It was a good weekend for trainer Kenny McPeek on the Kentucky Derby trail, even though he lost by a nose in the featured race.
In Saturday's $200,000, Grade I Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Booklet got to the lead and wouldn't give up, even while McPeek's charge, Harlan's Holiday, was right at his flank.
At the wire, Booklet, a Florida-bred son of Notebook, made it two straight wins over Harlan's Holiday, reprising his ¾-length score in the Holy Bull Stakes on Jan. 19. Blue Burner was 5 lengths back in the Fountain of Youth, with major disappointments from the likes of Stephentown, Grey Beard and Maybry's Boy -- who finished sixth, seventh and eighth in an eight-horse field.
Booklet is owned and trained by the same team that handled last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Monarchos, John Oxley and John Ward.
"I've had Derby fever ever since we won with Monarchos last year," said Oxley. "I'll talk it over with John but I think the Florida Derby will be next."
Ward said he wanted Booklet to rate. "But he had such an initial burst of speed that (jockey) Jorge (Chavez) couldn't get him to relax until they got in the backstretch."
Booklet now has won six of seven starts. He did not start in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Tony D'Amico, who rode Harlan's Holiday, said his mount "just couldn't get by that horse. He tried and ran his race but he just wasn't good enough."
D'Amico and trainer McPeek had a better outcome Sunday across the Gulf of Mexico in New Orleans, as Repent had nothing to be sorry for in the $150,000 Risen Star stakes at Fair Grounds.
Making his first start as a 3-year-old, Repent dawdled well back in the nine-horse field before making his run eight-wide on the turn for home. When he got clear, the Louis Quatorze colt drew off to win by 2 ¼ lengths over Bob's Image. Easyfromthegitgo was third, another 3 lengths back.
"It was a quick pace in front of me," said D'Amico, "and his running style is come-from-behind. So I didn't have anywhere to go. I didn't want to take a shot going through (between horses) and getting shut off, so I just went around and I had plenty of horse left."
McPeek said he came to Fair Grounds in part because the long stretch helps a come-from-behind horse. He said the March 10 Louisiana Derby remains an option for Repent's next race.
"He is a real special horse," McPeek said. "We just need to make sure we don't tap him out early in the year because there are a lot of big fish to be fried later on."
Next Week: An off week for the major contenders. Saturday's Best Turn Stakes at Aqueduct is the main 3-year-old event and it's only 6 furlongs. Serious Triple Crown contenders should be stretching out by now.
Derby Betting: Reflecting the still-uncertain picture, the mutuel field closed as the 5-2 favorite in the first pool of the Kentucky Derby futuresbetting. Johnannesburg, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was second in the early wagering at 7-1, followed by Siphonic and Repent, each at 8-1. More than $570,000 was bet into the pool.
However she fares in Monday evening's Eclipse Awards for last year's accomplishments, Xtra Heat is already off and running on another banner year. The runner-up in the 2001 Breeders' Cup Sprint won her first start as a 4-year-old on New Year's Day in the Interborough Handicap at Aqueduct and followed that up with a 2 ¾-length score in Saturday's $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap. The race was at 7 furlongs -- not her best distance -- and she was giving away tons to all her rivals -- including 14 pounds to Prized Stamp, who finished second. Jockey Harry Vega did his best to hold onto Xtra Heat early in the Fritchie, even though she was being pressured on the lead. "She likes 6 furlongs," he explained. "I just didn't want to go too fast so that I'd have something for the end." Trainer and part-owner John Salzman said Vega "has been rating her in the morning early and pushing her at the end. He didn't think I knew he was doing that, but I did." Xtra Heat, winner of 19 of 24 lifetime starts, is a finalist for 2001 3-year-old filly and sprinter Eclipse Awards.
Sunday, Lyracist upset the $100,000 John B. Campbell Handicap, passing Private Ryan in the lane to score by 1 ¾ lengths. Top Official was third. Lyracist, the second-longest shot in the field, was clocked in 1:50. Jeremy Rose, riding for the first time without the apprentice "bug," had three winners on the card, including Lyracist. "I had him in tight quarters a couple of times," Rose admitted. "It was bad judgment on my part but he overcame that." Rose, a candidate for apprentice rider Eclipse Award honors, won 312 races worth nearly $6.7 million last year.
