakatani said. "In talking with Peter about the race before, he said, 'If you can, get him to switch off and just have a target for him to run at, save a little and just make your best run when it counts,' and I said. 'Ok, let's do it.'"
Medal Count, who is expected to point toward the Derby after earning 40 points for the runner-up finish, kept plugging away after being passed and wound up 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Pablo Del Monte. It was another 5 3/4-length gap back to Big Bazinga, who got up late for fourth.
Coltimus Prime, Gala Award, So Lonesome, Asserting Bear, Casiguapo, Coastline, Extrasexyhippzster, 7-2 favorite Bobby's Kitten, Harry's Holiday and Vinceremos came next under the wire. Divine Oath did not draw in from the also-eligible list.
By sprinter/miler Two Step Salsa, Dance With Fate was exiting a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby. He took the lead turning for home in the 1 1/8-mile event on Golden Gate Fields' Tapeta but was caught in the final strides by Tamarando. The colt opened 2014 with a sharp score in a one-mile turf allowance at Santa Anita.
After recording an unplaced finish in his career debut last July at Hollywood, Dance With Fate captured his second start, a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Del Mar. He followed with a fast-closing second in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity on the Polytrack and filled the same spot when trying dirt in the Grade 1 FrontRunner at Santa Anita in late September. Dance With Fate concluded his juvenile season with well-beaten eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"This race (Blue Grass) has been in the plans since the Breeders' Cup," Eurton said earlier this week. "The Blue Grass is a destination more than anything and not just a prep for the Derby."
With Saturday's $450,000 payday, Dance With Fate has now earned $680,000 from an 8-3-3-0 record.
Bred by Best A Luck Farm LLC in Florida, Dance With Fate was purchased for $120,000 by Joseph Ciaglia Jr. at last year's OBS April two-year-old sale. He is campaigned by Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stable and Ciagli Racing LLC.
The dark bay is the first stakes winner out of Flirting With Fate, a daughter of Saint Ballado. The dam is out of the stakes-placed Biogio's Baby, a half-sister to multiple Grade 3 heroine Biogio's Rose. This is the female family of 1973 Blue Grass winner and Belmont Stakes third-placer My Gallant.
The Blue Grass program featured a crowd of 39,722, the second-largest in Keeneland's history.