A few short weeks ago, it appeared that perennial Kentucky Derby training rivals D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert would be watching this year's Run from the Roses from the sidelines.
Less than two weeks ago, Baffert inherited Illinois Derby winner War Emblem when the Our Emblem colt was sold to The Thoroughbred Corp. And Saturday, Lukas re-entered the Derby picture by saddling Santa Anita Derby also-ran Proud Citizen to win the $325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.
Proud Citizen, a son of Gone West, broke slowly but was sent quickly to the lead by jockey Mike Smith. He took command after 6 furlongs and won going away, by 3 3/4 lengths over a late-running Crimson Hero. Easyfromthegitgo, after traffic problems on the first turn, finished third. American Style was fourth. The favorite, Ethan Man, struggled home fifth, followed by Tails of the Crypt, Mucho Rapido and the controversial Illinois Derby scratch, One Tuff Fox.
Lukas also won the Lexington in 1999 with Charismatic, who went on to an upset victory in that year's Kentucky Derby.
"You know me, I've been planning this for three months," said Lukas. "I'm probably the only guy that would use the Santa Anita Derby for a prep."
Sunday from Churchill Downs, Lukas reported Proud Citizen "came out excellent" from his Keeneland exercise. "We're ready to go to the next step. Everything needs to fall into place, but we are excited."
Ethan Man's trainer, Patrick Byrne, also sounded ready to send his colt on to Louisville for the May 4 Derby.
"I am not making excuses, but he wasn't taking to the track," said Byrne after the Keeneland race. "When he left the gate, he was wide because he was not taking to the track. Our horse is a complete toss out in this race because he was not handling the track. The track was not bad, it was just deep."
Nick Zito said the likely Triple crown race for Crimson Hero would be the Preakness.
At Pimlico, in the weekend's other potential Triple Crown Prep, Smoked Em got an uncontested lead and the favorable rail position in Saturday's $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes and cruised to a 2-length victory over Magic Weisner. Heir D'Twine was third. Smoked Em, with Richard Miglore up. Finished the 9 furlongs in 1:50.33. "I knew when he got to go along, prick his ears and relax, that he was going to have a big finish," Migliore said. "He made my job really easy. It seemed pretty obvious the best spot was to be in front and on the rail. Smoked Em's owner said the decision whether to consider any Triple Crown event would be up to trainer Todd Pletcher and Migliore.
In other weekend racing:
Eishin Preston had the most run in the final 200 meters in Sunday's HK$14 million Audemars Piguet QEII Cup, beating fellow Japanese-bred Agnes Digital to the line by 1/2 length. The result confirmed the current Japanese domination of Hong Kong's international races, which draw globally. The pair accounted for two of the four races on the card in last December's Hong Kong International Races -- Eishin Preston the Hong Kong Mile and Agnes Digital the Hong Kong Cup.
Making his first try at 2000 meters, Eishin Preston was held near the back of the field in the early going by jockey Yuichi Fukunaga. He came wide into the stretch and was all out to hold off Agnes Digital, who had competed last month in Dubai.
The betting favorite, Grandera, with Frankie Dettori up, got the lead early in the stretch run but couldn't stay. Indigenous, a local horse, wasjup for third and Universal Prince, from Australia, was fourth.
"The early pace was slow," said Fukunaga, "but it picked up in the second half. I thought I would win coming into the straight but in the closing stages I was worried that Agnes Digital might pass me. I think
this horse likes Hong Kong!"
Agnes Digital's trainer, Toshiaki Shirai, said his horse "was only at about 90 percent of his very best today" after the Dubai trip, highlighting the difficulties of competing worldwide with equine athletes. The QEII Cup was the second event of the World Series of Racing, following the March 24 Dubai Cup.
On the supporting card Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse, Charming City and Jeune King Prawn won the Chairman's Sprint Prize and the Champions Mile, respectively. Both Charming City and the runner-up, All Thrills Too, are considered for the Singapore Airlines Krisflyer Sprint in Singapore on May 11. Jeune King Prawn may go to the Yasuda Kinen in Japan in June after beating Red Pepper by a head Sunday.