Take Charge Lady lived up to every bit of her name in Saturday's $150,000 Silverbulletday for 3-year-old fillies. The Dehere filly, making her first start of the year, went right to the lead and won going away, 8 ½ lengths ahead of Charmed Gift. Despite the easy margin, she equaled the track record of 1:42. "She would probably have given me more but we didn't need it," said winning rider Jon Court. "She was awesome," said trainer Kenny McPeek from Florida, where he saddled Harlan's Holiday to a close second-place finish in Saturday's Fountain of Youth Stakes. "I was very impressed. She's aways been a classy filly. She definitely seems to like the track."
Cetewayo saved ground into the final turn in Saturday's $200,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap, the swung outside the leaders and drew off in the stretch to post a 3 ¼-length upset victory over pace-setting favorite Band Is Passing. Profit Option was third, rallying from last after a poor start. Cetewayo, an 8-year-old son of His Majesty, finished the 1 3/8 mile on yielding turf in 2:17.44. Jockey Cornelio Velasquez, winning his first Grade I event, said trainer Michael Dickinson "told me to get good position off the pace and I was able to get a good position along the inside. I found room between horses when we were rallying into the stretch."
Moon Queen did a virtual moonwalk over the yielding turf in Sunday's $100,000 The Very One Handicap. Taken right to the front by Jerry Bailey, the 4-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Sadler's Wells loafed through a quarter in 25.43 seconds and a half mile in 50.31, then drew off through the stretch to win by 6 ½ lengths. Jennasietta was second and Queenie Thing third. Moon Queen ducked in near the wire and Bailey took her up to avoid hitting the rail. "She was kind of headstrong because we were setting such a slow pace and she was just going at cruising speed," Bailey said. "She got to looking around at the grandstand through the stretch and started drifting in." Trainer Christope Clement said Moon Queen will move on to the Orchid Handicap on March 24 if all goes well.
Friday, Cat Cay was just up at the wire to nip Raging Fever by a neck in the $100,000 Shirley Jones Handicap for fillies and mares. Cat Cay, with "Patient" Pat Day up, came from last in the field of seven. Vague Memory was third.
Favorite Funtime put away Spain on the turn for home in Sunday's $200,000 Santa Maria Handicap, then held on to beat Verruma by a head at he wire, with Printemps third. Spain was fourth. Favorite Funtime, a 5-year-old daughter of Seeking the Gold, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.15 under Gary Stevens. "I let her dictate the pace to me until we straightened out into the lane," Stevens said. I asked her hard and she responded like she was supposed to do." Leading Light finished last of seven in the Santa Maria after trainer Vladimir Cerin declined to ship her to Laurel Park to face Xtra Heat in Saturday's Barbara Fritchie. "We'd have gotten 13 pounds from Xtra Heat, so I wasn't too concerned about facing her," Cerin said Friday. "I just didn't want to travel."
Nazirali rallied from last to win Saturday's $200,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap at 1 ½ mile on the turf. Continental Red took over the lead from pace-setter Apache Wings turning for home but couldn't hold off Nazirali, who won by a neck under Brice Blanc. Bonapartiste was another neck back in third. The favorite, Denon, faded when he should have been making his move and got home fifth. The winner, a 5-year-old Irish-bred by Kahyasi, was clocked in 2:26.09. Blanc said Nazirali was wound up in the post parade. "But as soon as we broke out of the gate, he relaxed nicely and we had a little bit of pace in the race today." Nazirali was stepping up to stakes company in his third race in the United States after starting his career in France.
Also Saturday, Lady George rallied past pace-setter Icantgoforthat to win the $100,000 Bo La Boo Stakes for 3-year-old Cal-bred fillies by ½ length. Super High was third. Lady George, by Lake George, got the 6 furlongs in 1:10.25.
Kudos edged past pace-setting Lord Jim in the final sixteenth to win Sunday's $75,000 San Marino Handicap by ½ length. National Anthem was third. The race came off the turf onto a main track rated fast. Kudos, a 4-year-old son of Kris S., ran 1 ¼ mile in 2:02.33, opening up some possibilities for trainer Richard Mandella. "I nominated him to the Santa Anita Handicap three days ago....He's just been working up a storm, so this was a good time to try it and find out (about running on the main). And, seriously, we might think about the Santa Anita Handicap," Mandella said.
Tampa Bay Downs
Tour of the Cat won a battle to the wire over Boastful in Saturday's $85,000 Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Stakes but lost the battle of the replay, being set down to third for interference with third-place finisher Dog Tags in deep stretch. The decision promoted Boastful, a 4-year-old Cozzene colt, to first-place money and Dog Tags to second. The race was timed in 1:40.95 over firm turf.
