Players trying to figure out a fantasy stable at the end of last year or early this year would have spotted High Limit as a Derby contender if they kept a close eye on last fall's races at Delaware Park, where the Maria's Mon colt won both his October starts -- by margins of 10 1/2 and 7 3/4 lengths.
But then High Limit vanished, shipped to California, transferred from trainer Dick Dutrow to Bobby Frankel, grabbed a quarter, healed and shipped to Florida to resume training. He resurfaced for his 2005 debut in a tough spot -- the $600,000 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.
At that, the New Orleans crowd spotted him as a contender and sent him off as the luke-warm favorite. And the colt responded, leading virtually all the way to a 4-length victory over Vicarage, with Storm Surge third. High Limit got the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:42.74 and appeared well within himself.
He beat some apparent talent, too. Storm Surge won the Sugar Bown and the Lecompte in his last two starts, both a Fair Grounds. Scipion, who won the Risen Star at Fair Grounds in his last outing, could do no better than sixth on Saturday. Kansas City Boy, second in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream last time, finished seventh.
"The first time you run a horse, you never know how they are going to run," Frankel said. "He seems to run for everybody. He's a good horse. Hopefully this race didn't take too much out of him. Next up? Probably the Wood or the Blue Grass. We'll have to see how he comes out of this race."
Another lesson on early Derby selection: Declan's Moon.
The 2-year-old champion, undefeated and winner of the Santa Catalina in his last outing, has sustained a minor knee injury that will force him to miss the Kentucky Derby, trainer Ron Ellis said Friday. The Maryland-bred gelding may undergo surgery but Ellis said the injury is not career-threatening and he expects Declan's Moon back on the track for a fall campaign.
-- Also Saturday, Uncle Denny shipped up the West Coast to Bay Meadows to win the $200,000 El Camino Real Derby handily. The In Excess colt, with Russell Baze aboard, dueled with a longshot speedball, got to the front on the turn for home and cruised under the wire 2 1/4 lengths to the good of Wannawinemall. Buzzard's Bay was third. Uncle Denny ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in1:42.22, picking up his fourth win in five lifetime starts. He was fourth in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in his last outing.
-- It wasn't a stakes event but Bellamy Road was as impressive as many stakes winners in a Saturday allowance event at Gulfstream Park. Owned by George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stables and trained by Nick Zito, the Florida-bred son of Concerto won by 15 3/4 lengths and Zito said he may be considered for the Wood Memorial. He wasn't even the favorite in Saturday's race. That honor went to Dearest Mon, who finished fourth at odds-on.
In races for Kentucky Oaks hopefuls:
-- There was no doubt Sweet Catomine was at the top of the list of 3-year-old fillies even before winning Sunday's $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks by 3 lengths over Memorette. The question was whether she will continue to run against outclassed fillies or, at some point, take on males and perhaps point to the Kentucky Derby. Saturday's effort under Corey Nakatani provided some direction. Sweet Catomine, a daughter of Storm Cat, rallied from sixth and won easily, finishing in 1:44.44. She now has won five straight races. "Can she handle the boys?" asked Nakatani. "That's what we're going to find out." Owner Marty Wygod said the plan is to start the filly in the Santa Anita Derby on April 9. "As far as the Kentucky Derby, we would not take that risk with her unless we thought in our opinion she's the horse to beat," Wygod said. Trainer Julio Canani said only, "She's the best filly that ever lived. She's going to prove it this year."
-- Summerly was easily best of class in Saturday's $300,000 Fair Grounds Oaks in New Orleans. The Kentucky-bred Summer Squall filly, with Jerry Bailey up, went to the lead under some restraint and wasn't challenged, winning by 4 3/4 lengths. Carlea was second and Runway Model third. Summerly now has won four of six starts. She also won the Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds in her last start. Bailey said he was happy to be able to set a reasonable pace on the lead. "I was more concerned about how much I had to use her (in the stretch) -- saving some for the next race and the race after that -- enough to win, but not enough to use her." Trainer Steve Asmussen said the effort was "a lot for her to build on, confidence-wise."
