After months of upsets and surprises, the Kentucky Derby hopefuls are starting to run like they're supposed to run.
In Florida, Arkansas and Kentucky, favorites were winners in weekend preps for the Run for the Roses -- now just two months away.
Among them was the acknowledged favorite for the Derby, Declan's Moon, who ran his undefeated streak to five by winning his 3-year-old debut Saturday in the $200,000 Santa Catalina at Santa Anita. The Maryland-bred son of Malibu Moon won the Del Mar Futurity, the Hollywood Prevue and the Hollywood Futurity last year.
In the Santa Catalina, Declan's Moon broke a bit awkwardly and jockey Victor Espinoza was forced to keep him three-wide for most of the 1 1/16 mile. But after stalking the pace set by Spanish Chestnut, Declan's Moon got to the lead with a furlong to go and worked clear to win by 2 lengths.
Going Wild was second and Spanish Chestnut was third. The time was 1:42.41.
"Hopefully this race didn't take too much out of him," said winning trainer Ron Ellis. "He was pricking his ears down there at the end and hopefully this was just what I wanted." He said the April 9 Santa Anita Derby will be the next start for Declan's Moon.
D. Wayne Lukas said Going Wild also will contest the Santa Anita Derby. Patrick Biancone, trainer of Spanish Chestnut, said his horse "came back good and I'm happy with the ride." But he didn't say where his colt will start next.
At Gulfstream Park, High Fly got back on the winning track in Saturday's $300,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes. The Atticus colt had a three-race winning streak snapped in his last outing when he finished third a month ago in the Holy Bull Stakes. He won the Aventura Stakes in January in his first start as a 3-year-old.
Saturday, jockey Jerry Bailey sat High Fly right off the pace, went to the front turning for home and won by 3/4 length over a stubborn Bandini. B.B. Best was third after showing the way. The 1 1/8 mile went in 1:49.70.
"He was real impressive," said winning trainer Nick Zito, who took over High Fly's conditioning from Bill White after his last race. "I knew he was a quality horse after the Aventura. ... The Kentucky Derby could be a good way to go. I'd rather get through the Florida Derby before deciding." Bailey added, "He'll go a mile and a quarter. No question about it. It's just a question of how fast he'll do it."
Also on Saturday's card at Gulfstream, Lost in the Fog remained a viable Derby prospect -- and remained undefeated -- with an impressive, 4 3/4-length victory in the 7-furlong Swale Stakes. With Russell Baze up, the Florida-bred son of Lost Soldier stalked the pace, got to the fore entering the stretch and drew clear. He finished in 1:22.21.
Lost in the Fog almost had been lost in the shuffle. After breaking his maiden at Golden Gate, he won the Arizona Juvenile at Turf Paradise, then shipped across the continent to win the Sunshine Millions Dash against older horses on Jan. 29. But he has not been around two turns and was not an original nominee to the Triple Crown.
"The Florida Derby is a possibility," said winning trainer Greg Gilchrist. "I think the horse likes it here and can do real well." But he also said he will consider the Santa Anita Derby and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. And Baze said he is not worried about distance. "I'm looking forward to having him go two turns," he said. "I can't wait."
At Oaklawn Park, Afleet Alex, runner-up in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, fired up his 3-year-old campaign with an easy win in Saturday's $50,000 Mountain Valley Stakes.
Afleet Alex, a Florida-bred son of Northern Afleet, took back to last in the 6-furlong event but moved nicely when asked by jockey Jeremy Rose. Once he got going, he quickly opened up a nice lead and won by 2 3/4 lengths. The official time was a stakes-record 1:09.50 but Rose galloped Afleet Alex out a mile in 1:39.
"Alex Ran Awesome," said Rose. "He won with plenty of gas left in the tank." The colt is expected to return in the $250,000 Rebel Stakes on March 19 against Rockport Harbor, Greater Good and some others.
Saturday's $50,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park was the only weekend prep not won by the favorite. In that race, Magna Graduate, the second pick in the mutuels, rallied strongly from off the pace to win by 3 3/4 lengths. Pavo was second and the favorite, Malibu Moonshine, finished third.
Magna Graduate, a Kentucky-bred son of Honor Grades, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.94. The race was a bit of a breakthrough. Magna Graduate was third behind High Fly in the Aventura in his last start. He finished a five-race campaign as a 2-year-old by finishing fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs last fall after a second-place finish to Greater Good in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway.
"We really liked his Kentucky Cup race, which brought us back to this race because it's a stepping stone to the Lane's End (on March 26)," said trainer Patrick Byrne. "Who knows about the Kentucky Derby? It's a dream for us. Who knows if we can get there? But the next step is the Lane's End."
Across the globe, things weren't so formful amongst the 3-year-olds.
