HALLANDALE, Fla. -- In his first race in four months, and first wearing the crown of Horse of the Year, Favorite Trick drove through horses in the stretch to win the Swale Stakes yesterday at Gulfstream Park.
The victory in the seven-furlong Swale extended Favorite Trick's win streak to nine -- he has never lost -- and it answered the question of how the horse has fared under his new trainer, Bill Mott. But it revealed little about the chances of this son of a sprinter to win, or even reach, the country's most prestigious race, the Kentucky Derby.
"He looks like a horse who wants to run long and be a two-turn horse," Mott said. "But that doesn't answer whether he wants to go a mile and a quarter. Time will tell."
Even though Favorite Trick became the first 2-year-old since Secretariat to be voted Horse of the Year, questions abound about his ability to handle the demanding Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles. His sire, Phone Trick, was a superior sprinter. But if he passed a stamina limitation on to his favorite son, Favorite Trick has shown no evidence.
He has won twice at 1 1/16 miles, including an overpowering 5 1/2 -length score in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
"If you watched him run in the Breeders' Cup, you could say he may well handle more than a mile and a sixteenth," Mott said. "But that's still not a mile and a quarter.
"I think until we run on Derby day, if we run on Derby day, you won't really know until they load them in the gate and you watch them come down the stretch."
In the Swale, Favorite Trick broke smartly. His jockey, Pat Day, guided him to the rail, where he romped down the backstretch third in a field of nine. Southern Bostonion and Diamond Stud led, and then, nearing the turn, Dontletthebigonego edged past Favorite Trick on the outside.
It appeared briefly that perhaps Favorite Trick would fade into oblivion.
But in the turn Day popped him twice with the whip. He slapped him six more times down the stretch, and Favorite Trick split the leaders and then pulled off to a 1 3/4 -length victory in 1 minute, 22 4/5 seconds.
As the 1-5 favorite, he paid $2.60. The exacta with 10-1 Good and Tough, who rallied from mid-pack for second, returned $14.40. Dice Dancer, 20-1, finished third. The trifecta paid $84.40.
"I knew it was there. It was just a matter of getting him to give it to me," Day said. "He wasn't quite as responsive or enthusiastic maybe as he had been late last year. But after a couple of taps, he said, 'OK,' and went on about his business."
The 1 1/8 -mile Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 11 at Keeneland is next. That will be the key to Favorite Trick's racing future.
"I think we want to see his next race, and then we'll determine about the Derby," Mott said. "If the horse indicates that's the right challenge for him, that's the way we'll go."