Ringaskiddy, an 11-1 longshot and a $50,000 claim just 15 months ago, looked like he deserved the price early in Sunday's $400,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap. The 6-year-old son of Slewvescent was running last and nearly 18 lengths off the pace set by Speedy Pick and Chelsea Barracks. But a 1 3/4-mile turf marathon seldom is decided early and Ringaskiddy rallied from last place to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye, Ringaskiddy got home in 2:44.49 for trainer and part-owner Juan Garcia. Staging Post was second and Continental Red was third. "I just sat back there today and it worked out perfectly," said Delahoussaye. "I was going to go around, but it was spread out, so I followed Kent (Desormeaux on Staging Post), and when we got through I said to myself, 'Here we go.' " Asked why he claimed the horse, Garcia said, "He looked like the kind of horse that could run a mile or a mile-and-a-half."
Also Sunday, Malabar Gold won the $125,000 San Simeon Handicap, catching Astonished at the wire. Malabar Gold, with Chris McCarron up, ran the about 6 1/2 furlongs in stakes-record time of 1:11.73. Malabar Gold is a 5-year-old son of Unbridled.
Astra overcame a slow pace to win Saturday's $250,000 Santa Barbara Handicap by 2 lengths over her former nemesis, Golden Apples. With Kent Desormeaux up, Astra sat behind very slow fractions, then went to the lead in the stretch. Final time for the 1 1/4 mile was 2:01.48 over a firm turf course. Polaire, who helped slow down the pace, held on for third. "As a jockey, it's always scary when the pace is so slow as it was today," Desormeaux said. "When it happens like that, sometimes the best horse doesn't always win the race. But I had confidence in her turn of foot, and she does have a nasty turn of foot." The result avenged Golden Apples' victory over Astra in the Santa Ana Handicap on March 23.
Wild Whiskey entered the Queen's Plate picture with a vengeance Saturday, demolishing six rivals, including Achievement Stakes victor Rare Friends, by 8 3/4 lengths in the $125,000 Woodstock Stakes. The Ontario-bred son of Whiskey Wisdom took charge early and opened up a commanding lead before coasting home in 1:10.62. Winning rider Ray Sabourin said Wild Whiskey " broke well today, like he usually does and just went on with it. I was pretty much just hanging on." Asked about the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Queen's Plate, contested June 23, Sabourin mused, "It's a long way from six furlongs, but we'll take it step-by-step." Wild Whiskey now has won two of his three starts.
reasoned Sabourin, who notched his first stakes win of the season.
In Sunday's $125,000 Lady Angela Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Spanish Decree stalked the early pace-setter, favorite Whistling Maid, then took charge at the top of the stretch and romped home to a 4 3/4-length win. The daughter of War Deputy finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11.71. Despite the second straight easy victory, Chris Huarte, son of owner/trainer Frank Huarte, said the June 8 Labatt Woodbine Oaks isn't a foregone target for Spanish Decree. "We'll go back to the barn and see how the filly cools out and go from there," he said.
Duckhorn coasted home a 7-lengths winner in Sunday's $100,000 Ben Ali Stakes after opening up an even bigger lead on the backstretch. Parade Leader rallied to finish second but was vanned from the track after suffering exhaustion. Connected was third. Duckhorn, a 5-year-old son of Not For Love, ran the 9 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:50.18, scoring his seventh win in 20 career starts. "He was by himself on the lead and running very easily," said winning rider Jorge Chavez, who had been second in five previous stakes during the meeting. "This is the easiest money I've made all day." Added trainer Patrick Byrne, "I knew he would like the racetrack. He just relished it,"
Dianehill, with Pat Day up, sat back of a sharp pace in Saturday's $75,000 Stravinsky Stakes, then caught Senorita Ziggy in deep stretch to score a 1/2-length victory. Ioya Two made a late run to finish third as the favorite in the 5 1/2-furlong turf event. The time was 1:03 2/5. "It looked like she'd sit back and make a run," Day said. "She backed off a little bit at the end, but she got the job done." Dianehill is a 6-year-old daughter of Danehill.
