With Vindication sidelined due to a suspensory injury and out of the Kentucky Derby mix, this will be the 19th straight year that the Juvenile winner has not won the Run for the Roses.
Of course, some Juvenile winners have gone on to have fine careers, both in later racing and in the breeding shed. But only 11 of the 19 even started in the Derby. None has hit the exacta in the Run for the Roses and only two - Chief's Crown in 1985 and Timber Country 10 years later - even got on the board at Churchill Downs.
Looking at it the other way, you could argue that "non-starter in the BC Juvenile" is a powerful angle for picking the Derby winner. Only three of the last 18 Derby winners even ran in the previous year's Juvenile. That tally includes 1987 Derby-winning filly Winning Colors, who didn't run in the 1986 Juvenile Fillies, either.
In some instances, the explanation is clear and understandable. Some 2-year-olds are early bloomers and beat later-developing rivals but can't maintain the advantage a year later. Others win at the shorter distances early in their 2-year-old year, take advantage of lighter weights or beat up on questionable competition. Still others are raced so hard as juveniles, their later careers are compromised.
Then there are the few Juvenile winners who were loaded into the Derby starting gate because of expectations or hopes when their chances were seriously compromised and they, arguably, should have been taking the day off. Arazi and Unbridled's Song leap to mind in that category.
Some just get hurt. That, we are told, is what happened to Vindication. Trainer Bob Baffert said an ultrasound examination found a problem with his left front suspensory. He said the area is improving and there is hope the colt will run during the summer.
"These horses are so fragile," Baffert told The Blood-Horse. "And that's why I didn't want to talk about the horse too much. You never know what's going to happen. The highs in this game are really high. But the lows are horrible."
In retrospect, it was almost as if Baffert feared for Vindication's spring campaign. He had refused since the Juvenile last fall at Arlington Park to discuss where or when the undefeated son of the late Seattle Slew would run his Derby prep races.
But there will be a Kentucky Derby on May 3 and, for the other contenders, Vindication's abdication means one less potential rival. As the preps continued during the weekend:
--You couldn't ask for much better breeding than that of Ministers Wild Cat - by Deputy Minister out of Hollywood Wildcat. So it was no surprise that the Kentucky-bred colt went off at 20 cents to the dollar in Sunday's $60,000 Golden State Mile at Golden Gate Fields, or that he won by 1 1/4 lengths with a pace-stalking trip. Winning Stripes was second and Clover Situation was third. The 1 mile went in 1:36.89. "I think we accomplished our goals and we're going home happy," said winning jockey Kent Desormeaux. "We got him to go two turns and he learned some things today." Trainer Neil Drysdale said Ministers Wild Cat still has some learning to do. "We'll take him home and decide where to go from here," he said.
--At Aqueduct in New York, Boston Park bulled to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Whirlaway Stakes and turned back all challenges, winning by 1 length over Grey Comet. Go Rockin' Robin was third and the odds-on favorite Torre and Zim (must have been a lot of Yankee fans there), finished well back in fifth after being pinched back at the start. Boston Park, a son of 1996 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Boston Harbor, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.74 for jockey Shaun Bridgmohan. Peter Hutton, assistant to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, said the plan had been to take the colt back early. "But when they broke, he just grabbed Shaun and took him to the front. He was pretty brave in the stretch." Hutton said he will consult with Lukas about the next race for Boston Park.
--Man Among Men got to the lead as the field neared the stretch in Friday's $75,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita and held off heavily favored Empire Maker to win by 1 length. Spensive was third in a field that came up exceptionally tough for a restricted, weekeday event. Man Among Men, a son of the versatile Gentlemen, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:48.39. "We found out today," said winning trainer Gary Mandella, "that he's a nice horse no matter what he's doing. Distance is never going to be a question for him. It's just a matter of putting him in with some of the other 3-year-olds and seeing if he's as good as them, too." Jerry Bailey, who rode Empire Maker for trainer Bobby Frankel, said his colt is "not real razor-sharp mentally yet. This was only his third race and he hadn't run in a while."
-- At Laurel Park in Maryland, Gimmeawink stalked the early pace in Saturday's $50,000 Miracle Wood Stakes, then rallied through the stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Penobscot Bay. Gators and Bears finished third. Gimmeawink ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43. Trainer Tim Ritchey said he considered shipping to New York for the Whirlaway but the Miracle Wood "gave us a chance to get a gauge on whether he could handle two turns. He answered that question." He said the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel on March 29 may be the next test for Gimmeawink.
In other weekend racing:
Got Koko got the big check after Saturday's $200,000 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies. The daughter of Signal Tap had a bit of trouble coming through traffic on the turn for home but managed to get by pace-setting Sightseek to win by 3/4 length. Bella Bellucci was third. Got Koko, with Alex Solis riding for trainer Bruce Headley, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.41. Got Koko became only the third filly to sweep the La Canada Series, after earlier taking the La Brea and the El Encino. "I knew it was going to be a duel in the sun and it was," Headley said. "But Got Koko is Got Koko, so we're proud to make history."
