If War Emblem is going to add the Preakness Stakes jewel to his Triple Crown treasures, he's going to have to beat a new cast of characters -- including some who are likely to apply a bit of early pressure.
Early pressure was lacking in Saturday's Kentucky Derby. Without it, jockey Victor Espinoza got War Emblem relaxed on the lead and had plenty in reserve to coast home a 4-lengths winner.
It wasn't so much that the son of Our Emblem slowed things down. The pace wasn't hot but it wasn't glacial, either: a half mile in 47.04 seconds, 6 furlongs in 1:11.74 and the mile in 1:36.70. By comparison, when War Emblem's trainer, Bob Baffert saddled Silver Charm as his first Derby winner in 1997, Pulpit and Free House dueled for the lead through 47.55, 1:12.23 and 1:37.31.
The difference wasn't so much the speed as the pressure -- a chance to relax or a constant challenge. Even though they went slower than War Emblem did on Saturday, Free House and Pulpit dueled each other into submission.
In addition, Silver Charm and 1997 second-place finisher Captain Bodgit showed a genuine ability to close through the stretch. No one took that role Saturday. The closest thing to a closer was Medaglia d'Oro, who improved from 10th at the first call to finish fourth. And, wait! He was supposed to be pressing the pace.
"He didn't break that great and we got squeezed back," said Medaglio d'Oro's rider, Laffit Pincay Jr. "So instead of being close to the pace like I wanted, I found myself behind a lot of horses. I couldn't get him out of the jam in time."
Everyone at Churchill Downs on Saturday knew what War Emblem could do if he got loose on the lead. He proved it April 6 when he won the Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park by 6 ¼ lengths over Repent -- running on the lead every step of the way, without any hint of a challenge. His Kentucky Derby rivals knew. They just couldn't do anything about it.
And that was about all she wrote for Derby 128.
Medaglio d'Oro is expected to get another chance in the Preakness and will bear watching. But only one other Kentucky Derby starter is expected to move along to Pimlico -- Derby runner-up Proud Citizen.
The newcomers will include some speed horses, including Fountain of Youth winner Booklet and Stephentown, who won the race after the Derby with a pace-pressing trip. Several other Preakness prospects couldn't get into the Derby because of the 20-horse limit. They include Sunday Break, Straight Gin and U S S Tinosa. The second jewel of the Triple Crown may draw a full field of 14.
Friday's $500,000 Kentucky Oaks shaped up as a showdown between the best 3-year-old filly in the east, Take Charge Lady, and the best of the west, You. That was before Brazil was heard from.
Take Charge Lady took charge early, as expected, and led the field into the top of the stretch. But You never ran her race. Instead, it was longshot Farda Amiga who put in a bid on the outside as the field turned for home. With Chris McCarron up, the filly got the jump on Habibti, then went by Take Charge Lady to win by 1 1/4 lengths.
Take Charge Lady held on for second and Habibti was third. Habibti's rider, Victor Espinoza, filed an objection, claiming Farda Amiga shut him off at the top of the stretch. The claim was not allowed.
"I knew I had a very good filly in front of me that I was going to have to overhaul," said McCarron. "But I knew I had the benefit of the long stretch here at Churchill Downs. She just wore that filly down."
McCarron said You, racing on the inside, came out and forced a bit of a traffic jam. But he said there was no contact and Farda Amiga was no more responsible than any other filly. Several horses, including Imperial Gesture and Ile de France, were involved in a bumping match at the start of the race. Imperial Gesture was hit from both sides, pinched back and never entered contention afterward.
Farda Amiga is owned by a partnership based in Brazil and trained by Paulo H. Lobo, 33, who came to the United States from Brazil less than a year and a half ago
Farda Amiga, a daughter of Broad Brush, won her first start at Del Mar last September. Her only other previous win was in an optional claiming race at Santa Anita on Feb. 9. She then switched from the grass to the main track for her last start, finishing a close fourth in the Santa Anita Oaks on March 9.
On Friday's Kentucky Oaks undercard, Spain surpassed Serena's Song to become the North American champion mare in total earnings by winning the $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap. Under Jerry Bailey, the 50-year-old daughter of Thunder Gulch led most of the way, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Mystic Lady with De Bertie third. "Those records are always up for grabs," said winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "I'm very happy to have trained both. I have a soft spot for both of them." Spain now has won $3,304,244.
