It was a tough weekend for top Kentucky Derby contenders, as upsets were the rule in important prep races like Gulfstream Park's Florida Derby and the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.
But remember, the Run for the Roses often goes to horses who have learned their trade through adversity, rather than those who cruise through an easy schedule.
On Sunday at Santa Anita, trainer Bob Baffert posted his second major Derby prep victory in as many weekends as Preachinatthebar got the lead in the stretch run of the $250,000 San Felipe and held on to beat the favorite, St Averil, by a nose. Harvard Avenue was third. Action This Day, winner of the 2003 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, ran seventh but that's no upset since no Juvenile winner has ever come back to win the Kentucky Derby.
Baffert said Preachinatthebar, a son of 1997 Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm, "was a little bit late coming around but he ran like we thought he would." The colt won for only the second time in his seventh start. Baffert said he hasn't yet worked out a plan for Preachinatthebar or Wimbledon, who won the Louisiana Derby last week. "I'm just going to see what happens," he said. "All I know is it's nice." He also said Odds On, who ran sixth in the San Felipe, still is a Derby prospect.
St Averil's trainer, Rafael Becerra, said he was "very happy" with his colt's run and will ponder his next race.
Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby resulted in a much bigger upset as Friends Lake, a New York-bred sent to the post at 37-1 odds, closed smartly in the final furlong to catch Value Plus and win by 3/4 length. The Cliff's Edge was third and the even-money favorite, Read the Footnotes, faded to finish fourth after bidding for the lead on the turn. Tapit, previously undefeated, was sixth and found to have mucus in his respiratory system after the race.
Trainer John Kimmel said he would consider training Friends Lake up to the Kentucky Derby. "It's so tough to keep coming back and holding good form. If he can run a race like this off an eight-week layoff, we might think about not running him again until the Kentucky Derby," he said.
Jerry Bailey, who rode Read the Footnotes, said that colt's tough race in the Fountain of Youth may have cost him. "He was comfortable when he went after the leader, but he just didn't fire his 'A game' today," Bailey said.
Another upset might have affected the chances of this year's filly contender for the Kentucky Derby, Halfbridled.
Halfbridled, making her first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last October, lost her undefeated standing by finishing second in Saturday's $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks. Chasing the leaders, the daughter of Unbridled came up 1 1/2 lengths short of Silent Sighs with A.P. Adventure third. Silent Sighs, a Benchmark filly, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.84, picking up her fourth straight win and first in open company. In her last outing, Silent Sighs captured the Sunshine Millions Oaks.
Trainer Richard Mandella said Sunday Halfbridled came out of the Santa Anita Oaks "fine." But he wasn't talking about the chances of her running against males on the first Saturday in May. "I don't want to talk about it," he said. "I'm just aiming her for that weekend. She'll run either Friday (in the Kentucky Oaks) or Saturday."
On Sunday at Tampa Bay Downs, Limehouse beat the weekend's "upset bias," ranging up from off the pace to win the $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby by a neck over Mustanfar. Swingforthefences was third with a late run. Limehouse, a chestnut son of Grand Slam, was coming off a nice victory in the Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park in his last start for trainer Todd Pletcher. He now has won five of eight starts. The 1 1/16 mile went in 1:43.99.
"I think the Blue Grass (at Keeneland) is an awfully logical spot considering the colt broke his maiden at Keeneland and ran a bang up race in the Breeders' Futurity there," Pletchers said. "We'll put our heads together in the next few days."
In other Derby preps:
-- Minister Eric, runner-up in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, finally made his first start as a 3-year-old on Saturday, finishing third in a 6 1/2-furlong event on the turf. "At least it's a start," said trainer Richard Mandella. He said it's unlikely Minister Eric will run in the Santa Anita Derby.
-- The race immediately following the Florida Derby produced another minor upset as Wynn Dot Comma raced past pace-setting Chapel Royal on the turn for home in the 7-furlong Swale Stakes, then just held off favorite Eurosilver to win by a head. Dashboard Drummer was a distant third. Wynn Dot Comma, who has never run farther than 7 furlongs in the afternoon, is not nominated to the Triple Crown. But Nick Zito, trainer of Eurosilver, said the son of Unbridled's Song will move ahead from his effort. "Other than winning, we can't be disappointed," Zito said. "The one thing I know for certain is that this horse is going into the Blue Grass (at Keeneland, April 3)." The win was jockey Edgar Prado's 5,000th.
-- There Goes Rocket started as the odds-on favorite in Saturday's $50,000 Sportsman's Paradise Stakes at Delta Downs because his connections feared he might not get into next week's Rebel at Oaklawn. They might as well have waited because the colt could do no better than third in a four-horse field at Delta. Britt's Jules came from a pace-stalking position to win by 4 1/4 lengths over Every Advantage. There Goes Rocket trailed throughout and finished 3/4 length farther back. The 7 furlongs went in 1:26.94.
