With less than four months to go until the Kentucky Derby, some fortunate 3-year-old Thoroughbred is entering a magical timeframe.
For that one horse, everything will go right, no minor bruises or fevers will delay training, the weather gods will smile, traffic will part at the top of the stretch (or not, if the animal is a front-runner) and the trainer will make all the right decisions.
All that good fortune will combine with inbred talent and earn a blanket of roses under the twin spires of Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
Maybe the lucky 3-year-old will be Mabry's Boy. The Broad Brush colt may have caught the first little break of the Derby prep season when he took a right turn at the start of $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes on Opening Day at Gulfstream Park. Starting last of eight, jockey John Velazquez brought the colt around his rivals to win by 1 ¼ length after 6 furlongs in 1:12.19 on a "good" main track. Showmeitall was second and Harmony Hall third.
"He doesn't have much early speed so (the break) didn't bother him," said winning trainer Shug McGaughey. I was glad when he rallied on the outside because in New York, he hesitated when he was caught down on the inside."
McGaughey said Mabry's Boy will make his next start in Gulfstream's $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes on Feb. 2. That's at 7 furlongs.
Other potential Derby aspirants:
--Trainer Manny Tortora said Showmeitall ran well enough in the Spectacular Bid to move along. He said he also may run back in the Hutcheson and added that Showmeitall now has less to show, having been gelded.
--Political Attack had been racing on the grass but still won the $100,000 Tropical Park Derby at Calder by 4 ½ easy lengths on New Year's Day when the race was switched to the main track. The son of Hawk Attack ran 9 furlongs in 1:51.71. "It's nice now to know that he can run on the dirt," said winning trainer John Hennig. Mark Guidry had the mount.
--Iron Deputy opened a big lead at the top of the lane in Saturday's $75,000 Count Fleet at Aqueduct and sailed home a winner by 3 ¾ lengths over D' Coach. Iron Deputy, a son of Silver Deputy, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:41.67 with Richard Migliore up. The Kentucky-bred now has won three straight after a career-opening second place. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said the Whirlaway on Feb. 9 "is a possibility. But I want to talk things over with the owners."
--Mapp Hill, a son of Valid Expectations, won the $75,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds on New Year's Eve by 1 ¾ lengths over stablemate Lead by Example. Both came from off the pace. "It set up perfect," said winning trainer Josie Carroll.
--On Friday at Fair Grounds, Private Emblem won the $75,000 Black Gold Handicap in his first try on the turf. Trainer Steve Asmussen already has Easyfromthegitgo on the Louisiana Derby road. "If Private Emblem wants to be there," Asmussen said, "he needed to step up today and show us. And he did a good job." Private Emblem was third in the Texas Juvenile at Sam Houston last time out.
--On the Jan. 3 Gulfstream card, Blue Burner rallied from last of seven to win a conditioned allowance race by ½ length over Thiscannonisloaded. With Jerry Bailey riding for trainer Bill Mott, the French Deputy colt ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:45.91. It was the first start since last July 5 for Blue Burner. Mott said he will take things slowly with him and is not considering the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 16.
--Turfway Park kicked off its Spiral Stakes series on Saturday with the $40,000 Turfway Prevue. Perfect Drift got to the front between horses entering the stretch and went on to win by 4 lengths over World Champion. Thunder on Land was third. Perfect Drift, by Dynaformer, ran 6 ½ furlongs in 1:18.15. Trainer Murray Johnson said the colt may stick around Turfway or try his luck in Arkansas.
Next weekend: At Santa Anita, Roman Dancer may headline a short field in Sunday's San Miguel Stakes but trainer Chris Paasch said the son of Polish Numbers likely will find his future on the grass. Expected Program, Gold Dollar and Popular are the only expected rivals. Up north at Golden Gate Fields, Danthebluegrassman, winner of the Gold Rush Stakes, and Cal Cup Juvenile winner Yougottawanna are among the expected starters for Saturday's $125,000 Golden Gate Derby at 1 1/16 mile.
