Four months to the day before the 130th running of the Kentucky Derby, Kitten's Joy won the first derby of the new year at Calder Race Course in Florida.
With Jerry Bailey aboard, the Kentucky-bred son of El Prado rallied nicely from off the pace, took charge in the stretch and drew off easily to win the $100,000 Tropical Park Derby by 4 1/2 lengths over Broadway View. Soverign Honor was third. The favorite, Timo, was eighth under the wire as less than 2 lengths separated the second through eighth finishers in the field of 11.
The 9 furlongs on firm turf took 1:46.95.
Trainer Dale Romans said owner/breeder Ken Ramsey will make the final decision, but for now it's likely Kitten's Joy will stay on the turf, rather than embarking on the Triple Crown trail. He said the goal will be the Crown Royal Turf for 3-year-olds on Derby Day at Churchill Downs.
"I'll start from that and work back to plan a schedule between now and then," Romans said.
In other races for newly turned 3-year-olds:
-- In his final start as a 2-year-old, Greek Sun rallied from last in a field of six to win Monday's $75,000 Hill Rise Stakes at Santa Anita by 4 lengths over Vikings Bay. Gwaihir was third as the favorite. Although the 1-mile race was over the turf, it wouldn't hurt to pay attention since Peace Rules won the event in 2002 en route to later victories in the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass and a third-place finish in last year's Kentucky Derby. Greek Sun is by Danzig, owned by Baltimore Orioles' owner Peter Angelos and trained by Bobby Frankel.
-- Smarty Jones, a Pennsylvania-bred son of Elusive Quality, stumbled at the start of Saturday's $75,000 Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct but still managed to win off by 5 lengths with an impressive stretch run. Risky Trick was second after inheriting the early lead and Mr. Spock couldn't beam any closer than third, 6 lengths farther back. Smarty Jones now has won all three of his career starts, the previous two by margins of 7 3/4 and 15 lengths, respectively. He earned a 105 Beyer Speed Figure for his last victory, in the Pennsylvania Nursery at Philadelphia Park.
-- Silver Minister led almost all the way in Saturday's $50,000 Turfway Prevue Stakes, drawing clear in the stretch to win by 5 lengths over Degenerate Gambler. Rayvo's Beau was third. Silver Minister, a Kentucky-bred son of Silver Deputy, now has two wins and two seconds from four starts. His trainer, Greg Foley, saddled Champali to win last year's edition of the Turfway Prevue. As he did with Champali, Foley said he will point Silver Minister to the March 20 Lane's End Stakes "and this year get the big one."
-- White Mountain Boy got an easy lead in Wednesday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Championship at Laurel Park and was never challenged, winning by 6 lengths. The Meadowlake colt, trained by Phil Schoenthal, ran 9 furlongs in 1:41.49. "I told the owner about a month ago that I thought we had a Triple Crown runner or at least a horse that's going to give us a thrill and I'm glad he proved me right here," said Schoenthal.
-- Kiowa Prince dueled for the lead in Thursday's $60,000 Dancing Count Stakes for 3-year-olds at Laurel, then edged clear to win by 1 length over Basketball Court. The favorite, Hands On, was third. Kiowa Prince, a son of Hennessey, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11 2/5. "When he has to go longer, he will be ready," said winning rider Abel Castellano Jr. Kiowa Prince is trained by Phil Schoenthal and owned by Michael Gill.
Three-year-old fillies can be just as much fun to watch as their male counterparts. Look for example, at the rivalry shaping up in Southern California where Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Halfbridled is scheduled to start her 3-year-old campaign Feb. 15 in the Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita.
There, she is likely to run into A.P. Adventure, who overcame a whole list of obstacles to win Sunday's $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths over Salty Romance. Wildwood Flower, another highly touted filly, was third. A.P. Adventure, a daughter of A.P. Indy, is trained by Wally Dollase for Bob and Beverly Lewis.
Making just her second start and her first since Oct. 30, A.P. Adventure got a slow start Sunday and was squeezed. She then came four-wide into the stretch before taking charge, running 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.27. "This filly has so much untapped class and ability that she just ran the other filly down in the stretch," said winning jockey Alex Solis. Dollase blamed the slow start on A.P. Adventure's placid demeanor, calling her "a lackadaisical, easy-going heifer. ... She probably fell asleep in the gate."
In other weekend races for 3-year-old fillies:
-- Bobbie Use ran second behind the pace through the early going in Thursday's $100,000 Tropical Park Oaks at Calder Race Course, got to the front a sixteenth of a mile from home and held off Cold Wynnter to win by a neck. Last Waltz held third after leading. Bobbie Use, a New York-bred daughter of Nor For Love, got the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:42.09. "She's strictly turf and we won't be looking at anything else," said winning trainer Richard Dutrow Jr.
