It was a big step up into stakes action for Actuator, and the 3-year-old colt handled it with ease, winning the 28th running of the $300,000 Indiana Derby (G3) Saturday at Horseshoe Indianapolis. Ridden by James Graham, the $2,200 yearling purchase is now a graded stakes winner for his connections during a new record handle day of $7,201,564 for Horseshoe Indianapolis.
A field of eight entered the gate for Indiana’s premier Thoroughbred race. Trademark with Rafael Bejarano used their inside starting post to get the first lead followed closely by Indiana-bred Mowins and Jon Court. Actuator and Graham sat right off Mowins on the outside through the first half of the race. Around the turn, Graham began to ask Actuator for more speed and joined the top two on the inside along with Best Actor and Florent Geroux on the outside to vie for the top spot heading into the stretch.
Actuator got the lead and began to pull away from the inside horses, but it was Best Actor who was closing with every stride and the main threat. Actuator dug in gamely in the final strides to hold off Best Actor by a half length for the win. King Ottoman and Horseshoe Indianapolis leading jockey Marcelino Pedroza Jr. ducked to the inside late to pass rivals for third.
“I could feel them creeping up his inside,” said Graham. “I knew he’d stay. His last work was fantastic. I’m just happy it paid off today. He doesn’t do everything he’s asked. He has to be told sometimes, which is a great thing.”
Actuator, who covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.48, paid $8.40 for the win. The Bodemeister colt is trained by Michael McCarthy and owned by Jake Ballis’ Black Type Thoroughbred, Joe Ragsdale’s Rags Racing Stables, Rick Howard, and Gavin O’Connor, who initially purchased the colt as a yearling with his partners.
“Look, he was working really well over the past number of weeks since his run at Churchill Downs,” said O’Connor. “I spoke to Mike McCarthy this morning and I asked him–and I know he doesn’t like giving answers, no trainer does–but I said, ‘Mike, can we be quietly confident going into today?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, Gavin. Absolutely. I think the horse is working lights out. I think you have a really fighting chance to be there today.”
Following his maiden-breaking victory at Churchill Downs, Ballis immediately made an offer to join in on the ownership of Actuator. The celebration for the connections of Actuator was put on hold due to an inquiry at the start and a jockey objection in the stretch, but no action was taken, and the celebration began for Actuator.
“I’ve been to Churchill the last two works since we bought the horse,” said Ballis, who now owns 70% interest in Actuator. “I told my wife and my other partners, it’s going to take a very good horse to beat us. Thankfully I was right. Michael and Justin have done such a good job with him. We brought a bunch of people here to Indiana and we’re going to have a lot of fun in the casino tonight.”
Actuator was bred by WinStar Farm in Kentucky. He has been prepping at Churchill Downs for his start in the Indiana Derby.
“I wasn’t really sure what happened (on objection) because I thought he kept a straight path,” said Justin Curran, assistant trainer for McCarthy, who won the 2018 Indiana Derby with Axelrod. “He ran like he was training. He had some very, very good works at Churchill. He’s just maturing at the right time, and hopefully can progress from here. Big effort. I was very happy how he rated, obviously coming off a fast seven furlongs in a maiden at Churchill. He rated really well and kicked in at the end. That’s a very nice horse that was second. I know Brad was high on him. I think he’s on an upward curve, too. Hopefully two nice colts.”
Trainer Brad Cox, who conditions Best Actor, was pleased with his colt’s performance.
“Super big race,” said Cox. “He stumbled at the start. Got pinched a little bit, but I thought he ran a big race. Good horse. I wouldn’t trade spots. I think he’s a pretty good horse and he’s going to get a lot out of this.”
Actuator also got a lot out of his Indiana Derby performance. It was his second win in his fourth career start. He turned in two turf starts at Horseshoe Indianapolis last fall at two before returning to the track this season to become undefeated in two starts. Actuator now has in excess of $250,000 in career earnings.
“This is huge for him,” continued Graham. “Because he only does enough, we haven’t gotten to the bottom of him yet. Or Michael hasn’t gotten to the bottom of him yet. Walking on to the track the other morning before his last work for here, he just played. He’s not fully focused yet, which is a great thing because if he can keep doing that and progressing, we’re all going to be very happy at the end of the year.”
So, what’s next for Actuator following his first graded stakes win? McCarthy said the team will develop a plan moving forward.
“Everybody was quietly confident,” said McCarthy by phone from California. “I thought his performance off the layoff was very, very good. The horse came back and trained well after his maiden score. Jake Ballis and his partners were very keen to get in on the horse. I thought there were bigger and better things to come with him. We’ll just enjoy this for right now. The horse has had a lot thrown at him the last five weeks. We’ll get him back to Churchill Downs and come up with a game plan with all the partners.”
Favorite Rattle N Roll was shut off at the start and stumbled with Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard. The horse trailed the field the entire distance and finished next to last.
“I’m really not sure (what happened),” said Hernandez. “I didn’t get to see a head on. Getting away, we got knocked around leaving there. We ended up catching I think the inside horse’s heel. We almost fell. The horse stumbled to his face. I lost both irons, and by the time we got everything back together, we were way out of it. He got knocked out the second jump; his race was over. After all that happened, going into the first turn, we were already 15 lengths behind the next to last horse. So you know from that point on, you’re just hoping they go really, really fast and they come back. He lost all chance at that point.”
As tradition would have it, the Indiana Derby pulled in a new record handle for the track for the seventh straight year. The 2022 Derby demolished last year’s Derby handle record by nearly $1 million, which was $6,292,387 compared with the new record of $7,201,564.