By ROBERT KIECKHEFER e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
UPI Racing Writer fax: 708-383-1057
Kentucky Derby prospects on display in weekend racing: A longshot in Florida and a bench player from the well-stocked California stable of trainer Bob Baffert.
In Saturday's $100,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Offlee Wild stayed close to the pace, then moved just in time in deep stretch to win by a head over Powerful Touch. Bham was third while the favorite, Added Edge, showed little and finished last of a baker's dozen.
Offlee Wild, sent off at 27-1, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.00, winning for the second time in four starts. It was his first race since he finished second in an allowance event at Churchill Downs two months ago. Offlee Wild is a well-bred son of Wild Again from the Seattle Slew mare Alvear.
"I let him settle in and place himself," said winning rider Mark Guidry. "He was nice and relaxed for me." Winning trainer T.V. Smith, who saddled Grits 'n Hard Toast to win the Holy Bull in 1999, said Offlee Wild "is the best horse I've ever trained and I think he may be twice the horse that Grits 'n Hard Toast was." He said Offlee Wild likely will be pointed for the Feb. 15 Fountain of Youth.
At Santa Anita, Domestic Dispute came from near the back of the field in Saturday's $150,000 Santa Catalina Stakes, took charge a furlong out and won by 3 lengths under some strong urging from jockey David Flores. Our Bobby V. was second after leading most of the way and Scrimshaw ran well to finish third.
Domestic Dispute, a chestnut son of Unbridled's Song, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.20. The colt won for just the second time in seven starts although he has been out of the money only twice.
"We took our time with him and he's getting better," Baffert said. "It's satisfying that we have a couple bullets in our holster for the first Saturday in May. You're going to start seeing horses develop right now and he's just one of those." Baffert has at least eight talented 3-year-olds in Southern California, including Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vindication, who has not run since that race.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said he was happy with Scrimshaw's run, too. "I liked it. He should move forward," Lukas said.
--At Laurel Park in Maryland, Cherokee's Boy rated in second place in Sunday's $60,000 Goss L. Stryker Stakes, took the point on the turn and drew clear to win by 3 ¼ lengths. Attainable was second and Second in Command was third. Cherokee's Boy, a bay son of Citidancer, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23 2/5. "I'm planning on giving him a little rest after this," said winning trainer Gary Capuano. "Maybe 30 days in Florida. I feel that if he is a horse that will get a distance, I might have to call on him later on in the spring. He has a lot of talent and he will give you everything he has."
--At Tampa Bay Downs in Florida, Super Fuse had to dig deep to turn back a stretch challenge from Hear No Evil in Saturday's $50,000 Pasco Stakes for 3-year-olds. But the chestnut son of Lite the Fuse was up to the task, holding on to win by a neck at the wire even though jockey Carlos Gomez dropped his stick in deep stretch. "He showed a lot of gameness today," said Chris Thomas, organizer of the syndicate that owns Super Fuse. "That's an aspect of him we haven't had to see before. All of his past wins have been the easiest kind." He said Super Fuse will move on to the Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park next month.
In other weekend racing:
Electronic Unicorn and Olympic Express - the 1-2 finishers in December's Hong Kong Mile - were expected to repeat their virtual match race in Sunday's Group I Stewards' Cup, the first leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown. But when the running began in earnest on the turn for home, it was Electronic Unicorn breaking to the front and drawing clear to win by 3 ¾ lengths over Dr More. Housemaster and Olympic Express finished third and fourth. Winning jockey Robbie Fradd said Electronic Unicorn was caught inside in the Mile and didn't like the trip. "Today, drawn outside, he was happier with plenty of room and I was always pretty confident. He's shown that he's still the one that they all have to reckon with." In the next leg of the Triple Crown, the Feb. 23 Hong Kong Gold Cup, he may have to reckon with Precision, who won last month's Hong Kong Cup against the top rank of international competition.
Got Koko moved to the lead on the second turn of Sunday's $150,000 El Encino Stakes for 4-year-old fillies and worked clear to win by 1 ½ lengths over Bella Bellucci. Bare Necessities was third in field of eight. Got Koko, a Texas-bred by Signal Tap, ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:42.25. Winning rider Alex Solis said he made his move earlier than he wanted to because Got Koko had been caught wide "and I didn't want to give her that much to do. I was worried for a minute but it turned out to be the right thing to do." Trainer Bruce Headley concurred. "I don't think they would have beaten her if they had gone around again," he said. Headley said he will move on to the La Canada on Feb. 8.
Riddlesdown led from gate to wire in upsetting Sunday's $100,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap. With Roger Velez up, the 5-year-old, Irish-bred son of Common Grounds drew off to lead 11 rivals by open lengths down the backstretch, then held on well to beat Macaw by 1 ½ lengths. Just Listen was third and the favorite, Whitmore's Conn, struggled home in a dead-heat for eighth. With Riddlesdown at nearly 30-1 on the tote board, the $2 trifecta paid $10,515. Velez said trainer Nial O'Callaghan told him, "Don't try rating him. Got to the front and hopefully they'll leave you alone. Well that's what we did."
