High Fly is flying high as a Kentucky Derby candidate after following his assigned flight path perfectly in winning Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.
With Jerry Bailey riding, the Kentucky-bred son of Atticus sat behind speedster B.B. Best, went for the lead with a furlong to go and won by 1 1/2 lengths. Noble Causeway swung five-wide into the stretch and was up for second and B.B. Best was third-best for the second straight time.
High Fly, owned and bred by Live Oak Plantation, now has five wins from six starts and is undefeated in two tries since moving to trainer Nick Zito from Bill White's barn. He won the Fountain of Youth in his last outing after finishing a traffic-troubled third in the Holy Bull in early February.
"It pretty much developed the way I thought it would," Bailey said. "He broke extremely well. He was just as impressive as he was in the Fountain of Youth. I let him run along the last 100 yards. My plan was to lay off B.B. Best and run to the wire. He's got a lot of plusses. He gets you out of trouble."
Zito, who also trains Noble Causeway, said both "ran really huge. They both showed a lot of courage. All the way down the lane, I was yelling, 'Show me your heart! Show me your heart!' And they did. They both can go a mile and a quarter. No question."
There is a question of timing. Because the Florida Derby was pushed back this year from its normal March date, only a somewhat awkward five weeks are left before the Kentucky Derby.
"We'll see what happens," Zito said. "Maybe these are the horses that will show people you can win the Derby off a five-week layoff."
-- At Sunland Park in New Mexico, Thor's Echo won a dramatic stretch duel with Southern Africa in Saturday's $500,000 WinStar Derby, with Sort It Out third. Thor's Echo, with Corey Nakatani up, led most of the way but was headed by Southern Africa at the top of the lane. The Swiss Yodler gelding dug in, battled back and won by 1 length, reversing the order of finish in February's Borderland Derby. The 9 furlongs took 1:49.59. Thor's Echo, trained by Doug O'Neill, Southern Africa, trained by Michael Puhich, and the Bob Baffert-conditioned Sort It Out all remain candidates for the Triple Crown events.
In preps for the Kentucky Oaks:
-- Cee's Irish led most of the way in Saturday's $250,000 WinStar/Sunland Park Oaks, turned back a challenge from longshot Dayglogreen and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths, giving trainer Doug O'Neill and jockey Corey Nakatani a lucrative double in Sunland Park's biggest day of the year. Island Escape was third and the favorite, Pegasus Rose, faded to finish fifth. Cee's Irish, a Cal-bred daughter of Cee's Tizzy, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.66.
In other weekend racing:
Silent Witness joined Ribot, Citation and Cigar as the only Thoroughbreds to win 16 straight races when he came from off the pace Sunday to win the Chairman's Sprint Prize at Sha Tin Race Course in Hong Kong. The victory also earned Silent Witness a bonus of HK$2 million (US$256,500) for sweeping the Champion Sprint Series. Breaking from post No. 13, Silent Witness got good position behind the leaders and took charge with about 300 meters to run. He won by 1 3/4 length over Tiber. "This horse is a symbol for Hong Kong," said winning owner Archie da Silva as fans waved banners in his colors of black with jade crossed sashes. Silent Witness is expected to try for 17 straight in the 1,400-meter Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup on April 24 -- also the day for the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup at Sha Tin.
Honey Rider came from mid-pack to win Saturday's $150,000 Orchid Handicap for fillies and mares by 1/2 length over Ellieonthemarch. Pretty Jane was third and the favorite, Briviesca, tired to finish fourth. Honey Rider, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Lasting Approval, ran 1 1/2 mile on a firm track in 2:27.15 under John Velazquez. The filly shares a name with the first of the James Bond movie heroines. It was the first of three straight stakes victories on the card for Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher. "It was pretty easy," Velazquez said. "I just wanted to be as close as I could without being too far behind. She did what I wanted her to do."
In the $100,000 Artax Handicap, Velazquez booted Value Plus into action leaving the turn and went on to win by 4 lengths over favorite Gygistar. Super Frolic was third. Value Plus, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in track-record time of 1:28.42. "This horse has shown signs of brilliance all along," Pletcher said. "Hopefully, he's learning to put it all together." Those signs of brilliance include a second in last year's Florida Derby (Triva question: without looking it up, who won?), and a fourth behind Eurosilver, Tiger Hunt and Limehouse in the 2003 Breeders' Futurity.
In the next race, the $150,000 Pan American Handicap, Velazquez moved Navesink River toward the leaders three-wide on the final turn, got the advantage and held on to beat Quest Star by 1/2 length. Deputy Lad finished third. Scooter Roach was fourth while the favorite, Gigli, never got into the picture and finished sixth of eight. Navesink River, a 4-year-old son of Unbridled from the Easy Goer mare Sheepscot, ran 1 1/2 mile on firm turf in 2:25.95. The colt had been knocking on the door, finishing second in the Mac Diarmida and a close fourth in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup, but had not won since breaking his maiden last August at Saratoga. "Today is the first day we've been able to keep his mind completely on his business," said Pletcher. "He's been a little bit unlucky recently, jumping tire tracks and things like that. But today he showed what he's really capable of."
Jockey Javier Castellano and trainer Carl Nafzger broke the spell in the $100,000 Skip Away Handicap. Castellano sent Eurosilver straight to the lead, opened up a clear advantage at the top of the stretch and held off Twilight Road by 1/2 length at the wire. Zakocity was third as the favorite. Velazquez, riding the 5-1 chance Ole Faunty for trainer Elliott Walden, finished eighth. Eurosilver, adding blinkers, ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.29 in posting his first win since an allowance event here in February 2004, when he was a Kentucky Derby candidate for trainer Nick Zito. "I think he's just come back to himself going two turns," Nafzger said "I think we've turned the corner with him now." Eurosilver is a son of Unbridled's Song, who in turn is a son of Nafzger's 1990 Kentucky Derby winner, Unbridled.
