Okay, class, what did we learn in this weekend's session of Triple Crown Preps 101?
--We learned Came Home is the "best of the west." But we're not sure exactly how flattering that term is this year.
--We were reminded winning a Triple Crown prep doesn't necessarily lead to a trip to the Kentucky Derby. The winners of the Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park, the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and the Aventura Stakes at Gulfstreak Park all seem likely to bypass the Run for the Roses.
--We learned that one European prep race of questionable quality doesn't give a trainer enough flexibility to get even a very good colt reliably to the Kentucky Derby. But most of us already knew that, didn't we?
--And we learned that the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn or the California Derby at Bay Meadows next Saturday had better turn up a favorite or two for the Kentucky Derby or we won't have any chance to answer the ultimate "bonus points" question, which is:
Who's going to win the Kentucky Derby?
Maybe it will be Came Home. The Gone West colt cranked out his third straight win in Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. Chris McCarron had to go to work on him turning for home but Came Home responded to the call, lived up to his name and won by 2 ¼ lengths over Easy Grades. Lusty Latin closed stoutly to take third from pace-setting Mayakovsky.
"Well, he got a mile and an eighth, very comfortably," said McCarron, answering the ubiquitous distance question about Came Home. Does he have what's needed to go the extra furlong in a big crowd in Derby Day? "He certainly does," McCarron replied. "He's got everything it takes to win the Kentucky Derby."
Trainer Paco Gonzalez said he "would have liked to have him a little bit more fit than he was today."
Connections of all three top finishers said they expect to go on to Louisville. Mayakovsky's trainer, Patrick Biancone, said maybe. Mayakovsky stumbled to his knees at the start of the Santa Anita Derby and jockey Patrick Valenzuela said that "took all of the punch out of him." Lusty Latin was pinched at the start and trainer Jeff Mullins said, "That didn't help our chances." Lusty Latin, a son of El Prado, may be one to watch as the Derby nears.
We may have to watch a little farther down the road, class, to find the winners of the Illinois Derby -- War Emblem -- and the Aventura -- Marasca. War Emblem is unlikely for the Run for the Roses and Marasca is definitely not going to Louisville.
War Emblem got to the front in the Sportsman's race and jockey Larry Stirling Jr., promptly slowed down the pace. That cooked the chances of the odds-on favorite, Repent. The Louisiana Derby winner is a dead closer and needs a pace to run at. With no pressure on the lead, War Emblem romped home 6 ¼ lengths ahead of Repent. Fonz's was third.
"He made the lead easily," said Stirling. "Then his ears came up and I said, 'Home free.'" Repent ran well and showed no signs of earlier refusals to change leads. "He changed leads and did everything just right," said rider Jerry Bailey. "He just got outrun in the stretch."
War Emblem's victory makes his owner, Russell Reineman, eligible for a $1 million bonus if the Our Emblem colt wins any Triple Crown race. Reineman said he's currently disinclined to try for that bonus at Churchill Downs, partly because of the anticipated big field with some unworthy runners.
"If you don't think you fit, there's no sense taking it out of the horse," the 84-year-old owner said. "If you're in the business to be successful, you have to place the horse where he belongs."
Still, Reineman didn't rule out a Derby run. And trainer Ken McPeek said Repent "most likely" will still start in the Run for the Roses. "This colt is just begging for a mile and a quarter," McPeek said. "We may be better off going into it losing today, rather than winning."
At Gulfstream Park, Marasca took over a quarter mile from home in the $250,000 Aventura and held on to win by 1 ¼ length over the favorite, Equality. Legislator was third.
Neither of the top finishers is ticked for the Kentucky Derby. "I think it's too early in his career to tackle the kind of horses he would be meeting in the Kentucky Derby," said Marasca's trainer, John Kimmel. And trainer Graham Motion said the Preakness is a more likely target for Equality.
Sunday at Keeneland, Cashel Castle was pretty dominant in winning the 7-furlong Lafayette Stakes, getting home 4 ½ lengths in front of Governor Hickel with Sky Terrace third. But trainer Chris Block, calling the Silver Ghost colt "the best horse I've ever had," said Cashel Castle has "never been on the Derby trail....We didn't want to burn him up and have nothing for the summer. The Breeders' Cup Sprint is at home (Arlington Park) this summer."
