Here are three more pieces of a Kentucky Derby puzzle that just won't come into focus: A 30-1 winner in the Santa Anita Derby, a 9 1/2-length victory in the Illinois Derby by a colt making his stakes debut, and a lukewarm favorite winning the Wood Memorial by 17 1/2 lengths while tying the track record.
Figure it out? Even if you do, don't get too comfortable. Some of the favorites for the May 7 Run for the Roses will be involved in next week's final round of major Derby preps -- probably scrambling the picture even more.
The Santa Anita Derby
In California, the super filly Sweet Catomine was sent to the post as the even-money favorite in Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby even though owner Marty Wygod admitted up front she wasn't nearly 100 percent.
When Sweet Catomine didn't fire, the race was thrown up for grabs and the colt doing the grabbing turned out to be Buzzards Bay, a 30-1 chance despite a reasonable recent record. With Mark Guidry up, the Florida-bred son of Marco Bay worked his way up to the lead on the backstretch, then dueled around the turn and down the stretch with General John B and last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilco before posting a 1/2-length win.
General John B was second, a nose in front of Wilco. The 9 furlongs on a fast track took 1:49.18.
Buzzards Bay came into the race off a good third in the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows. Before that he was a dismal 10th in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. And before that, he won the Golden Gate Derby in his stakes debut.
"We'll go to Kentucky if everything's all right," said Bill Bianco, part owner of Fog City Stable, which owns Buzzards Bay. "He's a fighter," Guidry added. "I love his chances" at Churchill Downs. "He does everything real easy. He's easy on himself, which will make him a great horse later on down the road."
Trainer Craig Dollase said Wilko "ran a courageous race. He just came up a little short." He said he expects a better effort in the Kentucky Derby. Giacomo, who finished fourth, also is likely to advance to Louisville. Plans for General John B, a well-beaten eighth in the Fountain of Youth last time out, remained uncertain.
The Wood Memorial Stakes
At Aqueduct in New York, trainer Nick Zito thought he was sending out a good horse in Saturday's $750,000 Wood Memorial -- but not the brightest light among his five Kentucky Derby hopefuls. When the dust had cleared and Bellamy Road was home first by 17 1/2 lengths, not even being asked for his best and in track record-tying time of 1:47.16, the picture had changed.
Bellamy Road, a Florida-bred son of Concerto, was making only his second start of the year after winning an allowance event in Florida. He was sent off as the favorite in a field of seven, but just barely. Still, when the gate opened, jockey Javier Castellano had nothing to do but steer to the left twice. Bellamy Road shot to the lead, set a reasonable pace and left everyone up the track. The record he tied was set by Riva Ridge 32 years ago.
Survivalist was second, Scrappy T was third and New York-breds Galloping Grocer and Naughty New Yorker probably faded from Derby contention with lackluster fourth and fifth-place showings, respectively.
"He wants to go longer. No question about it. The longer, the better," said Castellano, who was celebrating from the 16th pole until an outrider helped him pull his colt up on the backstretch.
Zito also has Florida Derby winner and runner-up High Fly and Noble Causeway prepping for the Kentucky Derby winner. In addition, his barn houses Tampa Bay Derby winner Sun King, who will run in next week's Blue Grass at Keeneland, and Andromeda's Hero, who will go in next week's Arkansas Derby.
"It's like being a parent," Zito said. "You're not going to take one son or daughter over another. I'm just happy that he is in the family."
The Illinois Derby
Greeley's Galaxy came into Saturday's $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course with just three lifetime starts, two wins, no stakes experience and not nominated to the Triple Crown. After jetting off to win by 9 1/2 lengths, his prospects had brightened considerably.
With Kent Desormeaux in for the ride, the Mr. Greeley colt rated behind the leaders for the first time in his career. Then when asked to run, he shifted gears, eased out three-wide and got to the front with a furlong to run. Monarch Lane had a long-distance view of the winner as he finished second and Magna Graduate was third.
Greeley's Galaxy ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.62.
Trainer Glen Stute said he believes owner B. Wayne Hughes will put up the $200,000 to supplement Greeley's Galaxy to the Kentucky Derby. The colt won $300,000 Saturday.
Desormeaux said the winner showed maturity despite his lack of experience. "They need to know how to move when the jockey tells them to move," he said, adding Greeley's Galaxy did just that twice during the race.
Asked if the colt has the energy to withstand a late challenge, he added, "I don't know. I hope that question never gets answered."
Kentucky Oaks preps
-- You can put a ring around Sis City's name for the May 6 Kentucky Oaks. The Slew City Slew filly ran away from five rivals in Saturday's $500,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, easily drawing clear in the stretch to win by 10 1/2 lengths. Runway Model was second and Memorette was third. The 1 1/16 mile took 1:46.35. Sis City was fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall when carried wide into the first turn. She came back to win the Demoiselle at Aqueduct in November and won her only other 2005 start, the Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park, by 16 lengths. "Plan A was to go to the lead," said winning rider Edgar Prado. "Plan B was to sit just off the lead. Even though my filly was pulling, she settled down and rated nicely. She finished full of run even though this track is a bit tiring. She's very nice. An excellent filly." Sis City is owned by a partnership that includes New York Yankees manager Joe Torre.
