So who could be too surprised when the expected two-horse race in Sunday's $750,000 Louisiana Derby was won by - well, a third horse? In this case, it was Peace Rules, a grass runner shipped in from the west coast by trainer Bobby Frankel.
Frankel admitted he didn't expect Peace Rules to win. The Florida-bred son of Jules hadn't run since December, had never won on the main track and had never raced beyond a mile. He was facing two of the best-regarded Derby contenders anywhere, Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Kafwain and undefeated local star Badge of Silver.
Peace Rules got a good start from the No. 9 hole and jockey Edgar Prado was able to get him out and over before the first turn, right behind pace-setting Funny Cide. Badge of Silver and Kafwain waited a few spots back as the field ranged down the backstretch.
On the turn for home, Peace Rules and Badge of Silver both made a move to the lead. Peace Rules sustained the move but Badge of Silver ran out of gas. Kafwain got clear on the outside but couldn't make up any ground on Badge of Silver in the final furlong of the long Fair Grounds stretch.
At the wire, it was Peace Rules by 2 1/4 lengths, in a very good time of 1:42.67. Kafwain was second and Funny Cide held on for third. Badge of Silver faded to finish sixth.
"I really didn't think I'd win the race, to be honest with you," Frankel said. "But I just wanted to see. We found out he could handle the dirt. He's trained so beautifully on the dirt and that's why we brought him over here."
Prado said Peace Rules didn't hit bottom. "I really did like the way he galloped out," Prado said. "He wasn't blowing really hard and that's a good indication he could go further. When Badge of Silver came to me on the turn, he really dug in and got after it."
Peace Rules's sire, Jules, was most successful at sprints, although he did win the Long Branch Stakes at 1 1/16 mile. He is descended from Mr. Prospector, through Forty Niner, who was second in the 1988 Kentucky Derby, just a neck behind the filly, Winning Colors.
Kafwain's trainer, Bob Baffert, said his colt "fell a little far behind. I would have loved to see him closer early on. He ran second on heart and guts."
However, the effort did not indicate Kafwain is likely to enjoy the added furlong and a half of the Kentucky Derby.
In other Derby preparations:
--Ocean Terrace staged a mild upset in Saturday's $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields in northern California. The Saint Ballado colt, out of a Black Tie Affair mare, sat patiently right behind the pace, then was clearly best in the stretch, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Ministers Wild Cat. Ten Most Wanted was just a nose farther back in third. Ocean Terrace ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.26. Winning owner David Shimmon said he is leaning toward the Santa Anita Derby as the next start for Ocean Terrace. "This race was incredibly important to us and he ran a bigger race than I could have thought," he said. Kent Desormeaux, who rode Ministers Wild Cat, said that colt "improved 10 lengths from his last start."
--Because of recent bad weather, Aqueduct has not been able to open its main track as scheduled. That necessitates moving next Sunday's $200,000 Gotham to the inner track, where it will be run as a two-turn race at 1 mile and 70 yards. The Wood Memorial prep had been carded as a one-turn mile on the main track.
Kentucky Oaks Preps
Lady Tak improved her record to 5-for-5 with a surprisingly easy, 3 1/2-length victory over Atlantic Ocean in Saturday's $350,000 Fair Grounds Oaks. Belle of Perintown was third. It was the third stakes victory of the meeting for Lady Tak, a Florida-bred daughter of Mutakddim. Her other two victories were at Churchill Downs last fall. Reversing her earlier tactics, Lady Tak sat behind the early speed Saturday, then came wide into the lane to take charge. "For this filly to be that intelligent to change her style to suit the race at this level of competition, she is more than one in a million," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. Bob Baffert, who shipped Atlantic Ocean in from the Pacific Coast for the race, said Lady Tak "was pretty impressive. I thought we had it at the top of the stretch but she (Atlantic Ocean) couldn't quicken with her."
--Baffert's barn did better at home on Saturday. Composure stalked pace-setting Elloluv through the early going in the $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks, got a head in front at the top of the stretch and battled down to the wire to win by 3/4 length. Go for Glamour was a non-threatening third. Composure, second to Storm Flag Flying in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.34. "This wasn't particularly her kind of race," said winning rider Jerry Bailey, "having to come from off a very slow pace. But when the other filly picked it up, my horse found another gear." Commenting on Baffert's suggestion he might run Composure in the Kentucky Derby, Bailey said, "Bob Baffert doesn't make many mistakes. If she runs in the Derby, it'll be because he thinks she belongs." Composure is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Touch Gold.
--My Trusty Cat had too much for a half-dozen rivals in Saturday's $75,000 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park. After settling in mid-pack early, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Tale of the Cat advance three-wide into the stretch and drew off to win by 5 lengths over Ruby's Reception. Explosive Beauty was third as part of the favored entry after running erratically on the backstretch. My Trusty Cat ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.15 under Don Pettinger. "She just waited for me to push the button and all I had to do was make sure I got a jump on the rest of the field," Pettinger said. In her last previous start, My Trusty Cat finished third behind Lady Tak in the Tiffany Lass Stakes at Fair Grounds.
--At Laurel Park, Powers Prospect went quickly to the front in Saturday's $50,000 Wide Country Stakes and strolled home first by an easy length. Blushing Valley was second with a belated bid and Grace Bay got home third. Powers Prospect, a daughter of Allen's Prospect, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44 4/5. Said winning rider Roberto Alvarado Jr., "The way we were going down the backside, I was mighty comfortable. I knew I had a ton of horse under me."
