If trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was looking for answers when he sent Uruguayan Horse of the Year Invasor into the $500,000 Pimlico Special yesterday, he was rewarded beyond his wildest dreams.
He had previously considered the Argentina-bred a stalker, but in fact, Invasor pressed the pace with leader Wanderin Boy.
He thought Invasor - Spanish for Invader - was finished in the stretch when the 4-year-old dropped briefly behind 5-year-old colt West Virginia. Invasor, instead, found another gear.
McLaughlin even thought Invasor was better off racing in today's Grade III William Donald Schaefer Handicap, rather than the Grade I Special.
In the end, Invasor answered all of McLaughlin's questions with a convincing 1 1/4 -length victory over 4-5 favorite Wanderin Boy in the Special's short field of five. Invasor covered 1 3/16 miles in 1 minute, 54.40 seconds.
Afterward, McLaughlin admitted he really didn't know what he had until the horse's North American debut yesterday.
"We got him in December in Uruguay, and we had more people tell us that he might be a $10,000 claimer than we did a Grade I winner," McLaughlin said. "They said you never know what he was running against [in Uruguay]."
Now McLaughlin knows he has a lot more than a $10,000 claimer. He has a horse headed to some big races this summer, and he has Rick Nichols, president of Shadwell Stable, to thank for it. McLaughlin was ready to follow Funny Cide into the Schaefer after Funny Cide scratched out of the Special this week.
"[Nichols] said 'Why not try him in the big race and see how good he is?' because I was leaning toward the Schaefer like Funny Cide," McLaughlin said.
Jockey Ramon Dominguez came away impressed, too, after waiting out an objection by runner-up Wanderin Boy to make the victory official. There was contact between the two horses nearing the eighth pole, but replays appeared to show that Wanderin Boy initiated it by moving out on Invasor.
"After watching the replay ... [it was clear] the horse came out on me," said Dominguez, who got a victory one race earlier after an inquiry in the Black-Eyed Susan pushed him up from second.
Norberto Arroyo Jr., who rode West Virginia and was also involved in the previous race's inquiry, was perplexed when the objection was not allowed.
"I can't believe they took the last one down [Smart N Pretty in the Susan] and didn't take this one [Invasor] down," Arroyo said. "As I came out of the turn, he came into my path. I had to snatch my horse up."
Said Wanderin Boy's trainer Nick Zito: "This is one of the toughest losses I've ever lost as a trainer. He didn't do anything wrong. The jock rode him perfect, he just got beat."
Invasor was unbeaten in five starts in Uruguay. Sold in November to Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, he went to McLaughlin's Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla., then to Dubai, where he ran fourth in the UAE Derby.
After that Invasor went to New York.
"He has a lot of frequent-flier miles," McLaughlin said.
This was Invasor's first race against older horses. In the Southern Hemisphere, he raced against 2-year-olds. In the Northern Hemisphere, at 3 1/2 , he had to face 4-year-olds and up.
Like all the other obstacles he faced yesterday, Invasor was up to the challenge.