Some of the sport's big-name trainers were showcasing Kentucky Derby candidates in winners' circles around the country during the weekend. So was a veteran Midwestern trainer less often seen at the top of the list of Derby contenders.
D. Wayne Lukas had a winner in California; Nick Zito in Florida; Shug McGaughey in New York. And in perhaps the most hotly contested race of the weekend, Bob Holthus saddled the winner in Arkansas. Now each needs one more good race to get to the May 7 Run for the Roses.
-- In California, Lukas got Consolidator back on track in Saturday's $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the San Vicente last time out.
With a bit more training under his girth, Consolidator stalked the pace Saturday, got clear at the top of the stretch and won off by 6 1/2 lengths over Giacomo. Don't Get Mad was third, Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilco was fourth and the favorite, Roman Ruler, was last in his first start as a 3-year-old. Consolidator, a son of Storm Cat, ran 1 1/16 mile on a wet-fast track in 1:40.11.
"These are good 3-year-olds and I was a little light on him (before the San Vicente)," Lukas said. "I probably pampered him a little bit but I went back and said, 'I know how to get there. I've been there before. I know what to do.'"
"We've got all options now," he added, saying the April 16 Blue Grass at Keeneland is "enticing," as is the April 9 Santa Anita Derby. "The Blue Grass gives us an extra week and he has an affinity for that race track," Lukas said. "I like the extra week." Looking forward to the Kentucky Derby, the three-time Derby winner added, "We want to win the damn thing."
-- At odds of 1-20, Sun King did what he had to do in Saturday's $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs. Sent right to the lead by jockey Edgar Prado, the Kentucky-bred son of 1999 Kentucky Derby winner Charismatic turned back a pair of challengers by mid-stretch and drew clear to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Forever Wild was second and Global Trader third. Sun King finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.98.
"I was very happy with the way he ran," said Zito. "I was surprised he went to the lead. I think Edgar wanted to school him and see how much horse he really had and he did a good job. Sometimes you have to do that. The horse is versatile." Zito said he is looking to the Blue Grass at Keeneland as Sun King's final Derby prep.
"He's on top compared to other horses," Zito said. "He has the credentials and he's a special horse. He always runs a good race."
-- Survivalist pulled off a minor upset for McGaughey in Saturday's $150,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in New York. Trailing most of the field early, the Danzig colt had to come five-wide on the turn to get room, then just got by Pavo and favorite Galloping Grocer to win by 3/4 length. Pavo finished second but was disqualified to fourth when the stewards found his rider's whip had struck a rival inadvertently. Galloping Grocer was promoted to second and Naughty New Yorker to third.
Survivalist, a Phipps Stable homebred, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.61 with Richard Migliore up. It was the colt's second win in five starts. One of those losses was to Sun King in Florida.
"I'm tickled to death with the way Survivalist ran," said McGaughey. "How far he wants to go, I don't know. What I'm going to do, I don't know. I'll talk to Mr. Phipps when the time comes. I would think the Wood Memorial is a good possibility."
-- While Lukas, Zito and McGaughey are fixtures at big-name races, Bob Holthus is only an occasional visitor. He has saddled two Kentucky Derby starters -- fourth-place finisher Proper Reality in 1988 and Our Trade Winds, who finished 13th in 1972. He has another candidate in Greater Good -- the winner of Saturday's $250,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Allowed to settle behind the leaders by jockey Jon McKeey, Greater Good launched his bid at mid-stretch and got past highly regarded Rockport Harbor to win by 1/2 length. Batson Challenge was third at odds of 60-1 while Afleet Alex, one of the leaders in the Kentucky Derby futures books, faded badly to finish last of six. Afleet Alex later was found to have a lung infection, his trainer said.
Greater Good, a Kentucky-bred son of Intidab, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.92. He now has five wins from seven starts.
"I've always felt that Greater Good was a good horse," Holthus said. "Now, he might become a great horse."
In races for 3-year-old fillies:
-- R Lady Joy rolled down the stretch for a stunning, 9-length upset victory over favorite Toll Taker in Saturday's $150,000 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs. Gotta Rush was third. R Lady Joy, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Vicar, ran 1 1/16 mile in stakes-record time of 1:44.58 under Jose Lezcano. She now has two wins from five starts and trainer Kirk Ziadie is raising his expectations. "We have no idea where the next race will be," he said. "She's not nominated to anything. But it's always a thought to nominate her to the Kentucky Oaks. She seems to get better every race."
-- Dixie Talking left the chalk players talking to themselves after Saturday's $100,000 Cicada Stakes at Aqueduct. Dispatched at odds of 27-1, the Maryland-bred Dixieland Band filly came from near the back of the field to win by 1 1/4 lenghts over Acey Deucy, with the favorite, Alfonsina, finishing third while tiring through the stretch. Dixie Talking, with Alan Garcia up, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:23.04. Dixie Talking now has four wins from five starts after a disappointment in her last start in Maryland. Trainer Robin Graham said she will return to Pimlico and point to the Black Eyed Susan in May.
-- Round Pond stayed close to pace-setting Rugula in Sunday's $75,000 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park, then went to the lead at the top of the stretch and won off by 5 3/4 lengths. Rugula held second and Southern was third. Round Pond, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Awesome Again, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.16. She is trained by John Servis.
