Lion Heart ran his record to 3-for-3 and moved way up in the Kentucky Derby picture with a sharp, front-running victory in Saturday's $200,000 Hollywood Futurity.
The son of Tale of the Cat led almost all the way as Jockey Mike Smith had a tight hold during the run down the backstretch. When challenged by That's an Outrage and St Averil on the turn, Lion Heart easily hit another gear. He again drew clear in the stretch and won by 3 1/2 lengths in a hand ride, finishing the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.80.
"At the end, he was starting to stride away again, which is a very nice sign," said Smith. "You hate for them to be floating at the end, just hanging on. But he was going to start to draw away."
Trainer Patrick Biancone, lobbying hard for end-of-year honors for his Kentucky-bred chestnut colt, said Lion Heart has so much speed he had been reluctant to let him loose. The Futurity eased those worries, he said.
"He's fast at the start. After that, he keeps going. We're not going to try to strangle him. He's just a natural galloper -- maybe a new Secretariat. You never know," Biancone said.
Further testimonial came from Tyler Baze, who rode St Averil in the Futurity. "That other horse, wow!" Baze said of Lion Heart. "He was going fast. I'm watching him and thinking I was sitting in a perfect spot. But as soon as we came up to him, Mike Smith just asked his horse. They opened up and that was it."
Lion Heart was purchased by Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith for $1.4 million earlier this year. He broke his maiden Oct. 24 at Santa Anita and came back to win the 7-furlong Hollywood Prevue by 6 lengths with a Beyer Speed Figure of 103.
"Now we're going to point to the first Saturday in May and go backwards to give him the best program possible," Biancone said. "I always said the normal route would be one race before the Santa Anita Derby and then the big one."
In other Kentucky Derby preps:
-- West Virginia had all he could do to win the $75,000 Damon Runyon Stakes for New York-bred 2-year-olds on Wednesday at Aqueduct. The son of Tomorrows Cat got the lead with a half mile to run but then wanted to drift out through the stretch and just held on to win by a neck over Salty Character, running the 1 1/16 mile in 1:47.84 in the slop. "He wanted it," said winning rider Richard Migliore. "It was an extremely game performance." Seth Benzel, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher, said Pletcher will evaluate the colt and decide where to send him next.
-- Sir Fidgity scored his third win from five starts in Saturday's $100,000 Jim Edgar Illinois Futurity at Hawthorne Race Course. Sent to the post as the favorite on a cold Chicago afternoon, Sir Fidgity ran just behind the pace, took the lead turning for home and then had to battle back after being headed by Persuaggle in mid-stretch. The final margin was a nose and the time for the 1 1/16 mile was 1:47.05. "My horse tends to goof around when he gets the lead," said winning jockey Larry Sterling Jr. "But when I was passed, he really fought back." Sir Fidgity is a gelded son of Captain Bodgit, who won the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial before finishing second by just a head to Silver Charm in the 1997 Kentucky Derby. The name comes from his dam, Ants in Her Pants, by Broad Brush. The Jim Edgar, restricted to Illinois-breds, is named for the former Illinois governor, who also is an owner/breeder.
-- Bold Merit, an Arizona-bred son of Bold Anthony, was just up at the wire to win Saturday's $50,000 Arizona Juvenile Stakes at Turf Paradise by a nose over Bradford. Fun'ngames Toknite was third. Bold Merit ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.09.
In races with potential for the Kentucky Oaks:
-- Hollywood Story was... well, a bit of a Hollywood story in Sunday's $200,000 Hollywood Starlet Stakes. Winless in her first four starts, including a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, the daughter of Wild Rush came from last in a field of six to win the closing-day feature at Hollywood Park by 2 3/4 lengths over pace-setting Rahy Dolly. House of Fortune was third and the favorite, Victory U.S.A., was a flat fourth. "This filly ran a hell of a race today," said winning rider Patrick Valenzuela. "She relaxed right behind the leaders and there was a good pace up front. At the quarter pole, she shot away and got to the leader, then put her away the last eighth. So she ran a great race." The win gave Valenzuela the jockey title for the Hollywood meet, and a sweep of the riding crowns at all five major Southern California meets dating back to Santa Anita's opening a year ago. "It's unbelievable the way things have turned out," he said.