In other weekend racing:
Starrer tracked pace-setting Sightseek into the stretch in Sunday's $300,000 Santa Margarita Handicap, then went on by to win by 2 lenghts. Sightseek easily held second over Bella Belluci. Got Koko and Printemps completed the order of finish. Starrer, a 5-year-old Dynaformer mare, ran 9 furlongs under Patrick Valenzuela in 1:48.20. "When she switched to her right lead, she really took off for me," Valenzuela said. Trainer John Shirreffs said that was exactly what he hoped for. "He (Valenzuela) always has a little move left at the end with his horse," he said. Shirreffs said he will "give a thought" to sending Starrer to the Apple Blossom on April 5 at Oaklawn, where reigning Horse of the Year Azeri is scheduled to run.
Tour of the Cat dueled down the stretch with Burning Roma in Saturday's $200,000 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Handicap, holding on to win by 1/2 length. Highway Prospector, part of the favored entry, was third. Tour of the Cat, a 5-year-old son of Tour d'Or, ran 7 furlongs in 1:21.15 for jockey Abad Cabassa Jr. Trainer Myra Mora said the horse "has terrible feet" that required extensive work. "But he was right coming into this race," she noted.
In Sunday's $100,000 Canadian Turf Handicap, Political Attack got the first run at pace-setting Rakoon, taking over on the far turn. The favorite, Miesque's Approval, followed right behind but couldn't catch up as Political Attack flashed under the wire 1/2 length ahead. Strategic Partner was third. Political Attack ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:40.43. Trainer Michael Matz said after the horse's last race, jockey Mark Guidry suggested opening up his blinkers. "We did and today he saw that horse coming and didn't want to give up the lead," Matz said.
Giovannetti moved quickly to the lead along the rail in Saturday's $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup, got a clear lead early in the stretch run and held on to beat R. Baggio by 3/4 length. Flying Supercon was third. Giovannetti is a 4-year-old son of Memo, bred in California and trained by Frank Monteleone. He ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.04.
Souris came from mid-pack to take the lead on the final turn in Saturday night's $75,000 Wishing Well Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then worked clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Lady Mallory. Bridlestone was third. Souris is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Defrere. She finished the 7 furlongs over a fast track in 1:27.07.
Golden Gate Fields
Bare Necessities had no trouble putting away the early leaders when the field hit the stretch run of Sunday's $60,000 Sacramento Handicap. The 4-year-old Silver Deputy filly, with Frank Alvarado up, got clear and drew off to win by 3 lengths. Castling was second and Lost At Sea third. Bare Necessities ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.89. "I asked her at the three-eighths pole and she made her move. She did it easy," said Alvarado. Trainer Wally Dollase said Bare Necessities may race next at - is it spring yet? - Keeneland.
Saskya caught pace-setting Vesta in deep stretch to win Sunday's $60,000 Safely Kept Stakes by 1/2 length. Drexel Monorail was third. Saskya, a 4-year-old daughter of Maria's Mon, ran the 6 furlongs over the inner track in1:12.01. "She wasn't crazy about being down inside," said winning rider Mike Luzzi. "But once she got clear, she leveled off nice." Trainer Tom Bush said Saskya may run once more before being bred to Cozzene.
Gazillion, with Ramon Dominguez up, made her move at the top of the lane between the early leaders in Sunday's $60,000 Conniver Stakes, then drew off to score the victory. Broad Picture was second and Darnestown was third in the field of 10 Maryland-bred fillies and mares. Gazillion finished the 7 furlongs in 1:24 2/5. Two starts back, Gazillion was second to Xtra Heat in the What A Summer Stakes.
Seven Four Seven came around rivals on the turn in Saturday's $50,000 Wintergreen Stakes, overtook Town Queen and eased home first by 1/2 length. Majority Whip was third, more than 10 lengths farther back. Seven Four Seven, a 5-year-old daughter of Colonial Affair, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.96.
Brown Eyed Beauty closed sharply into the stretch to win Sunday's $50,000 Spring Fever Stakes by 2 lengths over Southern Tour. Run for Little Bit was third while the favorite, Emily Ring, faded to finish next-to-last in the field of eight. Brown Eyed Beauty, a 4-year-old daughter of Miswaki, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.94. "The race just set up perfectly," said winning rider Jon Court. "I had a speed duel up ahead of me and I just let them go on."
Funny Meeting drew off in the stretch to win Saturday's $50,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Handicap by 4 3/4 lengths over Streak of Royalty. Reflecting Colors was third. Funny Meeting, a 3-year-old, Cal-bred son of General Meeting, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.84.
Sunday, Cielo Girl also used a strong stretch move to win the $50,000 Santa Teresa Handicap by 5 lengths over Take Out the Trash. Waveband was third. Cielo Girl, a 4-year-old daughter of Conquistador Cielo, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.17. The Kentucky-bred is trained by Steve Asmussen.
Hong Kong-based Come See You won Saturday's S$1 million Singapore Classic by a nose over Moon Shadow. With Weichong Marwing up, Come See You got the lead about 200 meters from the finish and just survived the late bid. "Marwing rode a great race," said winning trainer Ivan Allan. "He timed his run to perfection. It was heads up, heads down" at the wire.
News and Notes
Two of the sport's best-known names -- Laffit Pincay Jr. and Julie Krone - went down with injuries within a week at Santa Anita. Pincay, racing's all-time leader with 9,530 career victories, broke two bones in his neck when he was thrown March 1. His son said Sunday Pincay it will be "a while" before he resumes physical activity. Krone broke two bones in her back when she was thrown on Saturday. Her husband, Jay Hovdey, said a complete recovery is expected. Krone, the sport's winningest female jockey with 3,595 trips to the winner's circle, has suffered a string of serious injuries in her career.