In other weekend racing:
Vengeance Of Rain had to go wide in Sunday's Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin Race Course. But once jockey Anthony Delpech committed his mount, the horse did the rest, rallying to win by 2 3/4 lengths over Russian Pearl. Sambuca was third. "He's truly a champion," trainer David Ferraris said. "I was concerned when the pace was eased and he was trapped four-wide in midfield. But he just accelerated like a rocket. He's such a great horse." He said he may send Venegance Of Rain on to the April 24 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup -- the first leg of the World Racing Series Championship. That event is shaping up as an early showdown among international stars such as Epalo, Cherry Mix and Alexandere Goldrun.
Two years ago, Badge of Silver won the Risen Star at Fair Grounds by 10 lengths and looked like a legit Kentucky Derby contender. But then he finished a well-beaten sixth behind Funny Cide in the Louisiana Derby and was done for the year. Sparingly raced in the intervening 24 months, the Silver Deputy colt got back on track with a second-place finish to Lion Tamer in the Cigar Mile last November, then won the Hal's Hope in his 2005 debut at Gulfstream. So it was no surprise when he led virtually all the way Saturday in winning the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap by 1 length as the favorite. Limehouse was second and Second of June was third. The 9 furlongs went in 1:48.78. Jerry Bailey was up on Badge of Silver for trainer Bobby Frankel. "I really didn't want to go to the lead," Bailey said. "But Bobby told me in the paddock to take advantage of the inside post and go, so I did that and he did everything else."
Warning Zone made her first U.S. start a winning one, capturing Saturday's $100,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial Handicap by 1 length over Sister Swank. Gamble to Victory was third. Warning Zone, bred and previously raced in South Africa by trainer Mike de Kock, sat off the early pace and got clear between rivals in the late going under urging from jockey John Velazquez. The 5-year-old mare finished the 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:31.29, picking up her fifth win in eight career starts. She now is owned by Team Valor and trained by Todd Pletcher. "I didn't know what to expect on his filly," said Pletcher assistant Michael McCarthy. "It looked like it was going to be a paceless race by the way things looked on paper. It wasn't surprising that she was that close to the lead."
Tarlow rushed up to the lead after an awkward break in Saturday's $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational, rated nicely for jockey Patrick Valenzuela and then just survived a late rally by Dream of Summer to win by a nose. The favorite, Miss Loren, also closed well to take third. Tarlow, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Stormin Fever, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.41. "Patrick is one of the great speed riders in the world," said winning trainer John Shirreffs, "so I just left it up to Pat." Valenzuela said he was "planning to pay it however the race came out. My filly broke so alertly that I was forced to make the lead."
Also Saturday, Cozy Guy stayed close to embattled leaders Early Snow and Running Free in the $100,000 Crystal Water Handicap for Cal-breds, put in a bid outside the leaders in the stretch and prevailed by 1 length over Early Snow. Running Free held third. Cozy Guy, with Alex Solis up, ran 1 mile on firm turf in course-record time of 1:33.50. "Such a good horse. Very talented," Solis said.
Sir Shackleton served notice he will be a force in the sprint division this year by winning a stretch battle with Lion Tamer to capture Saturday's $200,000 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship by 1 1/2 lengths. Clock Stopper was third, followed by Silver Wagon in fourth. Sir Shackleton, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Miswaki, chased the pace three-wide before going to the front in the final sixteenth. With Javier Castellano up, the colt finished 7 furlongs in track-record time of 1:21.64. He now has won both of this year's starts for trainer Nick Zito. Last year, he won the Derby Trial and West Virgina Derby. Lion Tamer was making his first start of the year after winning the Cigar Mile in his 2004 finale in November. "He's stepping up at the right time," said owner/breeder Tracy Farmer. Zito said he "would like to take this horse to Keeneland for the Commmonwealth Breeders' Cup and then, hopefully, go on to the Met Mile (at Belmont on May 30)."
Sunday, Old Forester came from a pace-stalking position to win the $100,000 Canadian Turf Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths over Gulch Approval. The favorite, Muqbil, checked in third, a head farther back. Old Forester, with Eibar Coa in the irons, saved ground through the early going, swung out into the stretch and got the lead with a furlong to go. He finished the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:38.20.
Also Sunday, Sand Springs led all the way to win the $100,000 Honey Fox Handicap for fillies and mares, holding on to beat Potra Fabulous by a nose. Shaconage was third and the favorite, River Belle, faded in the lane to get home fifth. Sand Springs, a 5-year-old daughter of Dynaformer, ran the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:38.41 with Jerry Bailey up.
