Just when it appeared trainer D. Wayne Lukas might be watching this year's Kentucky Derby from the sidelines - for only the second time in 23 years -- he once again pulled a rabbit from the hat in Keeneland's Coolmore Lexington Stakes.
This time, the rabbit is a colt named Scrimshaw, who rallied smartly from just off the pace and drew clear in the lane to win by 3 lengths on Saturday over Eye of the Tiger. Domestic Dispute was third, followed by Trust N Luck and the favorite, Ministers Wild Cat.
Scrimshaw, with Edgar Prado up, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.47. The Kentucky-bred son of Gulch was making his first start since running fourth in the Hutcheson at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 15 and only his fifth career start. It was his third win and first in a stakes.
"I knew I was behind the eight ball with this horse," said Lukas, who would have been out of potential Derby contenders if Scrimshaw hadn't run well in the Lexington. "But he has a lot of talent. I always thought he was our best horse. But now we have to pull it all together in a couple of weeks. It's a challenge."
Lukas has been a Kentucky Derby fixture since his first starter in the race - Partez, who finished third in 1981. From that year on, the always dapper and sometimes controversial Wisconsin native has had at least one starter in every Derby save the 2001 renewal. He has won four Derbies, finished second once and third five times.
In 1996, he saddled five starters, including winner Grindstone. In the Churchill Downs paddock before that race, Lukas looked like a basketball coach, surrounded by his "starting five" jockeys.
Last year, Lukas won the Lexington with Proud Citizen, who then finished second in the Derby behind War Emblem.
--The other major weekend event for 3-year-olds was the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore. But if the gate-to-wire winner, Cherokee's Boy, makes it to any Triple Crown event, it likely will be the Preakness rather than the Kentucky Derby. And even that is no sure thing. "I think it will be very important to see how the Derby goes, how fast they run, the quality of the horses and who's coming here for the Preakness," said Gary Capuano, trainer of Cherokee's Boy. "We really don't want to run just to say we ran. But if I think I have a legitimate chance to be one-two-three, then I'm sure we'll be there." The Citidancer colt ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.86, beating Penobscot Bay by 2 3/4 lengths.
Contenders: In the order of their graded stakes winnings, which determine who gets into the field if the race is "oversubscribed," here are the top 24 contenders for the May 3 Kentucky Derby (earnings do not include the Lexington or the Tessio):
Empire Maker (won Wood Memorial and Florida Derby); Peace Rules (won Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass); Kafwain (won San Vicente); Buddy Gil (won Santa Anita Derby); Hold that Tiger; Lone Star Sky; Ten Most Wanted (won Illinois Derby); Sir Cherokee (won Arkansas Derby); Funny Cide; Brancusi; Outta Here; Indian Express; Offlee Wild (won Holy Bull); Champali; Most Feared; Supah Blitz; Ocean Terrace; Fund of Funds; Atswhatimtalknbout; Midas Eyes; Ministers Wild Cat; Scrimshaw (won Lexington; Cherokee's Boy (won Federico Tessio); Private Gold.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Storm Flag Flying, last year's 2-year-old filly champion and winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, returned to action in Friday's $100,000 Comely Stakes at Aqueduct for the first time since the Breeders' Cup. The rust showed, as Cyber Secret got to the early lead and strolled home a winner, 5 1/2 lengths ahead of Storm Flag Flying. Bonay was third. Cyber Secret, a daughter of Cyberspace, ran 1 mile in 1:35.97 under Shaun Bridgmohan. Winning trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said he doesn't want to run Cyber Secret longer than a mile and will key her toward the Test Stakes at Saratoga this summer. Storm Flag Flying's trainer, Shug McGaughey, also said his filly likely will stay around New York. "We just weren't good enough today," he said. "But she will be later on. I'm not entirely shocked," he added.
In other weekend racing:
Hawthorne Race Course
Snowbirds came north from Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana for Saturday's $250,000 National Jockey Club Handicap but it was the hardy stay-at-home Fight For Ally who came away with the victory. With Eusebio Razo Jr. calling the shots, the 6-year-old, Indiana-bred gelding stayed right behind pace-setting Keats, took the lead at the top of the stretch and just held off Colonial Colony to win by a neck. Parrott Bay was another nose back in third. Fight For Ally ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.46. Razo said Curt Borque, who switched off Fight For Ally to ride Colorful Tour to a seventh-place finish, told him Fight For Ally "likes to quit at the top of the stretch and you have to keep with him. I thank Curt because I got the whip into him and he responded." Trainer Wayne Catalano said Fight For Ally will get a brief rest and then return to Hoosier Park.