-- Kilgowan, a gray son of Smoke Glacken, survived some bumping a furlong from home, then rallied by pace-setting Capitano to upset Saturday's $200,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields by 1/2 length. The favorite, Seattle Borders, was just up to dead-heat with Capitano for the place and show. Kilgowan, with Chance Rollins in the irons, got the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:43.87. Rollins And trainer Lonnie Arterburn said Kilgowan had some problems in his last race. But, Rollins added, "Today we got a perfect trip. We were never too far back and, when I swung him out, he went on with it." Kent Desormeaux said he couldn't get Seattle Borders to relax early and Jose Valdiva Jr. said Capitano lost his concentration while leading in the stretch. Arterburn said the April 17 California Derby at Bay Meadows will be Kilgowan's next start.
In races that could impact the April 30 Kentucky Oaks:
-- Madcap Escapade continues to take the easier route for trainer Frankie Brothers. The Hennessy filly routed four rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Stonerside Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park, opening up a 7-length lead before jockey Jerry Bailey wrapped up on her. At the line, Madcap Escapade was 4 3/4 lengths better than her nearest rival, La Reina. Unraced as a juvenile, Madcap Escapade now is undefeated -- and really unchallenged -- in three starts. "At some point, she's going to be tested," Brothers said. "The water will get deeper down the line." Saturday's 7-furlong distance was her longest try and Brothers noted, "When she goes farther, she'll be in front. The question is if she keeps rolling." He said the Beaumont at Keenland on April 8 may be the big test, "Or we might train her up to the Kentucky Oaks." Bridge-jumpers produced a $135,395 minus show pool on the Forward Gal, with $754,502 of the $713,353 total pool bet on Madcap Escapade.
-- Ender's Sister was eased back in Sunday's $150,000 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, then came on again in the stretch run to catch Menifeeque for the victory. America America was third. Ender's Sister, a Kentucky-bred daughter of A.P. Indy, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.66 under Pat Day. "I eased off the leaders on the backside," said Day, "and when I called on her to respond, she responded beautifully."
In other weekend racing:
Golden Sonata trailed by as much as 20 lengths in the early stages of Saturday's $200,000 Oaklawn Breeders' Cup Stakes. But jockey Carlos Marquez wasn't worried and his confidence turned out to be justified. "If I was that far behind, I was sure they were going very fast up front," Marquez said. Indeed, the leaders came back quickly. Golden Sonata swung out to mid-track for room and blew by them all, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Keys to the Heart, with Mayo On the Side third. The favorite, Spectacular Lisa, finished fourth. The winner, a 5-year-old daughter of Mr. Prospector, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.32 and paid $60.60 on a $2 win ticket. Trainer Nick Morris said the victory likely puts Golden Sonata in the $500,000 Apple Blossom on April 3.
Sunday, Sonic West scored a mild upset in winning the $100,000 Razorback Handicap by 2 3/4 lengths over Crafty Shaw. The odds-on favorite, Pie N Burger, led early but faded to finish third. Sonic West, a Kentucky-bred, 5-year-old son of West By West, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.56.
Sightseek ratified her status at the top of the distaff division with a rousing, 7 1/2-length victory in Sunday's $200,000 Rampart Handicap. With Jerry Bailey along for the ride, the 5-year-old daughter of Distant View sat beind the early pace until the quarter pole, then just took over. The Equibase chart caller said she won "easily" in 1:51.07. Redoubled Miss was second and Lead Story third. "Anybody could have ridden her," Bailey said. Trainer Bobby Frankel said he is considering Churchill Downs as the next stop for Sightseek.
Newfoundland went to the lead entering the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 Skip Away Handicap, then held off Supah Blitz in the late going to win by 1/2 length. Bowman's Band, the favorite, was a non-threatening third. Newfoundland, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Storm Cat, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.26. "Once he got to the lead, it was easy," said winning rider John Velazquez. "The only thing he still has to learn is when he gets to the lead, he wants to pull up."
While Sightseek was winning easily at Gulfstream Park on Sunday, Adoration was doing the same on the other coast. Adoration closed well to take the lead in the stretch run of the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap and inched clear to win by 2 lengths over Star Parade. Bare Necessities was third. Adoration was the upset winner of last fall's Breeders' Cup Distaff while Sightseek finished fourth in that race as the odds-on favorite. She finished Sunday's event in 1:48.85 under Mike Smith. "When I got on her today and was warming her up, she was just oozing confidence," Smith said. "She was jogging nice, she was relaxed and striding out like she owned the place." Trainer David Hofmans said he will consider the Vanity at Hollywood Park on May 9, "But we'll talk that over."
