Lexington Stakes a proving ground for Encino

Apr 14, 2024 at 09:52 am by Danny Brewer

  A route on the Kentucky dirt this time of year can tell us a lot about some potential star athletes. The 2024 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 13 spoke volumes about one particular three-year old colt.

  In the Spring of every year, or at least the past 150, the apple of everyone’s eye is the Kentucky Derby. The world’s most famous race and all that it encompasses is without question the focal point for three-year old males. As the final opportunity to garner Derby qualifying points, in recent years the Lexington Stakes has been a showcase for those wanting to prove they belong in the starting gates on the first Saturday in May. Of course, a nice purse ($400,000 this year) and graded stakes status normally attracts a good field with many looking past the Kentucky Derby as they prepare for “the rest” of their three-year-old campaign.

    For this 58th running of a race that actually was first contested in 1936 things were exactly as they have been since the race was dedicated to three-year-old colts back in 1973…big field with something to prove. Hades had shipped up from Florida with knowledge that a win would put him in the Derby. Regarded as the horse with the most to gain, this winner of the Holy Bull Stakes had added blinkers and was expected to bolt early and try and take’em all the way.  Encino, from the Brad Cox barn was the only other runner with Kentucky Derby dreams as a win would place him as the first alternate on the list at number 21 in points (top 20 points earners garner a spot in starting gates).

  For some it was thought the speedy Hades had the advantage from post 5 and Encino, who was making his first start on dirt, would be forced to stalk from his post 8 draw. Well, some body didn’t get that memo.

  The gates opened and away went Encino. Breaking with authority, this son of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist immediately assumed the lead and began a ground-saving trip onto the back stretch. Having won his last two starts over the synthetic surface at Turfway Park, his early turn of foot told all he might be a dirt horse too. Gliding along on the lead and with Hades shuffled back to fifth, Encino had things his own way out front.

  Turning for home things got a little challenging for the frontrunner, but in the end it was all-smiles for the Brad Cox barn. As the race favorite The Wine Steward drew alongside at the eighth pole, Encino proved to be a real race horse. With his pursuer looking him in the eye, this grandson of Bernardini refused to give up the lead and drove to get up by ¾ of a length at the wire.

  Proving he may be a three-year-old that is peaking at the right time, Encino picked up his fourth consecutive win. This Godolphin-owned colt now has three wins and a second in four career starts. Aiming for either the Derby or perhaps the Preakness, Encino used the Lexington Stakes as a proving ground for sure.


  “His works leading up to the race told us we thought he would like the dirt”, says trainer Brad Cox. “In this race he certainly put it all together. As long as he is healthy we will march forward.”  


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