Sumaya U.S. Stables’ Protonico, passed in the stretch by Noble Bird, battled back on the inside to post a head victory in the 12th running of the $400,000 Alysheba (GII) Presented by Big Fish Games.
Trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, Protonico covered the 1 1/16 miles on a fast main track in 1:42.34.
The victory was worth $225,680 and improved Protonico’s earnings to $826,187 with a record of 11-6-1-1. Protonico’s only other race at Churchill Downs resulted in a second last fall in the Clark Handicap (GI).
A 4-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Giant’s Causeway out of the A.P. Indy mare Alpha Spirit, Protonico rated off the pace of Den’s Legacy. Approaching the head of the stretch, Protonico took over but was immediately challenged by Noble Bird on the outside.
The two raced as a team to midstretch where Noble Bird took a brief advantage only to be collared in the final jumps by Protonico.
Protonico paid $4.80, $3.40 and $2.60. Noble Bird, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, returned $11.60 and $7.20 with Neck ‘n Neck returning $4.20 to show under Julien Leparoux.
Den’s Legacy finished fourth and was followed in order by Honor Code, Cougar Ridge, Midnight Cello, Call Me George and Ride On Curlin.
The victory for Velazquez was a record third in the race.
ALYSHEBA PRESENTED BY BIG FISH GAMES QUOTES
JOHN VELAZQUEZ, jockey of PROTONICO (winner)
“He's game. (Trainer) Todd (Pletcher) told me before the race, if he's laying behind somebody, when he passes, he's going to wait. And that's exactly what he did. As soon as he passed the horse who was on the lead (Den's Legacy), now he waited. And now he has the other horse on the outside (Noble Bird). The other horse passed him. Now he realized he had a horse next to him, and then he started running back. (Noble Bird) got a good neck (on Protonico). It was hard to come back, but eventually he did it.”
TODD PLETCHER, trainer of PROTONICO (winner)
“He’s a horse that has won on the lead and from last. But the one thing that he always seems to do is idle when he makes the lead. (Jockey) Johnny (Velazquez) said he tried to wait and he let the other horse (Noble Bird) put a head in front before he decided to fight back. It was a courageous effort. My only concern was the 22 days between races was too short but we knew he liked this track and since we are thinking about the Stephen Foster (GI on June 13), we decided to take a chance.”
SHAUN BRIDGMOHAN, jockey of NOBLE BIRD (second)
“Shoot. Really a tough beat. He ran as hard as he could run. I hate losing races like this.”
JAVIER CASTELLANO, jockey of HONOR CODE (fifth, beaten favorite)
"I got the kick but I think I blame it on the track a little bit. Unfortunately the track is kind of loose a little bit and horses have to like it. I don't think he liked it very much today."
SHUG McGAUGHEY, trainer of HONOR CODE (fifth, beaten favorite)
"He just got way too far out of it. (Jockey) Javier (Castellano) didn't feel like he handled the track the way we'd hoped he would."