Aikenite triumphs by a nose

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. --- Dogwood Stable's Aikenite, closing with a rush, got up in the final stride to win the 77th running of the Churchill Downs, a Grade II stakes race, on Saturday's Kentucky Derby undercard.

Flawlessly ridden by John Velazquez, who went on to win the Derby aboard long shot Animal Kingdom, the big, dark-hued son of Yes It's True followed the first echelon down the backstretch while easing off the rail, saved some ground on the turn while in the eighth position and swung wide for a clear path home. By mid-stretch, early leader Captain Cherokee had given way and Capt. Candyman Can took over with four or five of the remainder of the 12-horse field in contention.

As the front of the pack reached the sixteenth pole, Apriority, bearing out under left-handed urging, cleared Noble's Promise and went after Capt. Candyman Can, while Aikenite entered serious condition to his outside. Apriority appeared the likely winner 50 yards out, as he displaced Capt. Candyman Can, but Aikenite beat him by a long nose.

"I took him off the rail to where he was more comfortable going to the far turn," Velazquez said. "Coming to the quarter pole, I went around horses and he started running. I definitely thought we got there (to win), but it was hard work to get there, let me tell you."

Time for the race was a brisk 1:21 2/5, one second slower than the track record.

Aikenite paid $28.60 for a $2 win ticket. Value to the winner was $201,175, increasing the Dogwood color bearer's career earnings to $688,635.

Cot Campbell purchased the colt at the Ocala Two-Year-Old in Training sale in February of 2009 for $225,000.

Aikenite went through a long dry spell on the track, his four previous victories being well-spaced.

However, trainer Todd Pletcher appears to have Aikenite turned around.

He has now won two races in a row for the first time in his career and has the Churchill Downs to place on his resume alongside his victory in the Commonwealth Handicap at Keeneland three weeks ago. Like the Churchill Downs , the Commonwealth was Grade II and seven furlongs in length.

"We were expecting a big effort today," Pletcher noted. "I think we have some options with this horse. We could run him again here in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile or the Sprint."

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