-photo by Reed Palmer Photography
Southern Africa Wins $300,000 Walmac Lone Star Derby; Belmont Stakes Next?

Grand Prairie, Texas (May 14, 2005) - California-based Southern Africa rated just off the early pace and made a five-wide move on the final turn to win Saturday's $300,000 Walmac Lone Star Derby (Gr. III) by 1 ¼ lengths over Shamoan. Real Dandy finished another 1 ¾ lengths back in third. New York invader Awesome Twist, bet down to the 8-5 favorite in his stakes debut, failed to threaten and finished last in the field of 11 three-year-olds.

The convincing win in 1:41.92 for the 1 1/16 miles over a fast track led trainer Mike Puhich to consider starting Southern Africa in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes (Gr. I) on June 11. "He'll run all day," Puhich said. "We'll see how he comes out of this race, but the Belmont Stakes is definitely one of the races we're going to look at. It all depends on how he's doing and how [next Saturday's] Preakness goes."

Jon Court, victorious in the 2001 Lone Star Derby with Percy Hope, rode the winner for owners Al and Sandee Kirkwood of Richfield, Wash. Earlier in the day, the California-based jockey rode Rodeo's Castle to a head victory over Joe Six Pack in the $75,000 Ford Express Stakes.

A speed duel ensued in the early stages of the race between Thor's Echo and General Charley with Shamoan, another California invader, and Southern Africa, who broke from post No. 8, tracking the leaders. Thor's Echo ran the first quarter-mile in :22.98, the half-mile in :46.88 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.45.

"I just basically sat back," Court said. "I knew there would be some speed in the race and I just rode the horse in his natural way of running. It seems to be his style to win."

Court swung his colt outside on the final turn and Southern Africa edged clear of Shamoan, who couldn't match strides with the winner inside the final eighth of a mile.

"We came here with an unknown and he ran huge," Shamoan's jockey Jose Validivia Jr. said. "He had been working like a monster on dirt, and today he proved he can run with them on either surface. That's a huge plus. I think this horse is going to keep getting better and better"

Real Dandy, the 5-1 third choice, "did all he could do," according to trainer Steve Asmussen, and outkicked Magna Graduate for the show. Magna Graduate broke from the outside post and was uncharacteristically last early on. "He ran super," jockey Gary Stevens said of Magna Graduate. "Not many horses made up much ground today, but he sure came running at the end."

Thor's Echo was fifth, followed by 9-2 second choice Storm Surge, Barometer Rising, Forever Wild, General Charley, Yes He's a Pistol and Awesome Twist. Munificence was a late scratch.

Awesome Twist, trained by John Kimmel, went favored off a convincing six-length win in an allowance race at Keeneland last month. This was the Awesome Again colt's first start beyond seven furlongs.

"I don't have an excuse today," Awesome Twist's jockey Javier Castellano said. "Everything worked out pretty good. I had a good trip in the race. I was where I wanted to be, right off the pace somewhat close. I asked for him at the three-eighths pole and he wasn't the same. He was empty at the top of the stretch. He didn't respond like he did last time at Keeneland."

Southern Africa, second to Thor's Echo in the $500,000 WinStar Derby six weeks ago, paid $16.40 to win as the 7-1 fourth wagering choice. It was his fourth win in nine starts. The $165,000 winner's share of the purse boosted his career earnings to $400,070.

"He has been getting better every race," Puhich said. "Al and Sandee have been so patient with me just letting me do what was best for the horse and not getting wrapped up in the Derby fever. I think it was the best thing for him and I think down the line he's going to be as good as any of those horses out there."

The Lone Star victory was sweet for California-based Puhich, who endured a forgettable season at the Grand Prairie racetrack in 2000. That year he stabled there for the entire meeting and went 0-for-40 with five second, four thirds and earnings of $29,140. "I was trying to forget about that," Puhich quipped. "I didn't win a race. On closing day, I had three horses in and a lot people were cheering me on. I had never been to a place where they had run me out with my tail between my legs and felt good about it. Everybody here is so nice and great. This is sweet to get this one."

In the Ford Express, Rodeo's Castle, owned by Byron House of Little Rock, Ark., and trained by Beverly Fowler, ran six furlongs in a blazing 1:07.85. It was a stakes record and the second fastest six-furlong clocking in Lone Star Park history, just three-hundredths behind Savorthetime's 1:07.82 in the 2004 Valid Expectations Stakes.

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