Offlee Wild was awfully good in Saturday's $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Hadicap, moving to the leader when asked by jockey Rafael Bejarano and then leaving four rivals in his dust -- well, slop. At the wire, the 5-year-old Wild Again horse was 8 1/2 lengths to the good of Rogue Agent. Cuba was third. Offlee Wild - 12th in the 2003 Kentucky Derby -- ran 9 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:50.41. After a limited campaign in 2004, he has come out swinging this year, finishing second in the John B. Campbell Breeders' Cup at Laurel in his first start.
Supah Blitz stayed close to pace-setter Ender's Shadow in Saturday's $100,000 Tokyo City Handicap, went to the lead on the turn for home and drew clear to win by 3 lengths over Outta Here. Ender's Shadow held third. Supah Blitz, a 5-year-old son of Mecke, finished the 1 1/8 mile in 1:48.90. Ridden in the 2003 Kentucky Derby by Rosemary Homeister, he had Victor Espinoza up on Saturday. Leandro Mora, assistant to winning trainer Doug O'Neill, said adding blinkers made a "huge difference" in Supah Blitz's performance. "And Victor knows the horse very well so now he just tries to keep him close to the leader and he gave him a smart ride."
Also Saturday, No Bull Baby, also toting Espinoza, went quickly to the lead in the $75,000 Santa Paula Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, repulsed a bid by favorite Inspiring and drew off to win by 2 lengths over Leave Me Alone. Inspiring held on for third. No Bull Baby, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Indian Charlie, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.79. "I didn't really expect myself to go to the lead," Espinoza said. "I broke so sharp I was right on top of the leaders so I said, 'Okay, I'm gone,' especially with the track being a little bit fast."
In Sunday's $200,000 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap, Harvard Avenue rallied from last of nine, going four-wide through the turn, to win by 1/2 length over Rushin' to Altar. Roi Charmant was third and the favorite, Hasty Kris, could do no better than sixth. Harvard Avenue, a 4-year-old gelding by You and I, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.12 with Garrett Gomez riding for trainer Doug O'Neill - who had an excellent weekend in two states.
Roar On Tour roared down the stretch to upset Saturday's $125,000 Gulf Coast Breeders' Cup Classic by 1/2 length over High Strike Zone. The favorite, Mauk Four, finished third. Roar On Tour, a 5-year-old Roar gelding sent to the post at odds of nearly 30-1, finished the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:46.00.
Blue Song got the jump on trainer Bob Baffert's California shipper Resplendency in Saturday's $100,0000 Harry W. Hanson Handicap and drew off to win by 4 lengths over that rival. Homemaker was third and Good Charlotte completed the brief order of finish in the 1-mile event for fillies and mares. Blue Song, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Sultry Song, was clocked in 1:35.61.
Also Saturday, C.G's Dollar rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win the $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby for state-breds by 1 length over Spelling Bee Jones. The odds-on favorite, My Desert Lady, checked in third. C.G's Dollar, a son of Ghostly Moves, moved over the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.35.
Sunday, Manolito was quickly in front in the $130,000 Copper Top Futurity for New Mexico-bred 2-year-olds and ran off in the stretch to win by 5 1/2 lengths. Da Candy Man was second and Hometown Ghost finished third. Manolito, a chestnut son of Blind Man's Bluff, ran 4 1/2 furlongs in 51.18 seconds.
Heavenly Humor rallied nicely through the stretch to win Saturday's $60,000 Moc Insurance Services Woodside Handicap by 1/2 length. Puxa Saco was second as the favorite and Yerevan Star was home third after leading the way into the stretch. Heavenly Humor, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Distorted Humor, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track for Russell Baze.
Savorthetime bided her time in Saturday's $50,000 Carousel Stakes for fillies and mares. But when asked, the heavily favored mare blew by the leader and won off by 3 1/4 lengths. Savorthetime, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Gilded Time, trained by Steve Asmussen, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:09.57 on a fast track.
Sunday, Stormy But Crafty led all the way to win the $50,000 Rainbow Stakes for 3-year-old, Arkansas-bred colts and geldings. At the wire, the son of Storm and a Half was 1 length ahead of Leon's Best. Wow Yao was third. Stormy But Craft ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.97.
In the companion Rainbow Miss, for 3-year-old, state-bred fillies, Doll and a Half bypassed pace-setter Ritas Wampus Cat in the stretch run to win by 1/2 length. Ritas Wampus Cat held second and Maggio, the mutuel favorite, was third. Doll and a Half, also by Storm and a Half, got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.52.
Jet Set Citi was just up at the wire to win Saturday's $50,000 Smart Halo Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a nose over pace-setting Missile Bay. The pair bumped in the stretch before straightening out for the final yards. Flashy Three finished in the No. 3 spot. Jet Set City, a Virginia-bred daughter of Unbridled Jet, got the 6 furlongs in 1:12.70 on a sloppy track.
Hawthorne Race Course
Stormy Impact got by favorite Cat Tracker at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $40,000 Sarco Stakes and went on to post a 6-length upset win. Cat Tracker held second and Ask the Lord was home third. Stormy Impact, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Major Impact, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.73.