No matter how superior the horse looks in the past performances, if there's competition, they still run the race. The reason: Stuff happens.
Stuff happened in Saturday's $150,000 Santa Catalina to Siphonic, the leading Kentucky Derby contender on the West Coast off his victory in the Hollywood Futurity and an excellent third place in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
When the gate opened at Santa Anita, the bay colt stumbled badly, he was last in the field of six 3-year-olds. By the time Jerry Bailey got Siphonic together and determined he hadn't hurt himself, the colt was 7 lengths back of the leaders.
That left him too much to do late in the 1 1/16-mile event and Labamta Babe who rallied from closer up to get the win. Siphonic challenged the winner but couldn't stay with him and was second, 5 ½ lengths back, at the wire. Cottonwood Cowboy was third.
"I don't know that we would have beat him (Siphonic) if he hadn't got left," said winning trainer Bobby Frankel.
Winning rider Kent Desormeaux was more positive. "The horse was very, very comfortable to the quarter pole and, from there, he absolutely sprinted to the wire. I wish today was Kentucky Derby Day," Desormeaux added.
For Bailey and Siphonic's trainer, David Hofmans, there was a sigh of relief that this was the third Saturday in January and not the first Saturday in May.
"Well," said Bailey, "you hope that if that's going to happen, it's going to be early (in the year) rather than late. I don't know if there's a positive out of if, other than if you're going to have one race with bad luck, this was it."
Hofmans applauded Bailey's caution after the bad start. "He thought maybe he wrenched his back, the way he came out of there. He made the one run but had too much to do. I wish we could have won but I thought it was a great race. I'm happy that he's okay."
Some bridge-jumpers had a few anxious moments while Siphonic trailed. Of the $889,753 wagered in the show pool, $846,155 was on Siphonic.
For Labamta Babe, the Santa Catalina was the first victory against winners. After winning his first start, the Skywalker colt twice finished second in allowance events, then was third in the Hollywood Prevue and fourth in the Hollywood Futurity. He had an eight-pound weight break against Siphonic on Saturday.
Across the continent at Gulfstream Park in Florida, Saturday's $100,000 Holy Bull Stakes also produced a minor upset in the ranks of Florida Derby hopefuls.
Booklet, with Eibar Coa up, got off in front and managed to hang on to beat the favorite, Harlan's Holiday, by ¾ length. Thiscannonsloaded was a far distant third.
"He looks like a good purchase," said winning trainer John Ward, who inherited the Notebook colt when John Oxley bought him early this month. "I think this horse has a unique ability for a young horse to sustain pace. I think he will be able to go farther. I liked what I saw today."
Coa said he gave his mount a little help in holding off the late Harlan's Holiday bid. "He always tries to drift out just a little bit. But today I knew the horse that is trying to beat me is coming up on the outside. So I let him drift out a little more," Coa said.
Oxley and Ward showed last year they know how to get to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. They are the owner and trainer of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, who is prepping at Gulfstream for his seasonal debut in the Feb. 9 Donn Handicap.
In other weekend developments involving Kentucky Derby prospects:
--Screen Idol won by an easy 8 lengths in Saturday's $75,000 Crescent City Derby at Fair Grounds. While the event was restricted to Louisiana-breds, it has had its moments. In 1996, Zarb's Magic won the race en route to finishing second in the the Louisiana Derby, winning the Arkansas Derby -- and finishing 13th in the Run for the Roses. "He might be the real thing," jockey David Guillory said of Screen Idol. Zarb's Magic, now 9, also won a race on Saturday's program at Fair Grounds.
--Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Repent worked ½ mile at Gulfstream on Saturday for trainer Kenny McPeek. "I'll probably run him sometime in February," McPeek said after the 50-second move. "I'm not sure just when or where." McPeek also handles Harlan's Holiday and said Sunday that colt showed enough in the Holy Bull, despite losing, to go on to the Fountain of Youth.
--Handsome Hunk, fifth in the Spectacular Bid at Gulfstream on Jan. 3, is readying for a return and remains a candidate for the Florida Derby, said owner Fred Brei Jr. The Hennessy colt won the Ft. Springs Stakes at Keeneland last October.
Next weekend: Fair Grounds offers the LeCompte Stakes at 1 mile. Oaklawn gets its 3-year-old series going with the 6-furlong Mountain Valley.
In other weekend racing:
Affluent found a narrow opening on the inside in Sunday's $150,000 El Encino Stakes when pace-setting Royally Chosen went a little wide turning for home. The pair then fought it out down the stretch before Affluent won by a nose. Sea Reel was third. Affluent, a 4-year-old daughter of Affirmed, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.60 under Eddie Delahoussaye. Delahoussaye said Alex Solis, aboard Royally Chosen, did all he could to make a tight spot tighter. "About the eighth pole, Alex decided to shift a little closer to me, to make it tight on me," Delahoussaye said. "And at the sixteenth pole, it was still a little tight. About three or four jumps before the wire, it kind of (opened up) a little bit." Solis said his mount "ran hard. That's all." Trainer Ron McAnally said Affluent probably will come back for the final leg of the La Canada Series for 4-year-old fillies, the La Canada Stakes, on Feb. 9. Bruce Hedley said Royally Chosen also may be in that event.