And do you remember Officer, class? He was the overwhelming favorite in last year's Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (thanks, Jim Gluckson!), but finished fourth and never resumed Derby contention. Sunday, the Bertrando colt blew away five rivals in the $100,000 Zany Tactics Stakes at Santa Anita and trainer Bob Baffert started having those visions again. "Maybe the (April 20 at Keeneland) Lexington Stakes. And if he did well there, the Preakness, maybe," said Baffert, who is without a Derby horse this year.
On the subject of things we were pretty sure we knew: Trainer Aidan O'Brien is left with a problem after Johannesburg, winner of last fall's Juvenile, suffered his first career defeat in Sunday's Gladness Stakes at the Curragh in Ireland. O'Brien had planned the race as Johannesburg's only Kentucky Derby prep and now has to decide whether to press on. He told Daily Racing Form about the Derby: "I just don't know. But I'd be telling you the same thing if he'd won." And he told the Form if he has any Kentucky Derby starters, they would be Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo, a Gone West colt who won the Foster's International Trial Saturday at Lingfield. The trainer had better luck in Paris, as Balingarry won Sunday's Prix Noailles -- a prep for the French Derby -- at Longchamp by 3 lengths over Great Pretender.
Next week is the final round of "big guns" Derby preps, with action coast-to-coast.
The $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct has lightly raced Gulfstream Park sensation Buddah, San Felipe winner Medaglia d'Oro, Florida Derby runner-up Blue Burner and European import Laissezaller. The $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland features the fourth duel between Harlan's Holiday and Booklet. Booklet won the first two but Harlan's Holiday turned the tables with a victory in the Florida Derby.
The California Derby at Bay Meadows has Golden State Mile winner Cappuchino and Turf Paradise Derby winner Captain Squire. And while the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn will have to turn up a longshot Kentucky Derby contender, it has done so in the past. Grindstone came off an excellent second at Hot Springs to win the Run for the Roses in 1996.
In other weekend racing:
Take Charge Lady vaulted to the top of the 3-year-old filly ranks with a 4 ¼-length victory in Saturday's $500,000 Ashland Stakes. With Tony D'Amico up, the Dehere filly tracked Colonial Glitter, took command entering the second turn and drew off. Take the Cake ran second; Belterra third. The 1 1/16 mile went in 1:43.29. "She's one of the best fillies I ever sat on," said D'Amico.
An early view of the Breeders' Cup Mile: German-bred Flying Dash overcame an unruly performance at the gate to win Friday's $100,000 Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-olds by 2 ½ lengths over Back Packer. Political Attach was third and the favorite, Stage Call, was fourth. Flying Dash, toting Jerry Bailey, was clocked in 1:35.69. "I didn't know how much horse I'd have after all that happened at the gate," Bailey said. "But he's got a tremendous turn of foot."
Kudos ran last of eight into the final turn in Saturday's $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap. But when he got around the field turning for home, the 5-year-old son of Kris S. sprinted clear and won by 4 ½ lengths over Bowman's Band, with Dollar Bill third. Graeme Hall, the favorite, led at the top of the lane but then gave way, finishing sixth. Eddie Delahoussaye guided Kudos over the 9 furlongs in 1:48.34. Delahoussaye said Kudos started so slowly the he was afraid the horse didn't like the track. "But he started moving when I asked and he made the kind of move I thought he was capable of," the jockey said. Trainer Richard Mandella said Delahoussaye made the right decision by letting Kudos settle early. "He might be a better dirt horse than grass," the trainer said. "And he is not a bad grass horse."
In Saturday's $500,000 Apple Blossom for fillies and mares, Azeri took command late to win by 1 ¾ lengths over Affluent. Miss Linda was third. Azeri, dispatched as the even-money favorite, is a 4-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter. Mike Smith had the mount for trainer Laura De Seroux. "I will probably look at the Breeders' Cup (Distaff) and work backward" in making up a schedule for Azaeri, said de Seroux.
