Three of last year's Kentucky Derby rivals squared off again Sunday in the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap -- a race that turned into a French Quarter-style street brawl.
At the end, Peace Rules was on top, a head in front of Saint Liam, with Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide finishing third. But that recitation tells much less than half the story.
With Peace Rules cruising on the lead, Ten Most Wanted, a co-favorite in the Fair Grounds feature, was carried far out to the middle of the track in a traffic jam on the first turn -- an eerie repeat of the problems that eliminated him from the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall.
With Ten Most Wanted knocked out of contention, it was left to Saint Liam to chase Peace Rules through a mile in track record-bettering time of 1:35.48. Funny Cide raced in third. Turning for home, Edgar Prado sent Saint Liam up outside Peace Rules, gaining the advantage at mid-stretch. With encouragement from Jerry Bailey, Peace Rules fought back in tight quarters and regained the lead in the final strides. Final time for the 9 furlongs was 1:48.61.
As the stewards lit the "inquiry" sign and prepared to take a look at the first turn contretemps, Prado claimed foul against Bailey for bumping through the stretch run. After further review, the results were allowed to stand.
"Today, I let him do what he likes, make the lead," Bailey said, "and he was very comfortable through the whole race. I figured I'd let him run at his own pace no matter how fast or slow he was going. And we won."
Jose Santos, aboard Funny Cide, said his colt put in a bid with a furlong to go "and I thought he was gaining. But it was too late."
Pat Day said the first-turn bumping did in Ten Most Wanted.
"It seemed to bother him the whole race," Day said. "If I can ever figure out how to get around that first turn, we'll be in good shape."
Winning trainer Bobby Frankel said he thought Peace Rules was done when he was headed by Saint Liam. "To be honest, I thought he was beat at the eighth pole," Frankel said. "But he showed his gameness."
A pair of Kentucky Derby hopefuls took another step toward that goal during the weekend but some others had problems:
-- Smarty Jones continued to roll along the Derby trail with a professional victory in Saturday's $100,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. The Pennsylvania-bred son of Elusive Quality, with Stewart Elliott up, stayed right behind pace-setting Wildcat Shoes to the top of the lane, took charge and won by 3/4 length over Two Down Automatic. Pro Prado closed belatedly to take third. The 1 mile went in 1:37.57 on a fast track. "This race will really help our colt," said winning trainer John Servis. "He really will improve with this race under him." Smarty Jones now has won all four of his career starts and two stakes. In his last previous start, he captured the Count Fleet at Aqueduct -- his two-turn debut. Servis said Smarty Jones will stay at Oaklawn for the Rebel, final local prep for the Arkansas Derby.
-- Silver Minister also continue to progress on the Kentucky road to the Roses, easily winning Saturday's $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park over some promising out-of-staters. Silver Minister, a son of Silver Deputy, had no trouble with the 1 1/16 mile, stalking the pace and then drawing clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths over late-running New York invader Little Matth Man. White Mountain Boy, in from Laurel Park in Maryland, finished third. The race was timed in 1:44.79. Trainer Greg Foley, who campaigned Champali last spring, said Silver Minister now is set up for the March 20 Lane's End Stakes. "He seems to be coming into it perfectly," Foley said. The gelding finished second in his first two starts at Churchill Downs last fall but now has won four straight at Turfway.
-- Saturday's $40,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park was the acid test for locally-based Capac and the colt came up even shorter than his odds in his first try around two turns. After putting in a bid on the turn, Capac faded to finish fifth, leaving the bridge-jumpers with worthless paper and the plungers with show payoffs of $20.40, $30.60 and $40.60. The winner was Water Cannon, a Maryland-bred son of Waquoit. Eastern Bay was 1/2 length back in second and Wanaka finished third. Water Cannon ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.29. "I have absolutely no idea what happened," said Jeremy Rose, who rode Capac. "I had the leaders tracked and should have run by them with ease if I had any horse. We should have won but he just didn't respond. I have no reason why." Water Cannon now has won three straight since donning blinkers. Trainer Linda Albert said he will move on to the Private Terms.
-- A Saturday sprint down the hillside turf course at Santa Anita could have proved a Triple Crown starting point for the last year's runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But Minister Eric failed to draw into the Baldwin Stakes at scratch time and instead it was Seattle Borders who came from just off the pace to win by 1 length over Stalking Tiger. Jungle Prince was third. Seattle Borders, a Florida-bred son of Western Borders, finished the about 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.09. He is trained by Bobby Frankel. Richard Mandella, trainer of Minister Eric, said he will look for an allowance race.