Also Friday, Testify came from far back to edge Texas Glitter by a head in the $100,000 Aegon Turf Sprint. Gone Fishin was third while the favorite, Orientate, struggled home ninth. Testify, a 5-year-old son of Pembroke, got 5 furlongs on "good" turf in 57.39 seconds. In the $100,000 Edgewood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 mile on the turf, Maliziosa pulled off a mild upset by outfinishing favored Cellars Shiraz. The margin at the wire was 1 1/2 lengths, with Traci's Wild only a nose farther back in third. Maliziosa, a Florida-bred filly by Dynaformer, was clocked in 1:37.65. And Legislator, a lightly raced son of Royal Academy, got the best run in the stretch to win the $100,000 Crown Royal American Turf by 1/2 length over Stage Call.
Beat Hollow, another in the long string of top runners from the barn of trainer Bobby Frankel, ran out to the lead in Saturday's $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and coasted home the winner. With Anticipation came from mid-back with a determined run to finish second and Hap was third. The 9 furlongs on firm turf took 1:47.35.
Beat Hollow, a 5-year-old son of Sadler's Wells, was making only his seventh lifetime start and now has won five of them. He took a year off after his 3-year-old campaign, returning to win an optional claiming race in California in January and then ran second in the Explosive Bid Handicap at Fair Grounds last month.
The remainder of Saturday's Kentucky Derby undercard was impacted almost as much by the stewards as by the horses, with results of two of the five races reversed after jockey objections.
Snow Ridge finished first in the $150,000 Churchill Downs Handicap, running 7 furlongs in 1:22.37. But the stewards caught jockey Mike Smith inadvertently hitting rival D'wildcat on the nose with his whip just before the wire and put D'wildcat up to first. Binthebest was third. D'wildcat's rider, Kent Desormeaux, said his mount was about to go to the lead, "but he got spanked right across the face." Said Smith, "If anything, he ran into it."
And in the Humana Distaff, Gold Mover got home first under John Velazquez, beating a fast-closing Celtic Melody to the wire. But Celtic Melody's jockey, Mark Guidry, objected, saying Gold Mover shut him off at about the sixteenth pole. Again, the stewards agreed and the finish was reversed. Hattiesburg was third in the Distaff.
Holiday Runner, a filly, staged a mild upset in the $100,000 Three Chimneys Juvenile for 3-year-olds. Under Jerry Bailey, the $35,000 yearling purchase went right out to fight for the lead with odds-on favorite Posse, then edged clear in the stretch to win by 1 length over a late-running Zavata. Posse held third. The 5 furlongs took 57.71 seconds. "I thought it was extraordinary that a filly could look a colt in the eye and put him away," said Bailey. The race, once sponsored by WHAS-TV, now is sponsored by Three Chimneys Farm, home to Silver Charm, Point Given, Rahy, Dynaformer and other top stallions.
Stylish rolled from off the pace to capture the $100,000 Citgo Distaff Turf Mile by 1 1/4 length over La Recherche. Dianehill, part of a favored entry with Zeta, was third. Stylish, a 4-year-old daughter of Thunder Gulch, was clocked in 1:35.72.
On Thursday, odds-on favorite Cashier's Dream was all out to win the $100,000 La Troienne Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a head over Shameful. Colonial Glitter was third. The winner, a Michigan-bred daughter of Service Stripe, ran 7 furlongs on a sloppy track. In the $100,000 Mamzelle Stakes, Repository got a pace-stalking trip to score an upset victory by 1 1/4 lengths over Island Echo. Dyna's Club was third in the 5-furlong dash, run over a yielding turf course in 58.19 seconds.
As usual, Derby Day was a huge draw and provided a pari-mututel bonanza at tracks all around North America. Many reported record handle for the day. In addition, some had stakes of their own. A brief rundown:
Victor Espinoza hopped off the plane from his Kentucky Derby victory and promptly rode Night Patrol to an upset victory in Sunday's $100,000 Inglewood Handicap. As he did with War Emblem a day earlier, Espinoza led every step in the Inglewood, running 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:39.35. Redattore was second and Seinne third. International racing? The 2-thorugh-6 finishers were bred, respectively, in Brazil, Chile, Germany, England and France. The United States provided the winner and the caboose.
Saturday, Adoration led all the way in winning the $100,000 Senorita Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Honor Grades ran 1 mile on the firm turf course in 1:34.91, getting home ¾ lengths ahead of High Society. Nunatall was third.
Jerry Bailey, who never got much of a chance on Castle Gandolfo in the Derby, got a great late run from Voodoo Dancer in Sunday's $100,000 Beaugay Handicap and won by 2 ¾ length over Golden Corona. Babae was third. Voodoo Dancer, a 4-year-old Kingmambo filly, ran 1 1/16 mile on "good" turf in 1:43.10. Trainer Christophe Clement said Voodoo Dancer will resurface either at Belmont or Hollywood Park.