Among the Kentucky Oaks prospects:
--Stormy Frolic frolicked home a 6 ¾-length winner in the Tropical Park Oaks at Calder on New Year's Day. That race, like the Tropical Park Derby, came off the turf. "I didn't mind when it came off," said winning trainer Milton Wolfson. "We'll look at the 3-year-old filly races at Gulfstream going long leading to the Bonny Miss" on March 15. Stormy Frolic is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Summer Squall.
--A New Twist led all the way in winning Sunday's $100,000 Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream, beating favorite Forest Heiress by 3 ½ lengths. French Satin was third. A New Twist, a Kentucky-bred Storm Cat filly, finished 6 furlongs in 1:10.61, turning the tables on Forest Heiress from an earlier defeat. "I think shes a special kind of filly," said Kimmel. "She's a lot like her mother (Twist Afleet) and her mother was the fastest filly that I was ever around."
--Bella Bella Bella won a long stretch battle with Tamarack Bay to win Sunday's $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita. The daughter of Soft Gold completed 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.14 under Chris McCarron. "This was only the third start of her career," said winning trainer Jenine Sahadi. "But she's real sweet and I think this was a nice, comfortable race for her." Sahadi said the 1-mile Las Virgenes on Feb. 10 is the likely next stop.
--At Aqueduct, Mario Pino booted home Nice Boots Baby in Sunday's $75,000 Ruthless Stakes, winning by 2 ½ lengths over Proper Gamble. Nice Boots Baby, by Storm Boot, got 6 furlongs in 1:10.82. "Obviously we've got a filly we can take a hold of and maybe she'll be able to stretch out to some longer races down the road," said winning trainer Anthony Dutrow.
--Two Times A Lady, recovered from a backstretch injury, ran by her rivals in the stretch to win Saturday's $60,000 Marshua Stakes. The daughter of Two Punch finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11 3/5. Trainer Francis Campitelli said jockey Omar Klinger was anxious to ride the filly after helping her back from the mishap. "After an initial defeat, "we have won two straight. We always thought she would be a nice filly," Campitelli said.
--C J's Star faced only two rivals in the Elge Raspberry Stakes for state-breds at Fair Grounds on Jan. 3 and paid little attention to either. The Bag filly scooted off to win by 7 ½ lengths, finishing 6 furlongs in 1:12.07.
In other racing:
Xtra Heat celebrated her fourth birthday by returning to the winner's circle after the $75,000 Interborough Handicap. Back with fillies after a couple of near-misses in open company, including the Breeders' Cup Sprint, Xtra Heat charged right to the lead and won by 5 ½ lengths over City Fair. She ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.10. "She was sharp out of the gate," said winning trainer John Salzman. "She had six weeks off and that was a big vacation. It gets tougher and tougher when we run her because we don't want to get her beat."
Wooden Phone rated behind the leaders in Saturday's $200,000 San Pasqual Handicap, got a wide trip into the stretch and then was just able to outrun Euchre to the wire, winning by a head. Red Eye was third. Wooden Phone, a 5-year-old son of Pick Up the Phone, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:41.83 for jockey David Flores. "I think they were out to beat him," said winning trainer Bob Baffert. "Being that wide was really tough. At the three-eighths pole, I thought he's really going to be in trouble. But he gutted it out."
In Sunday's $75,000 Hill Rise Stakes for 3-year-olds on the grass, Mountain Rage rolled from near the rear to win by 3 lengths over Sweet Stepper. Night Passion was third. Mountain Rage, by Mecke, finished the 1 mile with the rail at 30 feet in 1:36.56. "I'll never put him on the dirt again," said trainer Bob Baffert. "That was a bad move. I don't know where he'll start next."
On New Year's Day, Snow Ridge got by pace-setting Freespool at the top of the stretch and went on to win the $100,000 El Conejo Handicap by 3 ½ lengths. Explicit was second and Rio Oro third while Freespool, the favorite, faded to finish seventh. The 5 ½ furlongs took 1:03.05. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he told jockey Mike Smith "if he laid one, two or three that he'd have a great chance because this horse has got a nice kick off the turn."
On New Year's Eve, Paga did all her running in the stretch to win the $100,000 Monrovia Handicap at 6 ½ furlongs down the hillside turf. The Argentine-bred daughter of Montreal Marty was clocked in 1:15.09. Twin Set, a German-bred, was second, followed by U.S.-bred Impeachable and Brazilian import Verruma.