-- New Mexico-bred Derby hopeful Rocky Gulch also came up short in his first key test against open competition, Sunday's $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park. After leading most of the way, Rocky Gulch gave way in the final sixteenth to Go Kitty Go, a maiden who raced last year in Canada. Go Kitty Go scored by 1 1/4 length, with Hi Teck Man checking in third. Go Kitty Go, a California-bred by Tale of the Cat, ran 1 mile in 1:37.87. The trainers of the top two said they will go on to the $500,000 Win Star Derby at Sunland on March 28.
In preps for the Kentucky Oaks:
-- Fond led virtually all the way to a 1 3/4-length victory in Saturday's $75,000 Busher Stakes at Aqueduct in New York. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Old Trieste, with Aaron Gryder up, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.93. Taittinger Rose was second and Showmesomelove was third. The favorite, Mistda, reached contention on the turn but then faded to finish fifth. "She did it relaxed. She's very game," said winning Gryder.
In other weekend racing:
Bedanken took charge in the stretch run to win Saturday's $125,000 Bayou Breeders' Cup Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths over Due to Win Again. Lady Linda was a nose farther back in third with a furious late run. Bedanken, a 5-year-old, gray daughter of Geri, ran the "about" 9 furlongs on a firm course in 1:52.74 for Don Pettinger. "She was very comfortable," Pettinger said. "The horse on the lead was getting out at the top of the stretch and I took advantage of it." Bedanken now has won nine of her 12 lifetime starts.
Sunday, Bebe Garcon was just up at the wire to beat Love Mountain by a nose in the $75,000 Dixie Poker Ace for Louisiana-breds. Love Mountain's stablemate, Rail Rose, was just another nose back in third. Bebe Garcon, a 4-year-old son of Excavate, negotiated the about 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:32.38.
German-bred fillies ran first and third in Saturday's $100,000 The Very One Handicap. Binya, transplanted from the Continent last fall, tracked pace-setter May Gator until the final turn of the 1 3/8-mile grass marathon, then easily drew clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Ocean Silk was second and Boana was along for third. Binya, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by John Velazquez, got home in 2:19.65. "She appears to want to run all day," said McLaughlin. "You could probably cut her back to a mile next week and she still would be very difficult to beat because she's a very good filly." Added Velazquez, "I don't think any distance is out of the question for her."
Also Saturday, Lucifer's Stone found running room along the hedge at mid-stretch in the $100,000 Herecomesthebride Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got the lead and then held off Dynamia to win by 1/2 length. Honey Ryder was third. Lucifer's Stone, a Kentucky-bred daughter of the South African stallion Horse Chestnut, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:52.78. Winning rider Jose Santos said Lucifer's Stone hit the gate at the start and lost ground, leaving him in the stretch run with a choice "to go through half a hole or go around everyone. I didn't want to go 10 wide, so I took my chances and it worked out." Trainer Linda Rice said Lucifer's Stone has done that sort of thing before. "She's got a lot of courage," Rice added.
On Thursday, 2002 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Storm Flag Flying got back on track after a disappointing 3-year-old season. The Storm Cat-My Flag filly, trained by Shug McGaughey, stalked the pace in a conditioned allowance race, went to the front turning for home when asked and won off by 3 3/4 lengths as the heavy favorite.
Santa Anita Park
Very Vegas upset Sunday's $100,000 La Habra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies down the hillside turf course. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Storm Boot, at odds of nearly 17-1 sped right to the lead and held on to beat the favorite, Aspen Girl, by a neck. Fortunately was third. Very Vegas ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs over a course rated "good" in 1:13.99. She was ridden by 16-year-old apprentice Mick Ruis. "She just ran good," Ruis said. "You don't have to ask her out of the gate. She just gets there herself."
Tampa Bay Downs
Pampered Princess turned back a challenge from Crimson and Roses in the stretch run of Saturday's $60,000 Wayward Lass Stakes and went on to win comfortably by 4 1/4 lengths. Dakota Light was third under the wire. Pampered Princess, with Jesus Castanon up, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.77. "She's a very nice filly," said winning owner Martin Cherry, who headed from Florida to New Orleans to watch another of his horses, Spanish Empire, in Sunday's $500,000 New Orleans Handicap.
Golden Gate Fields
Jets Fan, transplanted to the other coast, coasted home a 1 1/2-lengths winner in Saturday's $55,000 San Carlos Handicap. After tracking the leaders, the 4-year-old Gold Token gelding got an inside opening as the field turned for home and then outfinished Gold Ruckus for the win. Smile n Wildcat was third and the favorite, Onebadshark, faded to finish last of five. Jets Fan ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.75. "We bought this horse with four others back in Maryland," said winning trainer Brent Sumja. "One trainer came over and told me he didn't know why I bought that one. He said he had all kinds of problems." But winning rider Joey Castro said that's apparently all in the past. "This horse is just very good right now," Castro said.