The rest of the pack had to hail pretty loudly to raise Hail The Chief at the end of Saturday's $200,000 National Jockey Club Handicap. The 5-year-old son of Be My Chief was long gone, 11 1/4 lengths in front of his nearest pursuer. Jorge Chavez, who rode winner for trainer Niall O'Callaghan, said hadn't expected to take the point. "A couple of steps after the break, I saw there was no speed, so I let my horse go to the front," Chavez said. "He was doing it by himself," Chavez added of fractions that included 23.51 seconds for the quarter and 47.73 for the half. Hail The Chief finished the 9 furlongs in 1:51.72. E Z Glory was second, just a neck in front of the favorite, Ubiquity. Local favorite Chicago Six was fourth.
Include took command with a powerful move on the far turn and went on to win Saturday's $100,000 Jennings Handicap by 9 lengths over Lightning Paces. First Amendment was third. "He just overpowered the field," jockey Mario Pino said of his 5-year-old mount. "Down the backside I moved him outside a little bit and we moved by them (the leaders). I didn't want to move that soon but he was going so easily that I had to let him go on." Trainer Buddy Delp said Include is "one stake away from being great....We're thinking about the Breeders' Cup big time."
Shiny Sheet upset the $100,000 Geisha Handicap for Maryland-bred fillies and mares, scoring by 1/2 length over Winter Leaf. Stanza was third. Jeremy Rose rode Shiny Sheet over 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.56. In the $76,000 Caesar's Wish Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies, Madame X Ski led all the way, then just held on to beat Tamayo by a neck. True Sensation was third. No Pressure took charge in the lane to win the $60,000 Star De Naskra Stakes for 3-year-old Maryland-breds over pace-setting Captain Chessie. Quarter Ton of Fun was third. Trainer Dale Capuano said he hopes to stretch the colt out in the future.
Raging Fever turned back repeated challenges from Atelier to win Saturday's $150,000 Bed O' Roses Breeders' Cup. Atelier held second with Shiny Band third. The 1 mile took 1:34 4/5 over a sloppy track. Raging Fever, a 4-year-old Storm Cat filly, won for the ninth time in 13 career starts. Those nine wins include three straight stakes victories at Aqueduct. "I was glad to see her relax and settle as well as she did," said winning trainer Mark Hennig. "She's really matured a lot." He said the filly may run next in the $200,000 Shuvee at 1 mile on May 18 at Belmont Park.
Liveitupnow dueled down the stretch with Multiple Wins before posting an upset victory in the $100,000 New York Stallion Stakes Park Avenue Division for NY-bred 3-year-old fillies on Sunday. Sent off at 41-1, Liveitupnow got the 1 mile in 1:38 2/5 over a good track. "She was very game today," said Noriberto Arroyo Jr., adding he was afraid he had lost on a head-bob. Liveitupnow is a daughter of Brooklyn Nick. She has three wins from 10 starts.
In the companion $100,000 Times Square Division for colts and geldings, heavy favorite Trial Prep turned back a top-of-the-stretch bid by Beyond Chance and went on to win by 3/4 length. Levendis was third. "We made the lead, but after that he stopped paying attention," said winning rider John Velazquez about the stretch turn scare.
Lost At Sea collared front-running Yourfinalanswer as the field turned for home in Saturday's $55,000 San Jose Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and went on to win by 2 lengths over Genteel World. Yourfinalanswer held third. Lost At Sea, a Florida-bred, ran the 1 mile in 1:36 under Russell Baze. "When I asked her to run on the second turn, she responded and kept right on going through the stretch," Baze said.
Gygistar rolled from off the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Hallandale Beach Handicap for 3-year-olds, took charge in the lane and drew off to win by 10 1/2 lengths over Jzuggernaut. Danielles Magic was third. Gygistar, a gelded son of Prospector's Music, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:22.28 under Eibar Coa.
Coa also rode the off-the-pace winner in Sunday's $75,000 Christmas Past Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Charitabledonation, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Saint Ballado, sat behind the early pace before putting in her bid in the stretch run. Opening up in the final furlong, Charitabledonation won by 4 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Stormy Frolic, with French Satin third and Miss Dixie Chick fourth. The 1 1/16 mile took 1:45.73.
Lone Star Park
Miss Ritz stumbled badly at the start of Saturday's $75,000 Wafare Farm Stakes for 3-year-old fillies but recovered and worked her way to the front in the stretch run. She then drew clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths over odds-on favorite Gilded Wings. Truly Sunlit was third. Miss Ritz, a Texas-bred daughter of Spend A Buck, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.57.