Injustice upset Saturday's $175,000 Azeri Breeders' Cup Stakes, leading most of the way to a 1/2-length victory over Colony Band. The favorite, Island Sand, never got to contention and finished well back in third. Injustice, a 4-year-old Lit de Justice filly, finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.40 while making her first start for trainer Wayne Catalano. She now has three wins from four starts this year on the Texas/Louisiana/Arkansas circuit.
Sunday, Added Edge had to rally five wide to get room in the $125,000 Razorback Breeders' Cup Handicap. But when the 5-year-old son of Smart Strike got free, he made the most of the situation, nipping pace-setting Mauk Four at the wire to win by a neck. Absent Friend was third. Added Edge, with Luis Quinonez in the irons, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:43.88.
Primary Suspect upset odds-on favorite Shake You Down in Saturday's $100,000 Toboggan Handicap, rallying in the late going to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Shake You Down finished second with Houston's Prayer third. Primary Suspect, a 4-year-old son of Hennessey, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.47.
High Peaks got the early lead in Saturday's $75,000 Broadway Handicap for New York-bred fillies and mares and made the advantage hold up, winning by 1 length over Travelator. Schemer was home third. High Peaks, a 4-year-old filly by Peaks and Valleys, got the 6 furlongs on a fast inner track in 1:10.44.
Tempus Fugit flew out of the gate in Saturday's $50,000 Wintergreen Stakes, had an easy time dusting the competition and drew off in the stretch to win by 9 1/4 lengths. Plumlake Lady pressed the pace in the early going and then was 7 1/2 lengths better than the third-place finisher, Honorable Cat. Tempus Fugit, a 5-year-old daughter of 1996 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.95. "When she gets the lead, she gets brave," said owner Rob Mitchell. "You want to say she can run all day. But, in reality, she is a true miler." He said he will consult with trainer Bernie Flint to seek a 7-furlong race for Tempus Fugit at Keeneland.
Tampa Bay Downs
Tap Day missed the break in Saturday's $65,000 Budweiser Challenge Stakes, causing trainer Rob Raider an immediate stab of concern. But the 4-year-old, Virginia-bred son of Pleasant Tap then comfortably stalked the pace, launched a bid as the field turned for home and was along in time to win by 1 length over the favorite, Above the Wind. Attack the Books was third with a late rally. Tap Day ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.58. "I was sick when he broke and didn't make the lead," said Raider. "He's a funny horse. He won't run if he's not close. That's why he's eight for 16 (with just one second). He either wins or is nowhere."
Hawthorne Race Course
Raving Rocket led almost all the way to a 3-length victory in Saturday's $40,000 Flag Officer Stakes for 3-year-olds. Win Me Over was second and Royal Flyer third. The odds-on favorite, Humor At Last, checked in fourth of just five starters while coming off a good third-place finish in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in his last outing. Raving Rocket, a Kentucky-bred son of Lil's Lad, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:49.19. The win was his third in six career starts but it was his first try around two turns for trainer Larry Rivelli. "Larry gave me orders to just let him run comfortably," said winning jockey E.T. Baird. "It was unpredictable with so many horses in here never going long. He just had to find his spot."
Chrusciki got by pace-setting favorite Glory of Love in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 Conniver Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Glory of Love held second and Richetta was third. Chrusciki, a 5-year-old daughter of Polish Numbers, ran 7 furlongs in 1:26.11. Three of the eight starters went down in a chain-reaction spill on the turn.
Latenite Special came from off the pace to win Saturday's $100,000 Sydney Valentini Handicap for New Mexico-bred distaffers by 2 1/2 lengths over Betsy N. My Desert Lady was third. Latenite Special was bumped at the start but recovered and settled in mid-pack until the stretch, when she went quickly to the front and drover clear. She finished the 1 mile in 1:38.51.
Bar Bailey rallied nicely through the stretch to win Sunday's $50,000 Santa Teresa Handicap for fillies and mares by 4 1/2 lengths over Red Lifesaver. Sexy Boots was third. Bar Bailey, a 5-year-old, Colorado-bred daughter of Bates Motel, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.83.
Believe Im Special pressed the pace set by Kim's Gem in Saturday's $50,000 Bayou State Stakes for Louisiana-breds, then went by in the stretch run and won off by 1 length. Mister Ajax finished third. Believe Im Special, a 6-year-old Believe It gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:20.30.