- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

HOT SPRINGS, ARK. (AP) - Papa Clem earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby _ and beat a horse once considered a favorite for the race.

Papa Clem won the $1 million Arkansas Derby on Saturday, holding off Old Fashioned in the stretch for his first victory since December. After second-place finishes in California and Louisiana, trainer Gary Stute’s colt came from behind at Oaklawn Park to win by a half-length. He’ll now have enough graded stakes earnings to qualify for the Run for the Roses in three weeks.

“He has done everything so perfect here at Oaklawn,” Stute said. “He doesn’t want to get beat. He has a ton of heart.”

Old Fashioned, trained by Larry Jones, began the year on everybody’s list of top 3-year-olds. Now he’ll miss the Kentucky Derby entirely. Jones said Saturday night the horse had a slab fracture in his right knee. He said the injury was not life-threatening and was unlikely to give the horse any long-term pain, but that it could end Old Fashioned’s career.

Jones trained Hard Spun and the filly Eight Belles, the last two Kentucky Derby runners-up. Eight Belles was euthanized last year in a heartbreaking scene after breaking down just beyond the finish.

Old Fashioned finished second in the Rebel Stakes last month to 56-1 shot Win Willy, the first loss of his career.

Old Fashioned was the even-money favorite Saturday. He broke toward the front immediately and held the lead for a while, but like the Rebel, this race started at a quick pace. Old Fashioned was right at the front, finishing the first quarter-mile in 22.65 seconds on the fast track. He showed impressive stamina down the stretch, but 4-1 choice Papa Clem passed him to win the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:49.01.

Papa Clem took second in the Louisiana Derby last month, finishing 7 1/4 lengths behind Friesan Fire, another horse trained by Jones.

“I didn’t want to be Larry Jones’ punching bag two races in a row,” Stute joked.

A son of Smart Strike, Papa Clem paid $10 on a $2 win ticket.

Long shot Summer Bird (26-1) closed impressively to take third. Trainer Tim Ice said his horse could be a Belmont Stakes possibility.

Papa Clem earned $600,000 for the victory, pushing his graded stakes earnings to $760,000, good for sixth place on the list compiled by Churchill Downs. The top 20 horses are assured spots in the Kentucky Derby.

Win Willy also remained in the top 20 _ he ran fourth Saturday.

Papa Clem finished a close second in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in early February before another second-place showing in Louisiana. Perhaps he’s peaking at the right time?

“We had a little trouble on the first turn when my horse got out, so I lost position and was wide,” said Rafael Bejarano, Papa Clem’s jockey. “On the second turn Papa Clem came up with a real good move and we were able to outfinish the favorite.”

Stute said he considered entering Papa Clem in the Illinois Derby but opted to come to Arkansas when it was clear Old Fashioned wasn’t invincible.

“When I saw Old Fashioned get beat in the Rebel, I knew we had a shot,” Stute said. “Why go for $500,000 when you could get a million?”

Old Fashioned wasn’t outclassed by any means Saturday in what might have been his final race.

“He ran a very game race,” Jones said. “We are proud of him, and proud of the team effort.”

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