George and Lori Hall’s Pants On Fire, who had finished a disappointing ninth behind Animal Kingdom in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands in his last visit to Churchill Downs, made amends on Saturday night when he returned to score an easy 2 ¾-length victory in stakes record time in the 21st running of the $110,700 Ack Ack Handicap (GIII) for 3-year-olds and up at the Louisville, Ky. track.
Ridden by Paco Lopez, Pants On Fire rallied from just off the pace to surge past favored Taptowne and jockey Calvin Borel in the final eighth of a mile and pulled away to win in a rapid final time of 1:33.78 over a fast track. The winning time by Pants On Fire established a stakes record and narrowly missed the track record of 1:33.31.
Trained by Kelly Breen, Pants On Fire was the second betting choice in the Ack Ack and paid $7, $3.40 and 2.80. Runner-up Taptowne, the narrow 2-1 favorite for trainer Tim Glyshaw, returned $3.20 and $2.20. Good Morning Diva finished third under jockey Corey Lanerie and paid $2.60.
“I think he redeemed himself,” Breen said. “We were all a little disappointed after the Kentucky Derby. He was the second choice in the Derby and we’re happy that the Kentuckians got to cash a ticket on him.”
The victory by Pants On Fire was the third for the 5-year-old son of Jump Start in six 2013 races. The Ack Ack was the second consecutive stakes victory for Pants On Fire and lifted his career record to 8-3-4 in 22 races. The winner’s purse of $66,575 boosted his career bankroll to $1,197,643.
Pants On Fire settled into fourth place in the field of eight as Right to Vote established a strong pace with early fractions of :22.68 for the quarter-mile and a half-mile in :45.25. Borel placed Taptowne just behind the leader before launching a bid on the far turn with Pants On Fire and Lopez in close pursuit three-wide. Taptowne surged past the leader in upper stretch, but Pants On Fire quickly caught the leader and moved past him inside the final eighth of a mile and pulled away late for a comfortable win.
Pacesetter Right to Vote finished fourth and was followed by Sabercat, Looking Cool, Moe Man and Brethren.
Breen narrowly missed winning two of the four stakes races on Saturday’s “Downs After Dark” racing program. He saddled Stonetastic for a runner-up finish to Untapable in the $150,000-added Pocahontas (GII) for 2-year-old fillies earlier in the evening.
ACK ACK HANDICAP QUOTES
GEORGE HALL, owner of PANTS ON FIRE (winner): “It was wonderful. It’s good to see him continue to run in good form. We love this horse. He’s a homebred. He’s our first homebred to have some big success. The Derby was obviously disappointing, but he’s still running strong and we hope he’s not hit the peak of his career yet.”
KELLY BREEN, trainer of PANTS ON FIRE (winner): “I think he redeemed himself. We were all a little disappointed after the Kentucky Derby. He was the second choice in the Derby and we’re happy that the Kentuckians got to cash a ticket on him.”
He’s been going really well. Why did you choose the Ack Ack? “Just the timing. After his last win he pulled off a shoe and he stepped on it and lost a little bit of training and set us back. We’re from (New) Jersey and the horse has been successful over the Jersey track and we just missed our stakes race there. But the timing here set up perfect. It was three weeks after the other race. We gave him a couple of workouts and Paco (jockey Paco Lopez) has worked him out and said this horse is training great. So we put him on the van and here we are.”
Q. What is the plan for him now? “We’re talking about the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. We’re coming off of a couple of good wins and, knock on wood, he stays healthy, we could go there. George and I have been talking about a possible trip to Japan. They’ve been talking to us about coming over for a race there and I know it’s a different direction they run in, but it would be really need to have a horse take you to places I’ve never been to. So, we’ll see.”
Q: You had a 2-year-old run a big race tonight when Stonetastic just missed in the Pocahontas. “She’s a game horse and that’s the most tired I’ve ever seen her. But she dug down deep. It’s a shame to run that hard and get beat, but she’s a nice filly.”
TIM GLYSHAW, trainer of Taptowne (runner-up): “It seemed like Pants On Fire in most of his races wants the lead and we want to be up close. But he sat in a perfect spot, everything set up for him and we got beat by a better horse. We ran a really good race. As long as they try, you can’t get mad at ‘em and he tries hard every time.”
CALVIN BOREL, rider of Taptowne (runner-up): “He just got run down. (A mile in) 33 – that’s running. He just got outrun. No excuse. He broke good and got the chance to lay off the speed a little bit. He run his race. Maybe two turns would be a little bit better for him. They’ll be going a little slower in the first part going around two turns and I think he’d finish a little bit better. But he ran good.”