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HOT SPRINGS -- Usual Suspect's owner Starsky Weast said all he really hoped for was a solid, safe effort from his 4-year-old filly.

"We just wanted to get a race," he said. "We were really wanting to get a top-five, to be honest with you, and then revamp from there."

Her rider Richard Eramia thought more was possible, and he was correct.

Trained by Karl Broberg and off at 26-1, Usual Suspect led from shortly out of the gate and held off a late charge from Fastanista to win the $100,000, 6-furlong Downthedustyroad Breeders' Stakes for Arkansas-bred fillies and mares 3 years old and up in 1:12.28 before an estimated crowd of 12,500 at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.

Fastanista was a neck back in second, 5½ lengths ahead of third-place Georgia's Reward, the 7-5 favorite trained by Ron Moquett. The 5-2 second choice Ms Fifty First St. finished fourth, a length behind Georgia's Reward.

"You know what, in this race, an Arky-bred, everybody's got a shot," Eramia said. "She ran good her first time here last year, so I knew she had a chance."

Usual Suspect won her first career start, against other Arkansas-bred maidens over 6 furlongs, on Jan. 15 of last year.

Usual Suspect, by Primary Suspect, led by a length over Ms. Fifty First St. through the first quarter mile in 22.34. By the half, Fastanista -- under rider Fernando De La Cruz -- had moved into second, 3 lengths behind Usual Suspect's split of 46.19. Georgia's Reward remained close to the lead in fourth among the eight starters, a total trimmed from the expected nine after Firewater Rocket broke through the gate before the rest had loaded and was scratched.

"She broke perfect," Eramia said of Usual Suspect. "She broke sharp, and I let her go to the lead, and she did everything else."

As she turned for home, Usual Suspect led by 4 lengths over Fastanista, and Georgia's Reward had moved into third, 7 lengths off the lead. She would not threaten in the stretch of her first start since a race against open company at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 14.

"We probably needed the race, maybe," Moquett said of Georgia's Reward. "She ran OK. She'll run better next time."

Fastanista, a 6-year-old mare by Primary Suspect, closed ground rapidly over the final 1/16th before falling short.

"In the last 50 yards, we were coming on, but the other horse, he was at the wire already," De La Cruz said. "The winner was stopping a little bit, so that helped give my horse a chance. The next time, we should have a big shot."

"I could see her coming hard but not hard enough," Eramia said. "I wasn't worried."

Weast, a contractor from Star City, did not have to explain his pessimism. The start was Usual Suspect's fourth ever and her first since she finished last out of seven, 13 lengths behind the winner at Prairie Meadows in Altoona, Iowa, on May 12. Her last race at Oaklawn was in last season's 6-furlong Rainbow Miss Stakes when she finished fourth out of five on March 23.

"I said, 'Man, let's just go in this stake,' " Weast said of a conversation he had with Kevin Martin, an assistant to Broberg. "If we finish top 5 or something, we'll just go from there."

He said he was unsure when Usual Suspect would race next.

"I have no idea," he said. "We'll make sure she's doing good and go from there."

The National Weather Service reported 1.81 inches of rainfall in Hot Springs between Thursday evening and Saturday morning, enough to leave a muddy racing surface at Oaklawn through the first seven races. With a breezy afternoon full of bright sunshine and a high of 70 degrees, the track was rated good for the Downthedustyroad.

Sports on 02/24/2019

Print Headline: Usual Suspect provides more than just a 'race'

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