Sunday, Composure stumbled at the start of the $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, had to work for running room in the stretch and still was able to catch Elloluv in the late going and win by a neck. Watching You was third. Composure, a daughter of Touch Gold, ran the 1 mile in 1:36.13. "She gave away 3 lengths at the break by stumbling like that," said winning jockey Jerry Bailey. "And then I had to alter course with her, so it was a lot for her to overcome." Trainer Bob Baffert said he doesn't know whether he will run Composure back in the Santa Anita Oaks. "We're just going to play it by ear," he said. Composure was second to Storm Flag Flying in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Arlington Park.
San Dare rallied five wide on the turn in Saturday's $100,000 The Very One Handicap, caught Tweedside a sixteenth of a mile from the wire and jetted off to win by 2 1/4 length. Tweedside held second and Hi Tech Honeycomb was third. The favorite, Uriah, had a heap of trouble on the turn and finished fifth. San Dare, a 5-year-old daughter of Dare and Go, ran the 1 3/8 mile on firm turf in 2:13.76 under Mark Guidry. "She ran good today," Guidry said. Trainer Rick Hiles said San Dare "made the lead earlier than I thought she would and she won easier than the last time." He said he is looking at the Orchid Handicap on March 23 as her next race.
Also Saturday, Allamerican Bertie led almost all the way to a 5 1/4-length victory over Small Promises in the $100,000 Sabin Handicap. With frequent-flyer Jerry Bailey up, the 4-year-old daughter of Quiet American ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.49. "She relaxed fine," Bailey said. "I never hit her. I just shook the stick at her." Trainer Steve Flint said Allamerican Bertie will run back in the Rampart Handicap on March 1.
Sunday, Native Heir equaled the track record for 6 1/2 furlongs as he won the $100,000 Deputy Minister Handicap by 4 1/2 lengths over Binthebest and stopped the timer at 1:15.17. Fire and Glory was third. Native Heir, a 5-year-old Virginia-bred, led most of the way. "I think the secret to his success is that he wants to be on the lead," said winning trainer Mark Shuman. Shuman also said he opened the gelding's blinkers a little for Sunday's race. He said he will send Native Heir out for his next start in the $200,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Sprint on March 8.
Golden Gate Fields
Seinne came from last in a field of six to win Saturday's $100,000 Tanforan Handicap by 1 1/4 length over Sligo Bay. Surprise Halo was third. Seinne, a 6-year-old Chilean-bred trained by Ron McAnally, ran 1 1/16 mile on "good" turf in 1:42.00. "When I let him go, he really took off," said winning rider Ron Warren Jr. "He really zipped by them. I knew it'd be tough to outkick him, the way he finished."
Balto Star caught pace-setting Bonapaw at the top of the stretch in Sunday's $125,000 Whirlaway Handicap and rolled home to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Mineshaft rallied to take second, with Bonapaw hanging on for third. The victory was Balto Star's first in a graded stakes since he won the 2001 Arkansas Derby but hiked his career earnings to $1,120,446. Winning rider Eddie Martin Jr. said the strategy was to let Bonapaw take the lead "and just rate second. I didn't want to make a move until Bonapaw started to back up."
Fuse It rallied past Stonington along the rail in the final yards to win Saturday's $75,000 Pan Zaretta Handicap. Distinctive Code, the pari-mutuel favorite, was third. Fuse It, with Gerard Melancon in the irons, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.62. "She has a lot of miles on her," Melancon said of his Louisiana-bred mount. "But she shows up to run every time." Fuse It won for the sixth time in 21 career starts.
Tampa Bay Downs
Wander Mom took the early lead in Saturday's $75,000 Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares, dueled with Lurica to the top of the stretch and then got clear, winning by 1 length over a late-running Strait From Texas. Kimster was third with a late rush. Wander Mom, a 5-year-old daughter of Maria's Mon, got the "about" 9 furlongs on "good"going in 1:50.89. "It's better to go close, to be in front, when the track is soft," said winning rider Manoel Cruz. "It was best to have the speed horse today and everything went perfectly." The mare, trained by Eddie Plesa Jr., has been on the board in 25 of her 33 starts.
Seven Four Seven flew home in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 Likely Exchange Stakes for fillies and mares, drawing out to score by 4 1/2 lengths over Majority Whip. Looking Afar was third. Seven Four Seven, a 5-year-old daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Colonial Affair, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.17 under Jason Lumpkins. After breaking last in the field of 11, she came four wide around the far turn to get to the front.
Emily Ring led from gate to wire in Saturday's $50,000 American Beauty Stakes, skipping home 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Princess Jen, with Southern Tour and Valid Anthem completing the slim order of finish. Emily Ring, a 5-year-old Fit to Fight mare, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.32 over a track rated wet-fast. "She has learned to use her speed better, to relax," said winning trainer Blackie Huffman. "As she has got older, she has got smarter. She has matured."
Tee Cat won like a favorite should in Saturday's $50,000 Curribot Handicap, drawing off in the lane to finish 3 lengths ahead of Leloup. Face the Band was third in the 1 1/16-mile event for 3-year-olds and up. Tee Cat, who led from gate to wire, finished in 1:42.00.
Secret Garden was no secret at the windows before Saturday's $50,000 Glendale Handicap. The 4-year-old Danehill filly was hammered down to 60 cents on the dollar, then just held on in the final strides while drifting out to beat Moonlit Maddie by a neck. Aspen Hill finished third. Secret Garden got the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:44.81.