Sunday, Southern Tour opened up in the stretch to win the Carousel Breeders' Cup Stakes by 2 ½ lengths over Spanish Glitter. Powder was third and Miss Steffens fourth and last in the short field. Southern Tour, a 4-year-old Tour d'Or filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.58. "She wanted to run," said winning rider Tony Lovato. "I was just waiting for the opportunity to let her run." Trainer Cole Norman said Southern Tour will take a tour south to Lone Star for her next start.
Bosque Redondo held off first Freedom Crest, then Mysterious Cat to win Saturday's $150,000 San Bernardino Handicap by a head. The 5-year-old son of Mane Minister ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.11 under Chris McCarron. "We'll see if there's a race for him at Hollywood," said winning trainer Paco Gonzalez. "But there's not many big horses right now."
Also Saturday, Seinne rallied from well back in the field to win the $150,000 Arcadia Handicap by ½ length over Irish Prize. Kerrygold was third. Chris McCarron rode Seinne, a 5-year-old Chilean-bred. The winner got the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.16. The victory made McCarron the first jockey ever to win three graded stakes on the same day at Santa Anita. McCarron said his mount rallied so late in the race, he thought he was waiting to make his move "without much horse. But, he fooled me."
Sunday, Rolly Polly rolled from near the back of the pack to win the Las Cienegas Handicap down the hillside turf course. The 4-year-old, Irish-bred daughter of Mukaddamah, with Kent Desormeaux up, finished the about 6 ½ furlongs in 1:12.55. Penny Marie was second and Twin Set third. Winning trainer Bobby Frankel said he thinks Rolly Polly will stretch out to a mile, pointing out that in Europe, "she only got beat 6 lengths by Bank's Hill. That ain't bad."
Platel, winner of last year's Ontario Debutante, came back from a 4 ½-month layoff to win Saturday's $140,000 Star Shoot Stakes with a front-running effort. Miss City Halo was second, a neck back, with Lady Shari third. The 6 furlongs took 1:10.60. Jockey Emile Ramsammy said Platel was tiring but game. "She hung in tough. She tried hard and battled and she prevailed," he said.
Sunday, Wake At Noon rallied to win the $130,000 Jacques Cartier Stakes by 3 lengths over Olympian. Hunter Todd was third. Ramsammy again had the winning ride, guiding Wake At Noon over 6 furlongs in 1:10.26. "He's in top shape right now," said Ramsammy of the 5-year-old son of Cure the Blues.
Crazy Ensign caught pace-setting favorite Queen of Wilshire a furlong from home in Sunday's $100,000 Miss America Handicap and surged ahead to win by 2 lengths. Queen of Wilshire held second and Dispersed Reward was third. Crazy Ensign, a 6-year-old Argentine-bred, raced the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.72. Jason Lumpkins rode the winner for trainer Richard Mandella.
We'll See Ya rallied three-wide into the stretch run in Sunday's $100,000 Broadway Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares and went on to win by 1 length over Maddie May. Dat You Miz Blue, the mutuel favorite, led briefly but faded to finish third. We'll See Ya, a 30-1 outsider, got the 7 furlongs in 1:22.81. She is a 4-year-old daughter of Sea Salute.
Saturday, John Little won a stretch duel with Windsor Castle in the $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap, scoring by a neck. Ground Storm was third and the favorite, Evening Attire, was fourth after leading by a wide margin down the backstretch. John Little, a 4-year-old son of Blushing John, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:49.25.
Lone Star Park
National Park made a successful visit from Southern California to pick up the winner's share of Saturday's $100,000 Grand Prairie Turf Challenge for 3-year-olds. The English-bred son of Common Grounds needed running room at the top of the stretch and found it when jockey Corey Lanerie moved him to the outside. "I knew I was on the best horse and if I got him clear sailing, I knew he'd win the race," Lanerie explained. Victory Dawn was second, ¾ length back, and Dazzlingpersonality was third. The 1 mile on "good" turf took 1:41.17. National Park earlier in the year was running just behind some of the top Southern California 3-year-olds on the main track. Trainer Bob Hess said his next stop will be the Crown Royal American Turf on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs.