Six months ago, owner Gary Tanaka and trainer Ben Cecil literally were ready to give away Passinetti. Sunday, the 7-year-old Slew o' Gold gelding won the $400,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap with a nice stretch move. All the Boys was second and the favorite, Champion Lodge, rallied for third. "He'd been out in the paddock for three years," Cecil said. "I said to Mr. Tanaka, 'let's bring him back in, have a go, see what happens.' And here we are, winning the San Juan Capistrano. I mean, it's unbelievable." It might be unbelievable to Tyler Baze, who switched off Passinetti to ride Special Matter to a seventh-place finish. Cecil brought Brice Blanc in from Kentucky to pinch-hit.
Megahertz rallied from last to win Saturday's $250,000 Santa Barbara Handicap by 3/4 length over pace-setting Trekking. Noches De Rosa was third. Megahertz, a British-bred daughter of Pivotal, ran 1 1/4 mile on firm turf in 2:00.08 for Alex Solis. Bobby Frankel saddled the 1-2 finishers. "I just wanted to stay close to the pace and I knew she'd make her run," Solis said. "She's a great mare and likes this turf course."
Also Saturday, Speak in Passing rallied from mid-pack and won a stretch battle with Spinelessjellyfish to capture the $125,000 San Simeon Handicap by 1/2 length. Rocky Bar was third. Speak in Passing, a 6-year-old son of Danzig, ran the about 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.87. Frankel, who also trains Speak in Passing, is already in Kentucky to supervise the Kentucky Derby preparations of Empire Maker and Peace Rules.
Raging Fever jumped out of the gate first in Saturday's $150,000 Bed o' Roses Handicap and never looked back. The 4-year-old Storm Cat filly led all the way, winning by 1/2 length over Smok'n Frolic, with Nonsuch Bay third. With Aaron Gryder in the irons, Raging Fever finished the 1 mile in 1:34.86. "She broke good and was real relaxed," Gryder said. "The way she was going it, she was just in a comfortable gallop." Trainer Mark Hennig said he will run Raging Fever back in the Shuvee Handicap at Belmont Park on May 17.
Repository got to the lead a furlong out in Saturday's $75,000 Stravinsky Stakes for fillies and mares and opened up a 2-length lead at the wire. Crystal Sea was second and On the Fritz was third. Repository, with Jerry Bailey up, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the green course in 1:03.29. "She kind of put me in a great spot right behind the speed and I had enough horse to get the job done," Bailey said.
In the $100,000 Appalachian Stakes on Friday, Ocean Drive led all the way, winning by 1/2 length over Tangle. Cheryl's Myth was third. Ocean Drive, a daughter of Belong to Me, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.13. "Hopefully, we can come back for the Queen Elizabeth in the fall because we're two-for-two over the course," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher.
On Thursday, Californian came charging from last in a nine-horse field to win the $100,000 Forerunner Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3 1/4 length over Rapid Proof. Color Me Gone was third. Californian, a British-bred son of Zafonic, was making his first U.S. start for trainer Kristin Mulhall. He ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:52.10. "We were going to stay in California and run in the California Derby," said Mulhall. "But we decided he was bred for the grass, so we tried him here. He ran great."
Cajun Beat wore down Get Smarter in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Hallandale Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds, winning by a neck. Formal Charade was far back in third. Cajun Beat, a son of Grand Slam, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.61. Both trainer Cam Gamboloti and jockey Gary Boulanger said the addition of blinkers helped keep Cajun Beat focused on his task Saturday.
Sunday, Best of the Rest was best of 'em all in the $100,000 Skip Away Handicap. Never far back, the 8-year-old son of Skip Trial closed through the stretch run before catching pace-setting Roger E, then held off Consistency to win by 1/2 length. The 1 1/16 mile went in 1:42.72. Roger E held third and order of finish was completed by The Judge Sez Who and Dancing Guy.
Presidio Heights led from gate to wire in Saturday's $60,000 Atherton Handicap, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Halo Cat. Radar Contact was third. Presidio Heights, a 5-year-old son of Allen's Prospect, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:07.84. "I knew there was no speed in the race - at least not his kind of speed," said winning jockey Roberto Gonzalez. "I just let him break out of there and do what he wanted."