Jockey Roger Velez had to do some maneuvering to find Pices some running room at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Appleton Handicap. But when he got daylight, the 5-year-old son of Prized made the most of it, catching North East Bound in the final strides to win by a head. Capsized was third while the favored entry of Tijyr and Spindrift finished fourth and fifth. "We bought this horse for $200,000 as a yearling and he's still just a big, immature horse," said winning trainer Mohammed Moubarak. "He's learning little by little and getting better with every race." Moubarak said Pices will run next in the Canadian Turf Handicap on Feb. 23.
Batique surged to the lead in the stretch run of Friday's $100,000 Honey Fox Handicap, winning by 2 ¾ lengths over My Sweet Westly. Silver Bandana was third. Batique, a 6-year-old daughter of Storm Cat, picked up her second straight Grade III win, coming off a victory in the My Charmer at Calder. She ran the 1 1/16 mile on a soft turf course in 1:49.32. She is scheduled to be bred this spring.
Earlier on Friday's program, Keats returned from a short layoff to win easily in an optional claimer. The 4-year-old son of Hennessy, trainer by Niall O'Callaghan, won the Coolmore Lexington last Spring but hadn't won since then. He was 16th in last year's Kentucky Derby.
Golden Gate Fields
I'madrifter made all the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Lafayette Handicap and cruised home first, 1 ½ lengths ahead of Poker Brad. Hoovergetthekeys was third. The 1 mile on a sloppy track took 1:35.89. "I had him really relaxed," said winning rider Roberto Gonzalez. "Then, at about the five-eighths pole, he heard one of the riders on the horses behind him chirping. When he heard it, he grabbed the bit and wanted to go." Gonzalez said he decided to let I'madrifter go rather than fight him and it worked out.
Super Tuesday battled head-to-head with Yes We Do down the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Work the Crowd Handicap for state-bred distaffers before prevailing by a neck. Muschi was third. Super Tuesday, a 4-year-old daughter of Political Ambition, ran 1 mile on soft turf in 1:40.35.
Northcote Road led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $75,000 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap by 1 length over Candid Glen. Red Mountain was third. Northcote Road finished the 1 1/16 on a sloppy main track -- the race came off the grass -- in 1:46. "I didn't know how he'd handle the slop at all," said winning owner Charles Duncker. "We knew he had to be on the lead and I thought he got caught in the stretch. But Larry (jockey Larry Melancon) said he had horse left and it was terrific." Trainer Blackie Huffman said Northcote Road will run back in the Feb. 12 Mardi Gras Handicap -- a race he has won twice.
Tampa Bay Downs
Away had been away from the races since May, when she was overwhelmed in the Grade II Genuine Risk at Belmont Park. But the layoff didn't appear to bother the Dixieland Band filly, who rallied from mid-pack to win Saturday's $50,00 Minaret Stakes by 1 length over Flashing Lil. Little Won was third. Dispatched as the favorite, Away got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.47. "She broke a step slow and didn't get going until and eighth of a mile into the race," said winning rider Chris Decarlo. "I sat on her until the turn and she just fought her way to the finish." The filly is owned by Robert Clay and Richard Nip and trained by John Kimmel.
Oak Hall lingered near the back of the field in Saturday's $50,000 Sam Houston Sprint Handicap, rallied on the turn and got through on the inside in the stretch run, winning off by 1 ½ lengths. The 5-year-old Lousiana-bred gelding, by Olympio, finished the 7 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:23.98. Boots on Sunday was second and the favorite, Aloha Bold, finished third.
News and Notes
Gulfstream Park will unveil a memorial plaque honoring the late Chicago Sun-Times turf writer Dave Feldman along with the first running on Jan. 14 of the Dave Feldman Stakes for 3-year-olds. Feldman, long a winter resident of the Gulfstream paddock and press box, died last April at age 85. He was an owner, trainer, track announcer, radio analyst and fan as well as a journalist. In an environment where it's hard to stand out as a character, Feldman stood out as a character. In his hometown of Chicago, he was a favorite of the fans he led as self-proclaimed "King of the Broken Down Horseplayers," or BDH.