Gulfstream on Saturday announced purse increases of $2,000 for all maiden special-weight and allowance races due to increased field sizes and improved wagering.
Voodoo set the pace and stablemate Snake Mountain got his picture taken after Saturday's $100,000 Aqueduct Handicap. Snake Mountain, a 5-year-old son of A.P. Indy, closed from last in the field of five to win going away by 7 ½ lengths. Ground Storm was second and Cat's At Home got home third. Snake Mountain ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.17. "When I put him down, he really finished strongly," said winning rider Mike Luzzi. "I used him up a little at the end. He's a real nice horse." Trainer Jimmy Jerkens said Voodoo "was gurgling like he bled or something. He stopped to a walk." Jerkens said he hopes to keep Snake Mountain in New York.
Sam Houston Race Park
Valhol saved ground right behind the leaders in Saturday night's $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup, then swung three-wide to take the lead and scored by 1 ½ lengths over Seainsky. With Robby Albarado up, the 7-year-old Diazo gelding finished the 9 furlongs in 1:49.18. Ask the Lord was third.
Three-year-old New Mexico-breds were running for $125,000 in Saturday's Pepsi Cola Handicap and Gulchrunssweet was running fastest of dozen who made the trip. Always close to the pace, the son of Dry Gulch got the lead late on the turn for home and held on nicely despite drifting out late in the stretch drive. He finished the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.55. The bay gelding was part of a three-horse entry from the barn of Fred I. Danley.
Mineshaft drew clear in the stretch in Sunday's $75,000 Diplomat Way Handicap and looked like an easy winner, but then just held on to beat a fast-closing Learned by a nose. Mineshaft, a son of A.P. Indy, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.88 under Robby Albarado. "He ran a very good race," said winning trainer Neil Howard. "He lost his concentration a little in the lane where the starting gate was. There could be some improvement in his running style."
Saturday, Witt Ante was pinched back at the start in the $75,000 Crescent City Derby for state-breds, settled behind the leaders, moved to the front entering the stretch and won off by 2 ¾ lengths over Meteor Impact. "I had a super trip," said winning jockey Kirk LeBlanc. "I was pinched back at the start, but he settled in real well. I was just sitting on him and he picked it up on his own." Witt Ante now has four wins and two seconds from six lifetime starts.
Xtra Heat returned home to win Saturday's $60,000 What A Summer Stakes pretty much as she pleased. Jetting right to the front, Xtra Heat waited for any challenge. When it came from Gazillion, she responded to win off by 2 ¾ lengths over that rival. Bernie's Gold was third. Xtra Heat finished the 6 furlongs in 1:09 2/5 despite toting more than $485,000 in the show pool - resulting in a "minus pool" of $107,000. "If she cools out well," said trainer John Salzman, "our plans are to go in the Fritchie ($200,000, 7-furlong Barbara Fritchie on Feb. 15) and then, hopefully, go on to Dubai. My bags are packed. I hope I get to go." Xtra Heat finished third last year in the Golden Shaheen at Nad al Sheeba in Dubai on the World Cup program.
Golden Gate Fields
Halo Cat, with Russell Baze up, let Our Magistrate and El Dorado Shooter shoot it out for the early lead in Sunday's $60,000 Montclair Handicap. When those two were done, Halo Cat came along to pass them both and win by 3 lengths. El Dorado Shooter held second and Radar Contact was a non-threatening third. Halo Cat, a 5-year-old son of Southern Halo, ran 6 furlongs in a speedy 1:07.62. "We caught this horse on a good day," said Baze. "He ran like a little monster today." Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said he hoped for a duel on the lead and got it. "We'll look around now for his next race," Hollendorfer added.
Saturday, Denali Cat held off a late run by Heart Ofa Champion to win the $60,000 Miss California Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by ¾ length. Market Garden was third. Denali Cat, a Cal-bred daughter of Sir Cat, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.64. "I had a lot of filly the whole way," said winning rider Adalberto Lopez.
Golden Marlin took charge in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 Cincinnati Trophy Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then held on to beat Miss Mary Apples by 1 ½ lengths. Pampered Princess was third. Golden Marlin, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Marlin, was sent off as the even-money favorite in the field of eight. She ran the 6 ½ furlongs in 1:18.01.
Scottish Heritage rolled from near the back of the field to win Saturday night's $50,000 Crème de la Crème Stakes for Louisiana-bred 3-year-old fillies. The daughter of Bayou Herbert swung out for racing room before getting up to win by 1 length over Rubies N Roses. Letithappencaptain was third and the favorite, Kool K.J., faded to finish last of six.