In Dubai, Parole Board ran away with Saturday's $150,000 Areej Al Bastakiya at 1,800 meters, stamping himself a favorite for the $2 million UAE Derby on March 26. Making just his third start, Parole Board sat off the pace, took charge in the stretch and won by an easy 5 3/4 lengths over Duque de Enghien. Ned Kelly was third. "He is a lovely horse," said winning rider Ted Durcan. "When he was in England, he was looked after and there was no hurry to race him, which I think was the making of him. He won his maiden last week and he is now up to scratch. He has grown up and strengthened well. Hopefully, he will be in the UAE Derby."
In Kentucky Oaks preps:
-- Letgomyecho was the upset winner in Saturday's $150,000 Stonerside Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Kentucky-bred daughter of 1999 Kentucky Derby runner-up Menifee rallied from well back to win by 1/2 length over Little Money Down, with Hot Storm third. The odds-on favorite, previously undefeated Maddalena, faded badly in the final furlong and finished fifth trying to stretch out to the 7-furlong distance. The time was 1:23.24. "That's the way we wanted it to happen and sometimes things work out for the best," said winning trainer Rusty Arnold. He said he will take Letgomyecho to the Ashland at Keeneland on April 9, then to the Kentucky Oaks if all goes well. "That's home for us," he added. Jockey John Velazquez said Maddalena was "forced to go too fast to keep running like that."
-- Also at Gulfstream Saturday, Jill Robin L upset the $150,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes, closing from the back of a seven-filly field to win by a nose over the favorite, In the Gold. Aspen Tree was third after leading. Jill Robin L, a Florida-bred daughter of Precocity, ran 9 furlongs in 1:53.12. "It came down to who was the fittest horse," said Bailey. "It wasn't a dash in the last quarter. It turned into a battle of will and stamina."
In other weekend racing:
Rock Hard Ten rallied nicely from a pace-stalking position to win Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths over Congrats. Borrego was third, completing a $1 trifecta payoff of $950. The favorite, Donn Handicap winner Saint Liam, also made a move on the leaders on the turn for home but tired and finished sixth. Rock Hard Ten, a 4-year-old son of Kris S. from the Mr. Prospector mare Tersa, made a four-wide move leaving the second turn to advance on the leaders, came by pace-setting Grand Reward on the outside and finished well for jockey Gary Stevens. Rock Hard Ten earlier won the Malibu Stakes and the "Big Cap" gave him a Grade I double. "The sky's the limit with him," Stevens said of Rock Hard Ten. Trainer Richard Mandella acknowledged the colt has been asked to do a lot. "We'll give him a little bit of a rest and what that means I don't know exactly but we'll give him a break because we want him to be good later in the year, too."
Also Saturday, Leroidesanimaux led virtually all the way to a 1-length victory in the $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile. Buckland Manor was second with a late move and Sweet Return finished third after pressing the pace all the way. Leroidesanimaux, a 5-year-old Brazilian-bred son of Candy Stripes, ran the 1 mile on "good" turf in 1:33.89 for Jon Court. "I think he'll go beyond a mile," said winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "He's already won at a mile and a sixteenth but I think a mile and an eighth would be no problem."
And in the fourth stakes event on the Saturday card, High Standards upset the $100,000 Baldwin Stakes for 3-year-olds, closing well through the stretch to beat Talking to John by 2 1/2 lengths. Run Thruthe Sun was third and the favorite, Chandtrue, never fired, finishing next-last of seven. Several horses scratched when the race came off the hillside turf course onto the main track. High Standards, a California-bred son of High Brite, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.16 with Edgar Prado aboard. "At some point, we're going to have to try to stretch him out," said winning trainer Martin Jones. "But we'll see how he comes out of the race first and foremost."
Sunday, Shining Energy rallied strongly in the stretch to win the $100,000 La Habra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over the downhill turf course. Shining Energy, a daughter of Rahy, survived some bumping at mid-stretch to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Kohar. Berbatim and Royal Wave dead-heated for third. Shining Energy, the pari-mutuel favorite, finished the "about" 6 1/2-furlong distance in 1:13.61 under Rene Douglas.
Eddington rallied from off the pace to win Saturday's $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap by 3 1/4 lengths over Pies Prospect, with Zakocity third. Eddington, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled, ran 1 3/16 mile in 1:54.74 under Eibar Coa. He was coming off a third-place finish behind Saint Liam and Roses in May in last month's Donn Handicap. "He's been running in tough company," said winning trainer Mark Hennig. "I mean, to run within a few lengths of Saint Liam and Roses in May. ... He's a better horse this year than he was last year." But Hennig said he hasn't yet decided on Eddington's next race.
Funny Cide, winner of the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, posted his first official workout of 2005 Saturday at Gulfstream Park, breezing 3 furlongs in 36 3/5 seconds. Trainer Barclay Tagg had hoped to have him ready for the Gulfstreak Park Handicap but backed off and now is pointing for the Ben Ali Handicap at Keeneland on April 28. "I've brought him back slowly because it's a long year," Tagg said. "He's right on the plan for now."