-- Pour It On came from off the pace to win Wednesday's $100,000 Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship at Laurel Park as 1-5 favorite Richetta struggled home next-to-last. "I thought there were a couple in there that she couldn't beat," said Pour It On's trainer, Hamilton Smith. "As it turned out, they didn't run their race and our filly ran the way she should run." The upset led to $2 show payoffs of $99.20, $30 and $38.
-- On Saturday at Laurel, Among My Souvenirs bested Forestier in a virtual match race in the $60,000 Marshua Stakes. At the wire, Among My Souvenirs was just up to nip her pace-setting rival by a head in 1:11 2/5. Winning trainer Tony Dutrow said he thinks the Souvenir Copy filly "could be a very good closing sprinter type. But I could be totally wrong and find that she stretches out later on."
-- Morvant turned back a stout challenge from Sister Swank in deep stretch to win Saturday's $60,000 Thelma Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans by 1/2 length. Winning her third straight race, Morvant, a Kentucky-bred daughter of 1982 Belmont Stakes winner Conquistador Cielo, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.27. The Tom Amoss trainee broke her maiden two races back at Churchill Downs going 7 furlongs.
-- Wacky Patty took charge when asked in Saturday night's $40,000 Genesis Stakes at Delta Downs, winning by a comfortable 3 1/2 lengths over Clever Melody. Simply Jolie was third. Wacky Patty, a Florida-bred daughter of Formal Dinner, ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 58.41 seconds.
-- And Baldomera came from last in a field of five to win Sunday's $75,000 Ruthless Stakes at Aqueduct. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Doneraile Court, with Tony Black up, beat pace-setter High Peaks by 1 3/4 lengths, with Prudencia third and Bikini Wiggle fourth.
In other racing during the long holiday week:
Cajun Beat didn't lose anything during his brief vacation since winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint. The 4-year-old Grand Slam gelding went quickly to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap, opened a comfortable lead entering the stretch and won by 1 1/2 lengths in a hand ride by Cornelio Velasquez. He finished the 6 furlongs in 1:09.06. Gygistar was second and Deer Lake third. "The Deputy Minister (Feb. 7) is a good possibility for his next start here," said winning trainer Steve Margolis. "Dubai at the end of March is his main goal."
Puzzlement rallied from last in a field of seven starters to win Saturday's $100,000 Hal's Hope Handicap by a neck over Bowman's Band. Stockholder was third. Puzzlement, a 5-year-old son of Pine Bluff, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.39 with Jorge Chavez aboard. "This was the best race this horse has ever run," said winning trainer H. Allen Jerkens. He said Puzzlement will ship to California for the Sunshine Millions Classic if his owner wants, although, "They don't come from the back as well as Puzzlement does out at Santa Anita."
Delmonico Cat rated in mid-pack through most of Saturday's $100,000 Honey Fox Handicap, then got through traffic in the stretch to win by 1/2 length over Coney Kitty. Madeira Mist was third, a neck farther back. Delmonico Cat, a 5-year-old Storm Cat mare, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:41.30. "It took all day, but we got what we wanted," said winning rider Jerry Bailey.
Sunday, Millennium Dragon moved quickly to the front in the $150,000 Appleton Handicap, withstood pressure from Political Attack and then held on gamely to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Proud Man was third as the favorite. Millennium Dragon, a British-bred, 5-year-old son of Mark of Esteem, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.40 under Richard Migliore. "He seems to be better on the lead," said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "Things work out better for him when he can have things his own way." He said the Canadian Turf Handicap on Jan. 31 may be next.
Star Cross rallied between rivals on the turn for home in Saturday's $150,000 San Pasquale Handicap and beat Nose the Trade to the wire by 1/2 length. The favorite, Olmodavor, was third. Star Cross, a 7-year-old son of Southern Halo, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.22 under Victor Espinoza. The Argentine-bred picked up his second straight win, following a victory in the Nov. 28 Forty Niner Handicap at Golden Gate. Trainer Darrell Vienna said he changed the configuration of Star Cross's blinkers to try to correct a tendency to get out on the turns. "We'll look at the Big 'Cap, absolutely," he said, referring to the Santa Anita Handicap on March 6.
Boston Common got to the lead midway down the stretch in Thursday's $100,000 El Conejo Handicap, then held on despite lugging in to win by a neck over Summer Service. King Robyn, the favorite, was third. Boston Common, a 4-year-old son of Boston Harbor, ran 5 1/2 furlongs under Gary Stevens in 1:02.35. Trainer Jeff Mullins said he told Stevens Boston Common didn't need the lead. "Just sit on him and the class should get him there," he said.