Proper Gamble pressed the early pace in Saturday's $75,000 Dearly Precious Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, took charge after a half mile and worked clear in the stretch to win by 3 ½ lengths over Dancing Blues. Lost Expectations was third while the favorite, Nice Boots Baby, flashed early speed and faded to finish last of five. Proper Gamble, with Richard Migliore up, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.01. "She broke like a scalded cat," said Migliore. "I wasn't going to take anything away from her, if it came easy."
Sunday, Vodka shot through an opening on the rail turning for home and went on to win the $75,000 Hollie Hughes Handicap for New York-breds. Kashatreya was second. Vodka, a 5-year-old gelding by Twirlabout, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.
Golden Gate Fields
Fertile led all the way and held on to win by 1 ¼ length over That's Our Tricky in Sunday's $55,000 Vallejo Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Lil' Awesome Assist was third in a field of just five starters. Fertile -- good name for a broodmare? -- is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Lite the Fuse. She finished 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:10.03. "I'd have liked to see her finish a little stronger," said winning trainer Jeff Bonde. "But they went pretty fast early." Jockey Jason Lumpkins said Fertile might have had "a little problem with her breathing" late in the race.
Saturday, Hall of Gold held on gamely to win the $55,000 Richmond Handicap despite suffering fractured sesamoids and pulling up lame. Jockey Chad Schvaneveldt said he "could feel her hurting a bit in the stretch but she held on. She won the race on guts alone. I could hear her sesamoids pop as I pulled her up into the turn." Trainer Bonde, who also trained Hall of Gold, said the 4-year-old daughter of Petionville "will make a great broodmare. I hope they breed her to the best." Bullish Miss was second in the Richmond and Selector third.
Red n'Gold collared the pace setters on the turn for home in Saturday's $50,000 Pippin Stakes, then gave them the shake in the stretch run, winning by 5 lengths. Victory at Sea was second and Please Sign In third. The favorite, Devout Sinner broke poorly and finished fourth. Red n'Gold, a 4-year-old Tabasco Cat filly, raced 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.68.
Golden Oldie spun right around the track in Saturday's $50,000 Dust Commander Stakes, winning off by 5 lengths over Mail Call. Winning Connection completed the trifecta. Golden Oldie, a 6-year-old by Gold Legend, completed the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.66. He's trained by David Asbury for owner Marylou Cashman.
Quinton's Gold dueled down the stretch with Nancy's Joker in Saturday's $50,000 Coyote Handicap before winning by a neck. Top Hit was third. Quinton's Gold, a 5-year-old son of Carson City, completed the 6 furlongs in 1:09.15.
Around the world, around the track
Agnes Digital picked things up in Tokyo on Sunday just where she left them off in Hong Kong in December. Sent off the heavy favorite, Agnes Digital ran down Toshin Blizzard in the dash to the wire to win the February Stakes by a neck. The time was 1:35.1 Nobo True, the defending champion in the event, finished third. Agnes Digital last year provided a climax to Japan's three-for-four triumph in Hong Kong's International Races by capturing the Hong Kong Cup.
News and Notes
Arlington Park, where jockey Rando Romero twice won riding championships, has announced a season-long fund-raising effort for the often-injured rider, who needs a kidney transplant and is unable to obtain health insurance. "Randy Romero has given so much of himself to the sport of Thoroughbred racing through his incredible sacrifice, determination and dedication," said Arlington President Steve Sexton. Sexton said Arlington challenged other tracks to join the "Rally for Randy" fundraising. Romero, among the sport's most underrated jockeys, also won riding titles at Belmont Park, Delta Downs, Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, Hialeah, Jefferson Downs, Keeneland and Louisiana Downs. Donations can be sent to "Rally For Randy," c/o Arlington Park, P.O. Box 7, Arlington Heights, IL 60006....Bridge jumpers took a big bath during the weekend. When Pleasant Colony finished fifth at 2-5 in the seventh race at Gulfstream Park on Friday, she took $396,410 of the $406,934 show pool down with her. The result was a North American-record $2 show payoff on the place horse, Man I Love Clare, of $351.40. Mutuel officials said $100,000 was bet on Pleasant Colony to show in New York. Maybe it was the same bridge jumper trying to get even on Saturday's Dearly Precious Stakes. Of the $275,490 wagered in that race's show pool, $253,506 was bet on Nice Boots Baby, who finished last. Show payoffs in the five-horse field were $14, $45.80 and $53. Maybe some of those winners will donate to "Rally for Randy."