Sunday, Prince Arch got the lead in the stretch in the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap and held on to win by a nose over Gigli. The favorite, Mustanfar, came from last to take third. Prince Arch, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Arch, ran the 1 3/8 mile on firm turf in 2:11.44 with Brice Blanc in the irons.
Also Sunday, Honey Ryder came from off the pace in the $100,000 Very One Handicap for fillies and mares and just got to the front in time, winning by a neck over Briviesca. Vous was third. Honey Ryder, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Lasting Appeal named after the first James Bond movie heroine, ran the 1 3/8 mile in 2:11.71.
Chiquitin, with Mick Kinane aboard, scored a front-running victory in Saturday's $300,000 Round III of the Maktoum Challenge. Defeated by Jack Sullivan in Round II, Chiquitin, a 4-year-old Argentine-bred horse won this round by 3 1/4 lengths over Elmustanser. Grand Hombre was third. Cherry Mix was fourth and Yard-Arm fifth. Any or all of those top five could play a role in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 26.
Also Saturday, Jack Sullivan won a three-way fight to the finish in the $150,000 Maserati Burj Nahaar, a prep for the $1 million Godolphin Mile on World Cup Day. Fifth coming into the stretch, Jack Sullivan didn't get the lead until eight strides from the wire, moving quickly enough to win by 3/4 length over Grand Emporium. Quais was third.
And Greys Inn won the $200,000 AATI Dubai City of Gold, a prep for the $2 million Dubai Sheema Classic. Greys Inn got the lead with 400 meters to run and scored by 4 3/4 lengths over Tycoon. Pugin was third. "He has won everything back home in South Africa, including the Derby and the Rothmans," said winning rider Weichong Marwing.
Hydrogen saved ground along the rail through most of Saturday's $75,000 Stymie Handicap, began moving on the leaders in the upper stretch and was just up in the late going to win by a nose over the favorite, Aggadan. Song of the Sword was third. Hydrogen, a Kentucky-bred son of 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Pleasant Colony, ran 9 furlongs on the inner track in 1:50.82 with Richard Migliore up.
Tampa Bay Downs
Joyful Ballad advanced on the leaders along the inside in the second turn of Saturday's $60,000 Wayward Lass Stakes, then swung outside for room and took charge, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Slews Final Answer. Grab Bag was third in the 1 1/16-mile event for fillies and mares. Joyful Ballad, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Saint Ballado, finished in 1:44.71 under Jose Lezcano. "I stressed saving ground to Jose," said winning trainer Tom Proctor. "It helps. I don't like to draw outside in any race but it's not as important as it is on the grass."
Uninhibited Song came four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $55,000 Foster City Handicap, took charge and won off by 3 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Secret Corsage. Platinum Princess was third. Uninhibited Song, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Unbridled's Song, ran 1 mile on a wet-fast track in 1:36.38.
Mr. Sulu got first run on the leaders at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Dixie Poker Ace Stakes for Louisiana-breds, got to the front and held on to win by a neck over late-closing Bebe Garcon. Spritely Walker also made a late run to finish third. Mr. Sulu, a 7-year-old gelding by Rail, ran the "about" 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:33.61 with Robby Albarado in the irons.
Hawthorne Race Course
Dutchie was just up at the wire to win Saturday's $40,000 Kissapotamus Stakes by a neck over pace-setting stablemate Pass the Pepper. It was only another neck back to Wildwood Royal in third. Dutchie, with Jesse Campbell in the irons, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.49. The 5-year-old Halo's Image mare now has won five straight races. During that streak, trainer Michael Reavis claimed her from Michele Boyce for $18,000 and Boyce took her back from Reavis a month later for $25,000. She won $25,680 for Saturday's effort. "She's a gamer. She's a racehorse," said Campbell. "I was very impressed that she was able to run down horses that weren't really stopping."
Diamond Wildcat was an impressive winner of Saturday's $50,000 Horatius Stakes for 3-year-olds but that doesn't mean the Kentucky-bred son of Forest Wildcat will be on the Kentucky Derby trail as a result. The colt led most of the way, winning by 8 lengths over the favorite, Distinctive Trick, with Monster Chaser chasing in third. The 6 furlongs took 1:11.91. "He won an allowance race going long, so we tried him in the Whirlaway Stakes," said winning trainer Ben Perkins Jr. "That was two turns and it didn't work out. At about the half-mile pole that day, I said, 'He looks like a sprinter,' so we decided to point for the Horatius."
Proud Cardenal took charge in the stretch run to win Saturday's $50,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Handicap by 4 3/4 lengths over This Chris. Beyond Brilliant was thid and the favorite, Two Down Automatic, was fourth after enduring a rough trip. Proud Cardenal, a 5-year-old, California-bred son of Proud Irish, got the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.21.