Royally Chosen got to the line first in Wednesday's $75,000 Kalookan Queen Handicap after a long duel with Ema Bovary. But the stewards then reversed the order of finish, holding that Royally Chosen was guilty of interference in the stretch run. The 6 1/2 furlongs went in 1:14.89. Ema Bovary is a 4-year-old Chilean-bred filly, trained by Bruce Headley and ridden by Alex Solis.
Icantgoforthat led all the way to a nose win in Monday's $100,000 Monrovia Handicap for fillies and mares over the downhill turf course. The 4-year-old In Excess filly, with Tyler Baze up, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.07. The odds-on favorite entry of Polygreen and Spring Star finished 2-3.
Fit Performer was fit enough to win Thursday's $75,000 Interborough Handicap by 6 1/4 lengths, coming from off the pace under Juliam Pimentel. Drexel Monorail was second, a nose in front of the favorite, Elegant Designer. Fit Performer, a 7-year-old Fit to Fight mare, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.76. "She broke sharp and dragged me up there," said Pimentel.
Golden Gate Fields
Super High stuck close to the pace down the backstretch in Saturday's $100,000 Work The Crowd Handicap, went to the lead as the field neared the turn and drew clear, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Amber Hills. Fancee Bargain was third. Super High, a 5-year-old daughter of High Brite, ran 1 mile on a wet-fast track in 1:36.09. "I knew I had it all the way," said winning jockey Chance Rollins.
Gold Ruckus rallied from behind the pace to win Thursday's $75,000 Lafayette Handicap by 1 length over Truly a Judge. Bring Home Thegold was third in the 1-mile test. Gold Ruckus, a 6-year-old Gold Alert gelding, finished in 1:34.53 on a wet-fast track. "I've noticed horses trainer at Bay Meadows seem to be running better over here," said winning trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. I wish I knew exactly why."
Saratoga Humor came three-wide into the stretch in Wednesday's $75,000 New Year's Eve Stakes, then slowly drew out to win by 1 length over Abundantly Blessed. Born to Dance, the favorite, was third with a late move. Saratoga Humor, a 3-year-old daughter of Distorted Humor, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.97.
Skate Away caught Warleigh in deep stretch to win Saturday's $60,000 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap by a neck. With blinkers off, Skate Away avenged two straight losses to Warleigh over the Louisiana Downs surface. "Blinkers off made my horse a little more tactical today," said winning trainer Jeff Toscalir. The "about" 1 1/16 mile on the grass took 1:45.04.
Sunday, Golden Sonata rallied from well back in the field to win the $60,000 Truly Bound Handicap by 1/2 length over Spirited Maiden. Whiletheiron'shot was third. Golden Sonata, a daughter of Mr. Prospector, finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.25 under Gerard Melancon. "I had a bad post (11), but was able to get inside and save ground," said Melancon. "When I called on her, she just took off."
Tampa Bay Downs
Sea Span dueled with Mooji Moo until the furlong marker in Saturday's $60,000 Minaret Stakes, then shook loose and went on to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Mooji Moo held second and Diablosangeleyes was along for third. Sea Span, with Jesus Castanon up, equaled the stakes record with a time of 1:10.41. "I had so much horse from the moment I left the gate that I wasn't worried about being on the front end, the pace or anything," Castanon said. Sea Span is a 5-year-old daughter of Valid Expectations.
R. Baggio came from the middle of the pack to win Saturday's $50,000 Paradise Mile Handicap by 3/4 length over the favorite, Expresso Bay. Our Best Man was third. R. Baggio, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Chimes Band, was clocked in 1:36.75 over a course rated firm.
Inox stayed close to the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Bold Ego Handicap, then won a long stretch duel, beating Gimme a Clue by a head. City Sleeper, the favorite, came four-wide into the turn but could not find enough to challenge the leaders. Inox, a 6-year-old, Argentine-bred mare, ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.63.
News and notes...
John Franks, a four-time Eclipse Award winning owner, died Wednesday night in Shreveport, La., at age 78. Franks, an oilman who also had interests in real estate, cattle and pecans, won the 1998 Breeders' Cup Juvenile with homebred Answer Lively and finished third in the 1993 Classic with homebred Kissin' Kris. He owned breeding farms in Louisiana and Florida. In addition to his 1983, 1984, 1993 and 1994 Eclipse Awards, he also was Breeder of the Year in Florida in 1993 and Louisiana in 1993-94. "He has been a great boost for horse racing and will be missed," said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.