Lights On Broadway surged to the lead on the turn for home in Thursday night's $50,000 Premier Stakes and held on to win by ½ length over Captain Countdown. Won CC was third. "He took the lead a little earlier than I thought he would," said winning rider Jerry Bailey. "It was just hanging on from there." The 5-year-old son of Majestic Light was making his first start since winning the $100,000 Star of Texas at Sam Houston four months back.
He's A Knockout survived a pace challenge from Handsome Smile and a stretch bid by Fappie's Notebook to win Saturday's $100,000 Artax Handicap by 2 lengths. Fappie's Notebook was second and Sea of Tranquility finished third. The 7 furlongs took 1:22.72. Winning trainer Graham Motion said He's A Knockout, a 4-year-old son of Two Punch, may start in a sprint stakes on Preakness Day at Pimlico, then try to stretch out.
Sunday, Cellars Shiraz led from gate to wire in the $75,000 Via Borghese Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The Florida-bred daughter of Kissin Kris, with Cornelio Velasquez up, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.41. Dame Sylvieguilhem was second and Kathy K D ran third. "It was easy," said Velasquez. "She's really a nice filly -- a champion filly who is at her best right now."
Mystic Lady led all the way in Friday's $75,000 Banshee Breeze Handicap for fillies and mares, winning by ¾ length over Happily Unbridled. Jostle was third. Mystic Lady, a 4-year-old daughter of Thunder Gulch, was clocked in 1:43.56 for the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track. "We have to consider the Breeders' Cup Distaff in the fall," said winning trainer Mark Hennig, "because I think she'll be able to get the distance of a mile and an eighth."
Arianna's Passion scored a gate-to-wire upset victory in Saturday's $50,000 Primonetta Stakes. Starting from the rail, the Philly Park-based filly finished 3 ½ lengths ahead of Lip Sing's Affair. Odds-on favorite Kimbralata was third. Arianna's Passion finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11.57.
Stormy Lane edged clear in the stretch to win Sunday's $100,000 Copper Top Futurity for New Mexico-bred 2-year-olds by 1 length over Jackie Jan. Stormy Lane, a son of Devon Lane, got the 4 ½ furlongs in 51.56 seconds.
Saturday, Accomodator rallied in the stretch to pull off a major upset in the $75,000 Sunland Park Handicap, beating odds-on favorite Big Numbers by ½ length. Golden Tangle, another longshot, was third. Accomodator, a 7-year-old gelding by His Majesty, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.52.
Saturday's co-feature, the $60,000 Harry W. Henson Handicap, was more formful as odds-on favorite McKinney nosed out second choice Ode to Elaine for the victory. McKinney, a 4-year-old El Prado filly, finished the 1 mile in 1:35.88.
The Downs at Albuquerque
Wampus Who held off Fritzie's Prospect in the closing strides to win Sunday's $50,000 Pinon Handicap by a neck. Kham Beau was third. Wampus Who, a 4-year-old daughter of Full Choke, ran 6 ½ furlongs on a muddy track in 1:19.31.
Saturday, Raise a Booger was up late to win the $30,000 Harvest Handicap by ¾ length over pace-setter Trippy Lark. Raise a Booger, a Kansas-bred son of Gold Ruler, ran 5 ½ furlongs on a fast track in 1:02.51.
Around the world, around the track:
--Bindaree scored a 1 ¾-length victory in Saturday's $700,000 Grand National steeplechase at Aintree in Liverpool, England. Sent off at 20-1, Bindaree caught What's Up Boys in the late going. The favorite, Blowing Wind, was 27 lengths behind the winner in third place.
--The final field for the April 21 Audemars Piquet QE II Cup at Sha Tin in Hong Kong is packed with horses that have earned championships in five countries around the world. Among them are Japan's Agnes Digital, Australia's Universal Prince, France's Okawango, and United States' With Anticipation, and former Hong Kong Horse of the Year Indigenous. The QE II Cup is a new addition to the World Series Racing Championship.