In other weekend racing:
Rapid Proof upset Saturday's $500,000 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap, winning by a head over A to the Z and another nose over America Alive. The favorite, Burning Sun, finished fifth. Rapid Proof, a locally-based 5-year-old son of Fast Play, got the "about" 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:50.99. Rapid Proof went to the post at 31-1 and it was the seventh straight year this race has been won by a longshot. "What a finish there," said winning trainer Hal Wiggins. "Whoever handicapped this race must have done a hell of a job." Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., winner of the 2004 Eclipse Award as top apprentice jockey, said Rapid Proof "was so relaxed. When we turned for home, the rail opened up and we went through. It was just our day today, I guess."
Gold Storm surged to the lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $125,000 Duncan F. Kenner Breeders' Cup Handicap, then held on to win by a head over Old Rebel with Premier Performer third. Gold Storm, a 5-year-old son of Seeking the Gold, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:08.99 with E.J. Perrodin up.
Also Saturday, Prince T. came from just off the pace to win the $100,000 Gentilly Handicap for Louisiana-bred 3-year-olds. Encinal was second and Betnow third. Prince T., a son of Royal Anthem, finished the "about" 1 mile on firm turf in 1:39.64.
Megahertz came from last to win Sunday's $200,000 Santa Ana Handicap by 1/2 length over Katdogawn. Valentine Dancer, the early leader, held on for third. Megahertz, now 6 years old, finished the 9-furlong turf event in 1:47.95. "It brings tears to my eyes to watch her run," said winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "She's little and she just does things that amaze you all the time. It's just unbelievable. You watch them and they're 10 lengths in front of her and you think she's got no chance to catch up and here she comes." Frankel said he will point Megahertz to the Santa Barbara Handicap next month.
Tampa Bay Downs
Rizzi Girl, trapped on the inside for most of the race, finally got running room in the stretch run of Saturday's $125,000 Hillsborough Stakes and was just up in time to win by a neck over Sister Star. Noisette was third and the favorite, Snowdrops, finished fourth. The 9 furlongs on "good" turf went in 1:52.59. "She likes to run on the outside in the clear," said winning rider Oliver Csatillo. "I knew we had it when she kicked in when we got to the straight." The 7-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Rizzi, now has 14 wins from 63 career starts.
Whenthedoveflies did her flying around the turn and early in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 Holiday Inn Express Stakes, then held on for the victory over Scattering Breezes. Relaunch Star was third. Whenthedoveflies, a 5-year-old Dove Hunt mare, completed the 5 furlongs on "good" turf in 57.62 seconds. She now has 11 wins in 18 starts. Saturday's victory was her second against male competition.
Adreamisborn won a stretch battle with Night Bokbel to take Saturday's $125,000 Sanford Breeders' Cup Handicap by a head. Fantastic Spain was another 1 1/2 lengths back in third and the favorite, Gold Ruckus, checked in fourth. Adreamisborn, with Russell Baze up, got the 1 1/16 mile on "soft" turf in 1:46.28. He is a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Kris S.
Cape Hope seems to have found a home on the green course. The Cape Town filly rallied nicely from off the pace to win Saturday's $100,000 Herecomesthebride Stakes by 3/4 length over Dynamite Lass, with Dansetta Light third. Cape Hope, who completed the 9 furlongs in 1:48.28 under Jose Santos, now has won four straight since switching to grass. "She got banged up in her last race on the dirt and we had to back off her a bit," said Joanne McNamara, assistant to winning trainer Dallas Stewart. "But when she was ready to come back, the race that was there was on the turf. So we just put her out there." Added Santos, "She's been dominant since moving to the grass."
In Sunday's, $100,000 Hurricane Bertie Handicap for fillies and mares, Lilah went quickly to the front after being bumped at the break and extended her margin to win by 3 lengths over Forty Moves. Molto Vita was third. Lilah, an 8-year-old daughter of Defrere, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.45.
Lusty Latin led from gate to wire in Saturday's $75,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Handicap, winning by an easy 5 lengths over Ouagadougou. Jim Thirds Bolero was third and the favorite, Penobscot Bay, finished fourth. Lusty Latin, a 6-year-old El Prado gelding, got the 9 furlongs in 1:52.03 on a fast track.
Discreet Hero jumped out to the early lead in Saturday's $50,000 Tejano Run Stakes, turned back a hot challenge from Thermostat and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Paging was second and Regal Reproach was third. With Justin Vitek up, Discreet Hero, a 7-year-old gelding by Honour and Glory, ran 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:49.50, obviously enjoying a return to Kentucky after two disappointing starts at Oaklawn. "He didn't like the racetrack at Hot Springs," said William Deakins, assistant to trainer Bernie Flint. "He came back home and found a track he likes." In three starts at the northern Kentucky oval, Discreet Hero has two wins and a second.
Munificence led from 'go to whoa' in Saturday's $50,000 Sportsman's Paradise Stakes for 3-year-olds, finishing 1 3/4 lengths to the good of Reno Bob. El Batallon was third. Munificence, the odds-on favorite, finished the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.67. He is a Maryland-bred son of Allen's Prospect.
Proud Cardenal won Saturday's $100,000 Phoenix Gold Cup by a nose over pace-setting Flying Supercon. Moving just in time down the stretch, Proud Cardenal came along outside Flying Supercon to get the nod. The 5-year-old, Cal-bred son of Proud Irish ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.42.
Muir Beach allied from well off the early pace to win Saturday's $40,000 Sun City Handicap for fillies and mares by 3 3/4 lengths. Pleasant Gulch also came from the back of the eight-horse field to take second and Peace Symbol finished third. Muir Beach, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Skip Away, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.51.