Bad weather and unpredictable track conditions scrambled the weekend's Kentucky Derby preps for the second straight week -- but not enough to prevent a couple new hot prospects from emerging.
At Santa Anita, Spanish Chestnut went quickly to the fore in Saturday's $150,000 San Rafael Stakes and held on gamely at the end, winning by 3/4 length over Iced Out. Texcess, winner of the $1 million Delta Jackpot last year, finished third and bled. The favorite, Kirkendahl, ran last of five.
Spanish Chestnut, a Florida-bred son of the outstanding South African-bred stallion, Horse Chestnut, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.69 for Gary Stevens. He now has won three of five starts.
"He loves to fight," said Stevens. "He just keeps going. He's a classic colt."
Trainer Patrick Biancone said he feels Spanish Chestnut will be tough to beat because, "If you go with him, you're dead. And if you don't go, he's difficult to catch." Biancone said he plans to keep the colt in California and use the Santa Anita Derby route to the Run for the Roses.
Texcess trainer Paul Aguirre said he was "not too disappointed" because a mile is not his colt's best distance and he was hung out four-wide on a track that was better near the rail. Kirkendahl's trainer, Ted West, said his contender had nothing left at the three-eighths pole.
Texcess originally was expected to skip the San Rafael and instead ship north to run in Saturday's $100,000 Golden Gate Derby at Golden Gate Fields. But with the prospect of a wet track, Texcess stayed south. Ironically, his expected presence in the Derby reportedly had scared off some other contenders and, when all was scratched and done, just three went to the post.
Best of those was Buzzard's Bay, a Florida-bred son of Marco Bay, who led throughout and just held off Sharp Writer to win by a nose. Dover Dere, the 6-10 favorite, pressed the pace, faltered and was allowed to come home as he wished, finishing third and last.
Buzzard's Bay, with Mark Guidry up, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a track eventually labeled "good," in 1:43.69.
"This race was like a match race," said Guidry, a recent transplant from Kentucky. "When you've ridden those, you know you can't let a horse get out there by themselves."
In other early Derby preps during the weekend:
-- The Count Fleet Stakes was finally run Saturday at Aqueduct, a week after the original date was weathered out. The winner of the redrawn event was 11-1 longshot Scrappy T, a Kentucky-bred son of Fit to Fight, who led virtually all the way and beat favorite Naughty New Yorker by a length. Tani Maru was well back in third. The 1 mile and 70 yards took 1:42.41 over a "good" inner track. "He just keeps going the right way for us," said winning trainer Robert Bailes. Scrappy T and Naughty New Yorker are both expected to move on to the Whirlaway on Feb. 12. Last year's winner of the Count Fleet was eventual Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Smarty Jones.
-- Overbrook Farm's Storm Surge won a three-horse fight to the finish in Saturday's $100,000 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The homebred son of Storm Cat sat off the early pace, got to the lead early in the stretch run, then had all he could do to beat Smooth Bid by a neck and Kansas City Boy by another head. The 1 mile, with Robby Albarado riding, took 1:39.34. Storm Surge had won two previous stakes events but was trying to show he could handle a distance of ground. "Being on the outside," said Albarado, I was pleased with it because I was able to dictate on where I wanted to be. He relaxed kindly for me on the backside." The colt is trained by Dallas Stewart.
-- Watch out for Harlington. The colt hasn't yet contested a stakes but he is 2-for-2 after winning a Saturday allowance at Gulfstream Park. More to the point is his breeding. Harlington is a son of 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, out of the champion racemare Serena's Song. "He's bred well enough for me to think that distance is not a problem," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "Anything is a possibility, including the Fountain of Youth."
Among the 3-year-old fillies looking forward to the Kentucky Oaks:
-- Breeders' Cup winner and likely Eclipse Award winner Sweet Catomine had no trouble beating four rivals in Sunday's $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita. With David Flores aboard, the Storm Cat filly stalked the pace, came to the leaders turning for home and edged clear under urging to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Pussycat Doll was second and On London Time was third. Sweet Catomine ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.77. "She wasn't 100 percent fit for this race," admitted trainer Julio Canani. "I never had her cranked up." Canani said he will push on with Sweet Catomine to the Las Virgenes on Feb. 12.
-- Amazing Buy stuck close to the pace, then got clear in the stretch to win Sunday's $75,000 Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct by 2 1/2 lengths over Pelham Bay. Pretty Partisan was third. Amazing Buy is a Kentucky-bred daughter of High Yield. Norberto Arroyo had the winning ride for the Paraneck Stable and trainer Jennifer Pederson.