Evening Attire drew off by 6 furlongs at the top of the lane in Saturday's $100,000 Aqueduct Handicap, then held on to win by 2 ¾ lengths over Ground Storm. Tempest Fugit was third. Evening Attire, a 4-year-old Black Tie Affair colt, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.69. " I was surprised with how easy he did it today," said winning trainer Pat Kelly. Kelly said Evening Attire, who now has won three straight at the Big A, may relax until the Stymie on March 9.
Raging Fever emerged from an early pace duel to take command of Saturday's $100,000 First Lady Handicap and never looked back, winning by 2 lengths over Cat Cay. Mandy's Gold was third. Raging Fever, a 4-year-old Storm Cat filly, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:10.36. "She's doing just great," said winning trainer Mark Hennig. "I think she's back to where she was in the summer of her 2-year-old year. She's quicker than she showed today." He said he may run Raging Fever or Gold Mover or both in the Shirley Jones Handicap on Feb. 15. He scratched Gold Mover from the First Lady.
Sunday, Crash Course stayed covered up in the $100,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap until jockey Jerry Bailey was ready to let the Holy Bull gelding run. Then he worked to the outside and rallied to win by ½ length over Unite's Big Red. Eltawaasul was third. Crash Course negotiated the 1 3/8 mile on firm turf in 2:16.27. Bill Croll, son and assistant to trainer Jimmy Croll, said he told Bailey to keep Crash Course "in behind horses and not to let him see daylight. When he sees daylight, he wants to take off....Jerry rode him perfectly today." Croll said Crash Course may start next in the $200,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap on Feb. 16.
Last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Monarchos, finished a well-beaten third in an allowance event Saturday, behind Mongoose and 46-1 chance Watch Your Pennies. But trainer John Ward said Sunday he "got what he wanted" from the race. "I haven't been working him hard in the mornings and he's gotten laid back," Ward said. "He hasn't had any works under a minute. Now I'll give him two hard works and he'll be nicely set up for the Donn." The Donn Handicap is Feb. 9. Ward was questioned before last year's Kentucky Derby for not working Monarchos strenuously -- a training regimen which obviously worked out well.
Mr Ross opened his 7-year-old season in style with an off-the-pace victory in Saturday night's $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup -- a win that put his career earnings over the $1 million mark. With Don Pettinger up, the Slewacide gelding sat behind the leaders, took charge in the lane and won off by 1 ¼ lengths. Arctic Boy was second. Pettinger said trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel "prepared him well and basically I just had to go around out there nad stay out of some trouble. Mr Ross did it from there." Von Hemel has kept Mr Ross largely on the Ark-La-Tex circuit but picked up a nice third-place finish last November in the Grade II Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, finishing behind Ubiquity and Include.
On Sunday, Crafty Shaw caught Drewman in the late going to win the $75,000 Diplomat Way Handicap by a neck. Tahkodha Hills was third in the 1 1/16-mile event. The favorite, E Z Glory, was fifth. Crafty Shaw, a 4-year-old son of Crafty Prospector, got the distance in 1:44.42.
Winter weather forced cancellation of Saturday's program, including the Miracle Wood Stakes for 3-year-olds.
Sunday, Case of the Blues used a late run to win the $75,000 Nellie Morse Stakes for fillies and mares. Case of the Blues, a 5-year-old daughter of In Case, was up to win by ½ length over Irving's Baby. Your Out was third. Case of the Blues now has nine wins from 23 starts. Seven of the nine wins have been in Maryland stakes, including last year's Maryland Million Distaff.
Art Fair edged clear in the final furlong to win Saturday's $50,000 Cincinnati Trophy Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 1 ½ lengths over Honest Deceiver. Timeless Love was third and the favorite, Iffy, was fourth. Art Fair, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Air Forbes Won, ran 6 ½ furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.07.
Tampa Bay Downs
Major Focus went to the lead turning for home in Saturday's $50,000 Pasco Stakes for 3-year-olds and drew off to win by 3 ¼ lengths over the favorite, Expected Hour. Ran South was third. Earlie Fires rode the winner for trainer Tom Proctor. "I came around racing with Tom's father, so when Tom asked me to work this horse at Calder and to ride up here at Tampa, I gladly did so," Fires said. "He did everything right today." Proctor said he expects to run Major Focus back in the Sam F. Davis Stakes.
Golden Gate Fields
Mellow Fellow rallied from near the back of the nine-horse field to win Saturday's $55,000 Montclair Handicap. The 4-year-old son of Belek, with Russell Baze up, scored by 1 length over Radar Contact, with Gibson County third. Mellow Fellow ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.19. "When I asked him to run, he really cut," said Baze.
New Mexico-breds going 6 furlongs likely won't have much impact on the Triple Crown. Still, Sunday's Pepsi Cola Handicap was run for $100,000 and the winner, Star Smasher, made a nice run from off the pace to pick up the winner's check of more than $62,000. Ninety Nine Jack was second and Bulletman Jack was third. Star Smasher is by Full Choke out of a Rare Brick mare, Some Smash. The winning time was 1:09.56. Despite the hefty purse, the win-place-show pool reported by Equibase was only $9,214.