Slavic, a leading Triple Crown contender, held off Country Day to win by three-quarters of a length in a field of nine in a $21,000 race at Gulfstream Park Thursday. Ridden by Jose Santos in his debut as a 3-year-old, Slavic ran the 1 1-16 mile feature in 1:46, paying $2.80, $2.40 and $2.10. Country Day, who came in far back, paid $3 and $2.10. L'Arabia paid $2.10 to show.
Caro's Cousin took the lead from the one post and remained in front to the top of the stretch. He led by a length and a half midway through the backstretch with L'Arabia third and Slavic fourth.
Country Day was last, 20 lengths off the lead.
Slavic moved up on the outside to go past Caro's Cousin inside the
three-sixteenths pole. He opened a two-length lead leaving the eighth pole, and Country Day closed with a rush on the outside to finish two lengths ahead of L'Arabia.
"At the quarter pole, (Slavic) acted like he didn't want to go past (Caro's Cousin)," said Santos. "But we came up and I hit him with my left hand at the eighth pole and we went right by."
Caro's Cousin finished fourth, two lengths further back.
It was Slavic's first start since closing fast to finish third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 4. He was rated at 124 pounds on the Experimental Handicap, behind only Rhythm at 126 and Grand Canyon, 125.
Grand Canyon has been injured and is out of Triple Crown contention. Rhythm finished a dismal seventh in the Hutcheson Stakes on Saturday at Gulfstream.
"We got a race over the track now so we should come to the Fountain of Youth in pretty good condition," said Slavic's trainer, Scotty Schulhofer. "It's good to get this one over with and not abuse him. (Santos) just hit him twice right handed and once left.