-- On the other hand, before Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, the only question about Sweet Catomine was whether she would run in the Kentucky Oaks or the Kentucky Derby. After her dull fifth-place finish, the Storm Cat filly is out of the picture entirely. Owner Marty Wygod said Sweet Catomine ran too fast in a workout last week and bled after that effort. She also had a problem with her feet, he added. "In my interviews on NBC, I said the horse had problems," Wygod said after the race. "I was pretty explicit. No one asked me what kind of problems." He said the filly will race again - but not on the first Friday or Saturday of May.
In other weekend racing:
The Racing Festival of the South kicked off Saturday with a pair of minor upsets. In the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, Grand Reward got off to an easy lead and set a soft pace, then held on to win by a neck over Second of June. The odds-on favorite, Eddington, never got close, finishing third. Grand Reward, with Jon McKee in the irons, ran the opening quarter mile in 24.54 seconds and 6 furlongs in 1:13.32. He finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.54. McKee said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who was at Aqueduct Saturday, "told me to make the front, put up the softest fractions I could and kick away....And that's what happened."
In the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap for fillies and mares, reigning Breeders' Cup Distaff champion Ashado went to the post as the odds-on favorite, tracked the early pace and then faded badly to finish fifth. Taking full advantage was California shipper Dream of Summer, who went right to the lead, turned back Ashado's bid and then also held off Star Parade in the closing yards to win by a neck. Shadow Cast completed a $605.60 trifecta. Dream of Summer, a 6-year-old, California-bred mare by Siberian Summer, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.86 for Patrick Valenzuela.
Sunday, Two Trail Sioux scored her fifth straight win in the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes for fillies and mares. The 4-year-old Indian Charlie filly dueled for the lead before getting clear on the backstretch, then opened up a daylight lead and coasted home first, 1 length in front of Platinum Ballet. Casual Attitude was third and the favorite, Good Student, got a bad mark, finishing fourth. Two Trail Sioux, with Jon McKee up, got the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:43.61.
Forest Danger exploded past the pace-setters to win Saturday's $350,000 Carter Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths. Medallist was second and front runner, Don Six, held on for third. The 7 furlongs took 1:20.46 under Rafael Bejarano. That was only two ticks off Artax's track record. Forest Danger, a lightly raced, 4-year-old son of Forestry, now has won five of six lifetime starts. His only loss was a second-place finish behind Medallist in the Withers last May. After that race, he was sidelined until February, when he easily won an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park. "Rafael did a great job of judging the pace," said Seth Benzel, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "He got him in contention when he needed to." Benzel said Pletcher hasn't decided whether to stretch out Forest Danger or keep him sprinting.
And speaking of sprinters, Lost in the Fog remained undefeated in five career starts by dominating Saturday's $150,000 Bay Shore Stakes for 3-year-olds. The Florida-bred son of Lost Soldier set the pace and drew clear to win by 4 1/4 lengths over White Socks. Big Top Cat was third. Lost in the fog won the Swale last month by 4 3/4 lengths but trainer Greg Gilchrist said he wasn't willing to subject the colt to the rigors and distance requirements of the Triple Crown events. "This horse can go real fast and he does it real handily," said winning rider Russell Baze. Trainer Greg Gilchrist said he will take Lost in the Fog back to Golden Gate Fields and think about longer distances. "When it comes up that there is not a sprint offered and he needs a race, that's when I'll run him in a route," Gilchrist said. "We're not shying away from a route but who would want to not keep doing this?" He returning to Belmont for the 7-furlong Riva Ridge on June 11 is a tempting prospect.
More Smoke smoked three rivals in Sunday's $100,000 Lafayette Stakes for 3-year-olds at 6 furlongs. Breaking on top from the inside post position, the Smoke Glacken colt shot to the front and kept extending his lead. At the wire, he was a 14 1/2-length winner. Crimson Stag was second, Razor third and Silent Bid a distant last. More Smoke ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.88.
Chattahoochee War, with Jerry Bailey up, got a challenging trip in Friday's $150,000 Central Bank Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-olds, carried wide and bumping on two occasions. But at the wire, the War Chant colt was in front of Guillaume Tell by a nose, with Rey de Café third, another nose back. Chattahoochee War finished the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.28. The favorite, Dubleo, led the way but faded to finish fourth.
Hawthorne Race Course
Smoke Smoke Smoke pressed the pace set by favorite Around the Cape in Saturday's $125,000 Lost Code Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds, then went by the leader in the stretch and on by 3/4 length over Santana Strings. Around the Cape held third. Smoke Smoke Smoke, a Kentucky-bred son of Smoke Glacken, completed the 6 furlongs in 1:09.45 under Seth Martinez. "He broke very nicely and went nicely early on," said Martinez. "When I asked him on the turn, he ranged up on the leader rather easily and was game to hold on in the lane." Trainer Hugh Robertson said Smoke Smoke Smoke will try a stakes race at Canterbury Park before returning to Arlington this summer.