On Saturday, Fast Decision wore down pace-setting Shah Jehan in the stretch to win the $150,000 Withers Stakes for 3-year-olds by ¾ length. Listen Here was third and the favorite, Monthir, was fourth. Fast Decision ran 1 mile in 1:36.41. "This horse reminds me of his dad, Gulch," said winning rider Jose Santos. Shah Jehan is a $4 million yearling purchase, trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who has won twice in eight starts, earning just over $100,000.
Gonetofarr let last year's Canadian Champion 2-year-old filly, Ginger Gold, make the early pace in Sunday's $150,000 Fury Stakes, then took over after a half mile to win by ¾ length. The time was a stakes-record 1:22.86 and winning trainer Reade Baker said he hopes for a similar trip for his Southern Halo filly in the Labatt Woodbine Oaks on June 8.
Saturday, Shaws Creek rallied from behind a scorching speed duel between Wild Whiskey and Rare Friends to win the $150,000 Queenston Stakes by 1 ¾ lengths. Embattle came on late to take second and Rare Friends saved third. The current futures book favorite for the Queen's Plate, Streakin Rob, finished sixth in his 3-year-old debut.
Lone Star Park
Beau's Town scored his sixth straight win in Saturday's $75,000 Ford Express. The 4-year-old son of Beau Genius let others make the early lead, took charge about 3 furlongs out and finished the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.16. Boots on Sunday was second, 1 ¾ lengths back. "What a nice horse," said winning owner David Hulkewicz.
Alternate was the featured attraction in the late going in Saturday's $75,000 Go For Wand Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, scoring by 4 ¾ lengths over Spelling. Sideways was third. Alternate, a daugher of Seattle Slew, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:46.35 and is on the trail to the Susan's Girl Stakes and the Delaware Oaks. "One down and two more to go," said winning trainer Graham Motion.
Jeanies Rob came wide into the stretch, took command of Saturday night's $75,000 Panhandle Handicap and drew off to win by 2 ½ lengths over Mo Mon. Ultimate Warrior was third. Jeanies Rob, a 6-year-old son of Glitterman, ran 5 furlongs in 58.07 seconds.
My First Lady came from off the pace on the second turn of Sunday's $55,000 Santa Clara Handicap and drew off to win by 8 lengths over Rosanda. Bold Roberta was third. Stormy Security, the favorite, finished last of six after blazing away on the early lead. Final time for the 1 mile was 1:35.19.
Saturday, Fancee Bargain came from last in a field of seven to win the $55,000 Woodside Handicap for fillies and mares by 3 lengths over Slewbox. Fancee Bargain, a 6-year-old daughter of Candi's Gold, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.60.
Sand Ridge worked through the field in Saturday's $50,000 Bob Feller Stakes, then tossed his best fastball in the stretch to win by ½ length over a late-closing Expert. Beverly Greedy was third as the favorite after scratching out of a Churchill Downs allowance event in favor of the Feller. Sand Ridge, a 7-year-old son of Known Fact, ran 5 ½ furlongs in 1:03.14.
Tampa Bay Downs
Guardianofthegate took the lead in mid-stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Columbia Stakes and went on to post a mild upset, beating Fun N' Gun by 4 lengths. Guardianofthegate, a 5-year-old son of Gate Dancer, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48. The favorite, Tv Sports Director, finished ninth.
Mus-If jetted clear in the stretch drive in Saturday's $50,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes and crossed the wire 5 lengths ahead of Great Woods. Banner Boy was third. Mus-If, a British-bred son of Lahib, owned by Shadwell Farm, raced 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.33 under Mario Pino.
Hawthorne Race Course
Golden Antigua upset Ioya Two in Sunday's Nicole Stakes as Hawthorne kicked off the spring half of its 2002 meeting. With E.T. Baird aboard, Golden Antigua got to Ioya Two at the top of the stretch and went on to win in 1:41.78. "She ran good," said Baird.
All Out Springs battled down the stretch with Elm Grove in Saturday's $50,000 Summit Silver Cup for state-bred 3-year-olds before prevailing by a nose. Mary's Lord was third. All Out Springs, a son of Wekiva Springs, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.32.
The Downs at Albuquerque
Silver Matt did all the late running in Saturday's $30,000 Express Handicap and got home first, 1 length ahead of Dr. Holiday. Musical Chairs was third. Silver Matt, a 4-year-old son of Big Sturgeon, got the 5 ½ furlongs in 1:02.72.