-- Leading Lioness, at 25-1, came from off the pace to win Saturday's $50,000 Gowell Stakes at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky. Already a stakes winner on the Keeneland turf, Leading Lioness broke eighth in the Gowell, moved up and was in position to challenge at the top of the stretch. With urging from jockey Mark Johnson, she collared pace-setting favorite Ready and Tough and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Papa Sids Girl, off an eight-month layoff, was third. "I liked the way she closed fast," said winning trainer Robert Pincins. "She has never been close to (the pace) in any of her races."
-- Foolishly took the lead turning for home in Saturday's $70,000 Snow White Stakes at Charles Town, then held on to beat longshot Wild Bea by a head. Tee's Pearl was third and the favored entry of Absolute Rocks and Clay's Rocket finished fourth and fifth. Foolishly, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Broad Brush, ran 7 furlongs on a "good" track in 1:30.23.
In other weekend racing:
Katdogawn rallied from last in a field of 10 to win Saturday's $150,000 Dahlia Stakes for fillies and mares by a nose over another deep closer, Personal Legend. Betty's Wish was third. Personal Legend and Betty's Wish are both trained by Bobby Frankel. Katdogawn, a British-bred, 3-year-old son of Bahhare, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:41.52. "I really felt we were going to have to cut some corners to beat Bobby Frankel's two fillies," said winning rider Mike Smith. "I did, and it worked out."
Calder Race Course
Magic Mecke scored his third consecutive win in Saturday's $100,000 Pete Axthelm Stakes for 3-year-olds at 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf. With Eibar Coa aboard, the Florida-bred Mecke colt reeled in a loose-on-the-lead Hear No Evil in the stretch run and went on to win by 1 length. Sharp Impact was third. Magic Mecke finished in stakes-record time of 1:27.41. "He's found his place on the turf and that's where he'll stay," said winning trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. "We'll look at the Gulfstream schedule and see what's next."
Also Saturday, Changing World rallied from well back to win the companion $100,000 Frances A. Genter Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 7 1/2 green furlongs. The daughter of Spinning World, under Joe Bravo, found running room on the hedge in the stretch and got home 2 lengths in front with Campsie Fells second and Formal Miss third. The time of the race was 1:27.67. After winning her first stakes race, "There will be plenty of opportunities for her in turf stakes coming up at Gulfstream," said winning trainer Barclay Tagg.
Shake You Down returned to his winning ways with a 2 1/4-length score in Sunday's $100,000 Gravesend Handicap. Running on the lead, the 5-year-old Montbrook gelding covered the 6 furlongs in 1:09.55. Way to the Top was second and Gators N Bears was third. Shake You Down got home third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint after a slow start. "We were a little worried about him getting away cleanly," said trainer Scott Lake. "He had two bad breaks in a row but this time he got away well and everything went right." Lake said Shake You Down, a Florida-bred, will head for Gulfstream Park and a spot in the Sunshine Millions.
Savedbythelight stayed right off the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Ladies Handicap, went to the lead at the quarter pole and drew clear in the stretch, winning by 3 lengths over Queen's Triomphe. Retroactive was third and the favorite, Caught in the Rain, finished fifth. Savedbythelight, a 3-year-old daughter of Saint Ballado, ran 1 1/4 mile in 2:05.99 under Richard Migliore. "Richie rode a great race," said trainer Richard Violette Jr. "She was right where she was supposed to be." Violette said Savedbythelight is booked to Empire Maker this spring but the decision to breed her might be reviewed. "She could still improve," he added.
Snowdrops got the first run at the pace-setters in Saturday's $75,000 Pago Hop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and then held off favorite Baie to win by 1/2 length. Tincan Too was third in the "about" 1 mile turf race, clocked in 1:37.21. Snowdrops, a British-bred daughter of Gulch, shipped in from Florida and was ridden by Gerard Melancon. It was her first stakes win. "She broke really sharp," said Melancon. "She was all push-button."
So what do trainers know, anyway? Michael Dickinson shipped Acrolect in for Saturday's $60,000 Challedon Stakes hoping to pick up a minor award. Instead, the bay gelding took charge in the stretch, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Aggadan. Implicit was third. "He had never won a stake and he's 6 years old," Dickinson said by phone. "I didn't think that was going to change. I would have been delighted for second and truly expected to finish third in this race." Acrolect ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.59. The race was restricted to Maryland-breds.