Sunday, fillies and mares went sprinting on the lawn in the $60,000 Woodside Handicap and Maria's Mirage pulled a mild upset. Breaking well, the 4-year-old daughter of Maria's Mon got right to the lead and extended it to the wire, winning by 5 lengths over the favorite, Lacie Girl. Fertile was a nose farther back in third. The 5 furlongs on "good" turf took 56.75 seconds. The time was a course record because it was a new distance on the surface at Bay Meadows. "She's as fast as they come," said winning jockey Luis Jauregui. "She's one dimensional. You go to the lead and that's it."
Lone Star Park
Letithappencaptain rallied from behind a hot, contested pace to upset Saturday's $50,000 Wafare Farm Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 4 1/2 lengths. Another longshot, Olguina, was second and the favorite, Eternal Cup, faded to finish third after being caught inside a four-filly pace battle. Letithappencaptain, a daughter of Captain Bodgit, ran the 6 furlongs in stakes-record time of 1:09.56. "I just swung her out where she was happy," said winning rider Kirk LeBlanc. "She was ready from the start."
P Day took charge of Saturday's $125,000 Baltimore Breeders' Cup Handicap at the top of the lane and rolled home a 2 3/4-length winner over Changeintheweather. Full Brush was third. P Day finished in 1:48.94. "He's like wine. He gets better with age," said winning trainer Charles Hadry Jr. Owner Adam Russo said he is considering running P Day back in the Pimlico Special.
Wando overcame some traffic challenges to win Saturday's $125,000 Woodstock Stakes for 3-year-olds by a neck over I'm the Tiger. El Ruller was third. Wando had to wait for room on the turn, then swung four wide into the stretch and closed steadily to catch I'm the Tiger. The 6 furlongs took 1:10.67. Wando is an Ontario-bred son of Langfuhr - a Gustav Shickendanz homebred.
Sunday, Deputy Cures Blues rallied to the lead in the stretch run of the $125,000 Lady Angela Stakes for 3-year-old, Ontario-bred fillies, then survived a late bid by Stop Looking to win by a head. Macdashi was third, just another neck back. Deputy Cure Blues, a daughter of War Deputy, ran the 7 furlongs under Emile Ramsammy in 1:24.62.
Elusive Sara got the lead on the turn for home in Friday's $50,000 Goldfinch Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, turned back a challenge from Persuade and went on to a comfortable, 3 3/4-length victory. Coding was along late for second, 1/2 length better than Persuade. Elusive Sara, a Maryland-bred daughter of Elusive Quality, covered the 6 furlongs in 1:10.26.
Jill's Layup got the upper hand in the stretch run of Saturday's $35,000 Helena Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and eased home first, 2 1/4 length ahead of the favorite, Virgin Voyage. Roshneti was third. Jill's Layup, a daughter of Senor Conquistador, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:42.85.
Bisbee's Prospect justified her favorite status in Saturday's $35,000 U.S. Bank Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, stalking the early pace, moving up the rail and then drawing off to win by 4 3/4 lengths over Tavy's Plan. Top Penny was home third in the 6-furlong event, clocked in 1:08 2/5. Bisbee's Prospect is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Smart Strike.
The Downs at Albuquerque
Smart Score circled four rivals swinging into the stretch in Saturday's $35,000 Express Handicap and wore down Pacer to win by a neck. Mr. Tipsy was well back in third. Smart Score, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Clever Trick, ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.33.
Sunday, Take Out the Trash took home the cash after the $30,000 Chamisa Handicap for fillies and mares. The 4-year-old daughter of Take Me Out raced just behind a very fast early pace, swung wide into the stretch for racing room and closed smartly to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Runawayfun was second and Tellme Truly was third. Take Out the Trash, the pari-mutuel favorite, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.17.
The World Series Racing Championship gets under way next Sunday at Sha Tin in Hong Kong with the HK$14 million Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Although 11 of the 14 prospective starters are based in Hong Kong, the field also boasts five international Group 1 winners in Eishin Preston from Japan, Paolini from Germany, Eventuail from South Africa and, from the local bench, Precision and Helene Vitality. With Dubai's World Cup out of the series this year, the Hong Kong will host the alpha and the omega of the WSRC, which culminates with the Hong Kong Cup in December.