-- The Better Man Can upset Saturday's $100,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes at Fair Grounds, stalking the pace, edging to the lead in the stretch and holding off Enduring Will to win by a neck. The odds-on favorite, Punch Appeal, led but faded to finish third. "She's remarkable," winning jockey E.J. Perrodin said of the Louisiana-bred daughter of Lord Avie. "She's a nice filly." The Better Man Can also won the Louisiana Futurity three weeks earlier and now has four win from five starts.
In other weekend racing:
Bullish Luck rallied from last to win Sunday's Steward's Cup at Sha Tin in Hong Kong -- the first leg of the Triple Crown Series in the former colony. Dropping back to a mile after just missing in the Hong Kong Cup last month, Bullish Luck ran just as trainer Tony Cruz instructed jockey Christophe Soumillion. Though well behind the leaders, "I was traveling well, nice and quiet, 600 meters out and I knew I would be able to finish in the first three and maybe win," Soumillion said. Ain't Here was second and Palette natural third. Added Cruz: "Bullish Luck didn't have things go his way in the Hong Kong Cup. So it's nice to make up for that defeat."
Minister Eric got to the lead a mid-stretch in Saturday's $200,000 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes and held on to beat Mass Media by 1/2 length. Skipaslew was 3 lengths farther back in third. Minister Eric, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Old Trieste, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.14 with Rene Douglas in the irons. "Taking the blinkers off turned him around," said winning trainer Richard Mandella. "You could see him relax today."
Also Saturday, Chattahoochee War came from far back to win the $75,000 Hill Rise Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf. The War Chant colt, also with Douglas calling the shots, rallied wide to get the lead and beat Eastern Sand by 1/2 length. Littlebitofzip was third. Chattahoochee War covered 1 mile on "good" turf in 1:37.38.
Girl Warrior battled from behind to win Sunday's $150,000 El Encino Stakes for 4-year-old fillies. Under Victor Espinoza, the daughter of Elusive Quality stalked the pace, got through on the inside and was all out to hold the advantage by a head over A.P. Advantage. Talow was third. Girl Warrior ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.76.
Ambition Unbridled worked for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Dr. A.B. Leggio Memorial Handicap, got to the front and held on to win an amazing blanket finish that found only about 1 length separating the first seven horses. Tara's Touch was second, followed by Our Love. The favorite, Dyna Da Wyna, faded and finished 11th of 13 starters. Ambition Unbridled, a 4-year-old, gray daughter of Unbridled's Song, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:04.10 with Corey Lanerie riding.
Also Saturday, America Alive came from last of 11 to win the $100,000 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap by a head over Honor in War. Rapid Proof was third, just another nose back. America Alive, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of American Chance, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:44.43, toting Robby Albarado.
Saintliness jumped right to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Affectionately Handicap for fillies and mares and held on to win by 3/4 length over Miss Fortunate. Mariakel was third. Saintliness, a 5-year-old daughter of Holy Bull, bred in Kentucky, ran the 1 1/16 mile on the inner track in 1:44.89. Richard Migliore had the winning ride.
Quest came from far back under a patient Pat Day to win Saturday's $60,000 Lure Stakes by 3 lengths over Judiths Wild Rush. Gran Cesare was third and the favorite, Tap Day, finished fifth. Quest, a 5-year-old son of Seeking the Gold, finished the 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:29.00.
Mr. Boomer, an 18-1 longshot, rallied smartly down the stretch to win Saturday's $125,000 Pepsi Cola Handicap for New Mexico-bred 3-year-olds by 1 3/4 lengths. C.G's Dollar was second and Abullwithapurpose finished third. Mr. Boomer, a son of In Excessive Bull, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.19.
Tampa Bay Downs
Portsea dueled with pace-setting Lady in Pink for the first mile of Saturday's $60,000 Sandpiper Stakes, then dusted that rival at mid-stretch and went on to win by 5 3/4 lengths. Lady in Pink held on for second, with Joyous Song third under the wire. The 6 furlongs over a wet-fast track went in 1:11.26.
Jim Thirds Bolero upset Saturday's $50,000 Native Dancer Stakes, closing from well off the pace to win by a nose over Little Matth Man. Tidal Wave was third and the favorite, Irish Colony, checked in fourth. Jim Thirds Bolero, with Ryan Fogelsonger in the irons, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.48.
Golden Marlin angled out of the turn into the stretch and went on to win Saturday's $50,000 Wishing Well Stakes by 1 length over Jinny's Gold. Moonlit Romance was third. Golden Marlin is a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Marlin. Sent off as the odds-on favorite, the mare finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.11 over a "good" track.