Ender's Shadow - a 43-1 chance on the tote board -- raced on the front "ender" of Saturday's $75,000 Tokyo City Handicap, leading all the way to a 3-length victory over Total Impact. Gift of the Eagle was third in the 1-mile event, clocked in 1:35.80. Ender's Shadow, with Mick Ruiz riding for trainer Jenine Sahadi, is a 4-year-old son of A.P. Indy. Sahadi said Sunday she rode Ruiz, an apprentice, thinking he would get a 10-pound weight break. "I didn't realize you didn't get the weight in a stake," she said.
In Saturday's $100,000 Crystal Water Handicap for California-breds, Lennyfromalibu outfinished Spinelessjellyfish to win by 1/2 length, with Rinaskiddy up to complete a "weird names" trifecta. Lennyfromalibu, toting Alex Solis, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.91.
Tampa Bay Downs
Coney Kitty and Madeira Mist, both Irish-breds, came from well back to finish 1-2 in Sunday's $100,000 Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares. Coney Kitty, with Jose Santos in the irons, moved through traffic to get the lead with a furlong to go and then was fully extended to hold the advantage. She is a 6-year-old daughter of Lycius. The "about" 9 furlongs was clocked in 1:48.83 on firm turf. An objection and a stewards' inquiry resulted from Coney Kitty's drifting out during the stretch drive but the results stood. "It was a tough call but I'm very happy," said Santos.
Golden Gate Fields
Tronare rallied past pace-setting favorite Soud to win Sunday's $125,000 Golden Gate Breeders' Cup Handicap by 1 length. Aly Bubba was third at long odds. Tronare, a Chilean-bred, 6-year-old son of Stuka, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.48. Winning rider Roberto Gonzalez said once he got the lead, "my horse kind of spit the bit. I was just hoping we had enough left in case somebody was coming."
Smok'n Frolic, the odds-on favorite, drew off easily in the final furlong to win Sunday's $100,000 Next Move Handicap by 6 1/2 lengths over Stake. U K Trick rallied from last to finish third, a nose farther back. Smok'n Frolic, a 5-year-old Smoke Glacken mare, raced 9 furlongs in 1:51.55 under Richard Migliore, who said he won despite being carried four-wide on the first turn. "I just let her be happy and when I pushed the button coming to the quarter pole, she responded," Migliore said.
Well Fancied was, appropriately, the favorite in Saturday's $100,000 Toboggan Handicap and performed as expected. After tracking the pace, the 6-year-old Prosper Fager gelding took charge in the stretch run to win by 2 lengths over Gators N Bears. Don Six finished third. Well Fancied ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.06 for Eibar Coa. "Everything went his way," said winning trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. "He had a clean break. He had something to stalk, which he loves. I guess he's just better than these."
Sensibly Chic raced on the lead to win Saturday's $75,000 Broadway Handicap for New York-bred fillies and mares by 1/2 length over Taghkanic. Beautiful America was third with an even trip while the favorite, Golden Damsel, was never in contention and finished last of nine. Sensibly Chic, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor filly, got 7 furlongs in 1:24.31 with Jose Espinoza up.
Iron Halo staged a mild upset in Saturday's $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup. Racing from behind the leaders, the 5-year-old son of Halo Sunshine found room between rivals on the turn and jetted clear, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over stablemate R. Baggio. Taiaslew was third. Iron Halo, an Argentine-bred, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.48.
Ask the Lord had little trouble handling six rivals in Saturday's $50,000 Tejano Run Stakes. The 7-year-old Lord at War gelding raced back of the leaders, saving ground, moved up on the rail on the turn and then took a wider path into the stretch, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Collateral Damage. Play It Out finished third. Ask the Lord ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.82. "I had a lot of horse," said winning rider Rafael Bejarano. "No whipping, nothing. It was very good." Bejarano won seven races on Friday's card and five more Saturday, moving to a record 114 victories for the meeting.
Put Me In Motion got put into motion by jockey Eddie Martin Jr. in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial Handicap. The result: a 1 1/2-length upset victory, with Savorthetime second and the odds-on favorite, Tina Bull, fading to finish third. Put Me In, a 4-year-old daughter of Take Me Out, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.96.
Jorgie Stover upset Saturday's $75,000 Harrison Johnson Memorial Handicap, leading all the way under Kaymarie Kreidel. The odds-on favorite entry of Last Intention and My Request finished second and third. Jorgie Stover finished the 9 furlongs in 1:49.51. "He's always been a problem child and that's how I got to ride him," said Kreidel, who won her first stakes race in Maryland. "He proved today that we make a good connection."
Tamarillo won a duel with Festive Style in deep stretch to win Thursday's $250,000 Melbourne Racing Club UAE Oaks at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai by 1 1/2 lengths. Menhoubah was third. Tamarillo, with Ted Durcan riding for trainer Mazin Al Kurdi, is a British-bred daughter of Daylami. She ran the 2400 meters in 1:51.51.
Gonfilla was a gate-to-wire winner in Thursday's $130,000 Darley Balanchine Stakes over 1777 meters on the turf, winning the two-race Darly Distaff Series.