Portsea came from off the aggressive pace to win Saturday's $150,000 Meafara Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 2 1/2 lengths over early leader Megascape. Angel Trumpet was home third. Portsea, a Kentucky-bred daughter of More Than Ready, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:10.92 with Christopher DeCarlo up. The filly is trained by Todd Pletcher. "She's a game filly. She ran a great race," DeCarlo said. Larry Sterling, up on Megascape, unsuccessfully claimed foul for some brushing with the winner in the stretch and blamed Chris Emigh, rider of Angel Trumpet, for "laying on me the whole way."
Don't forget Procreate in the mix of sprinters for later this year. The 7-year-old Mt. Livermore gelding not only won his third straight at Gulfstream Park, but did so in world-record time. Leading almost all the way in Saturday's $50,000 Yankee Affair, Procreate finished the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 53.79 seconds. True Love's Secret was second and Shake the Bank was third. Procreate, trained by John Charles Zimmerman, was stepping up after winning a 6-furlong event on the main track in his seasonal debut and a starter allowance at 5 furlongs on the green track. He has won 11 of 44 lifetime starts. "I knew as we approached the turn that I had a lot of horse," said winning rider Edwin King Jr. "I chirped at him and he picked it up." Procreate set fractions of :20.97 and :42.51. The old record of 54 1/5 was set by Preflorada in Argentina.
Sam Houston Race Park
Rapid Proof caught pace-setting favorite Warleigh in the final strides to win Saturday's $200,000 John B. Connally Breeders' Cup Turf Handicap by a head. Dynareign was well back in third. Rapid Proof, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Fast Play, got the 9 furlongs in firm turf in 1:51.31.
Proven Cure took charge in the stretch to win Saturday's $50,000 Sam Houston Turf Cup Sprint Stakes by 2 lengths over Hortense. Charming Socialite was third. Proven Cure, an 11-year-old gelding by Cure the Blues, rallied four-wide entering the stretch and finished the 5 furlongs in 57.93 seconds.
Peace Symbol made all the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Jersey Lilly Stakes for fillies and mares and had plenty left at the end, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Bonnie J. Dancing Liebling finished third as the favorite. Peace Symbol is a 4-year-old, Florida-bred filly by Dove Hunt.
Singletary was unimpressive in his first race back after winning the Breeders' Cup Mile last fall in Texas. But Saturday he turned things around, winning the $150,000 Arcadia Handicap by 1 length over Sweet Return with a pace-stalking trip. The favorite, Buckland Manor, was third. Singletary, a Kentucky-bred, 5-year-old sun of Sultry Song, sat in second behind the early leader, took over on the turn for home and finished the 1 mile on firm footing in 1:33.52 for jockey Alex Solis. "He just needed a race," said winning trainer Don Chatlos. "No excuses today. He provided today we're still the champ. We still wear the crown until they beat us at Belmont Park," referring to this year's Breeders' Cup World Championships in New York on Oct. 29.
Also Saturday, Berbatim stalked the early pace and then went on by to win the $100,000 Providencia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 2 1/2 lengths over Royal Copenhagen. Thatswhatimean was third and the favorite, Shining Energy, finished fifth. Berbatim, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Bernstein, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.66 with Alex Solis up. "She looks like she's going to be a good one," said Solis. Trainer Richard Mandella said Berbatim likely will point for the American Oaks July 3 at Hollywood Park.
Sunday, Elusive Diva got through along the rail in the stretch drive and went on to win the $100,000 Las Cienegas Handicap by 4 lengths over Quero Quero. Winendynme was third. Elusive Diva, a 4-year-old Elusive Quality filly, got the about 6 1/2 furlongs over the downhill turf course in 1:11.66 under Pat Valenzuela.
Take Achance On Me, broke from the outside post position in Saturday's $50,000 Hoover Stakes and sprinted quickly to the lead, setting the pace into the stretch run. At mid-stretch, the 7-year-old American Chance gelding was passed by two rivals but then regathered his momentum and came back to win by a neck over Dale's Prospect. Excellent Band was another neck back in third. Take Achance On Me finished the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.99. "I figured I'd let him come out of there and see what he wanted to do," said winning rider Jozbin Santana. "He was wandering a little bit down the lane but when he saw the other horses get in front of him, as soon as I hit him, he exploded back again and gave me everything he had." Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and his chief aide, Clyde Tolson, were regulars at the Maryland races.
First Draft drafted in last through the early going in Saturday's $55,000 Miss America Handicap for fillies and mares. But, after circling four-wide on the turn, the 6-year-old California-bred mare was just up to beat pace-setter Marla Bay by a head. Pickle was another head back in third. First Draft, a daughter of Othello, ran 1 1/16 mile on yielding turf in 1:44.88.