If the Kentucky Derby was a mystery -- impossible for most handicappers, as it turned out -- the second leg of the Triple Crown probably won't be much easier.
Often, the Derby settles some issues, convincing owners and trainers that their horses just aren't quite as good as the winner, and they seek success somewhere else. This year, Giacomo's 50-1 upset victory in the Derby didn't scare anyone off and many of the Derby contenders are eyeing the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 21.
And there are some relatively fresh rivals lurking at Old Hilltop, waiting to take on the once-bloodied Derby warriors.
Giacomo's trainer, John Shirreffs, headed home to California shortly after the gray son of 1994 Derby winner Holy Bull had avenged his sire's defeat with a stunning upset over a wide-open field. But jockey Mike Smith, who rode both Holy Bull and Giacomo, reflected on Saturday's surprise win by a horse with only one previous victory and a fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby.
"John's so sharp," Smith said of Shirreffs. "Once he realized that we were capable of getting here, he just took little steps. Other people would hone 'em down three or four preps out, but he said, 'If we're good enough, we'll get it. If not, we'll get better. And every time I'd come back from the races, I'd says 'John, this is better.'
"After the Santa Anita Derby, although everybody thought it was a bad race, I knew it wasn't. I knew what he had done to get there, I knew what would happen in the race -- how the pace was so slow and how they finished strong -- but people don't watch after the race. You should have seen him gallop out. He was getting fitter and stronger. Then, after the Santa Anita Derby, John said, 'OK, now it's time'." He tightened up the screws and he said either he's going to step forward or he ain't. And he did."
At least the top six finishers in the Derby -- Giacomo, Closing Argument, Afleet Alex, Don't Get Mad, Buzzards Bay and Wilko, are being considered as Preakness contenders. And Nick Zito, who trained five of Saturday's Derby starters, including heavy favorite Bellamy Road, without placing any higher than seventh, said he "will definitely go on to Baltimore with somebody. ... We will come up with something."
Even High Limit, who finished 20th for trainer Bobby Frankel and came out of the race with some cuts on his legs, is still under consideration for the Preakness.
Fresh competition in the Preakness is expected to include Federico Tesio Stakes winner Malibu Moonshine, Withers winner Scrappy T and Unbridled Stakes winner Hal's Image. Red Bullet, in 2000, was the last non-Derby starter to win the Preakness, which is restricted to 14 starters.
In other weekend action at Churchill Downs:
-- Odds-on favorite Sis City didn't fire in Friday' $500,000 Kentucky Oaks and Summerly, with Jerry Bailey up, was the beneficiary. Sent out to make a moderate pace, Summerly turned back the challenge from Sis City with a furlong to go and drew clear to win by 2 lengths over In the Gold. Gallant Secret was a longshot third as Sis City faded to finish fourth. Summerly, a daughter of Summer Squall from the Mr. Prospector mare Here I Go, ran the 1 1/8 mile in 1:50.23. "She broke so well and it didn't appear that Sis City was too comfortable inside of me," Bailey said. "Sis City gave me a test or two around the turn and Edgar (Prado) was all over her, trying to make up ground." Prado said he "didn't get a good feeling all the way during the race. ... She didn't have it today."
-- America Alive upset Saturday's $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, rallying from last under Robby Albarado to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Meteor Storm. Quest Star was third and the favorite, Perfect Drift, drifted steadily toward the rear and finished ninth of 10. America Alive, a 4-year-old son of American Chance, started his run along the rail on the turn, then got room between rivals at the top of the stretch. He got the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.34. The $2 trifecta paid $4,921.40.
-- My Trusty Cat led a parade of upsetters across the finish line in Saturday's $250,000 Humana Distaff. After stalking the pace set by favorite Madcap Escapade, My Trusty Cat swung four-wide on the turn and outsprinted Molto Vita to win by 3/4 length. Puxa Saco was third, completing a $2,665.80 trifecta. My Trusty Cat, a 5-year-old mare by Tale of the Cat, ran 7 furlongs with Javier Castellano in the irons in 1:21.18.
-- Battle Won got the day's six stakes off on an upset note by posting a 3 1/2-length victory in the $200,000 Churchill Downs Handicap. After pressing the pace, the 5-year-old Honour and Glory gelding got the lead with a furlong to go and easily beat the late run of 50-1 shot Level Playingfield. The favorite, Pomeroy, was third but the tri still payed $8,044.60 for a $2 investment. Battle Won ran the 7 furlongs under Ramon Dominguez in 1:20.56.
-- The only winning favorite in the day's stakes festival was in the $100,000 Three Chimneys Juvenile. Half Ours, a dominant winner in his only previous start during the Keeneland meeting, did it again. After wresting the lead from Dance Daily, Half Ours hit full throttle and won by 4 1/4 lengths. Five Star Holding was second and Beacon Shine third. Half Ours, a gray son of Unbridled's Song, ran 5 furlongs under John Velazquez in 57.07. He is trained by Todd Pletcher, whose two previous winners in this race have both come back to run fourth in the following year's Kentucky Derby.
-- Miss Terrible led most of the way to a 1-length victory in Saturday's $100,000 Comp USA Turf Mile, beating Sand Springs by 1 length. Shaconage was third while the favorite, Warning Zone, got home fifth. Miss Terrible, a 6-year-old, Argentine-bred mare by Numerous, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.89 with Alex Solis up.
-- Sweet Talker saved all the ground in Friday's $100,000 Edgewood Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then swept to a big lead in the stretch and held on to win by 3/4 length over Rich in Spirit. Insan Mala was home third and the favorite, Cape Hope, was fourth. Sweet Talker, a daughter of Stormin Fever, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:41.94.
-- Limehouse, racing in mid-pack early in Friday's $100,000 Alysheba Stakes, came very wide into the stretch but still got to the lead and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Skipaslew. Missme was third. Limehouse, a 4-year-old son of Grand Slam, ran the 1 /16 mile in 1:42.32.
-- Mighty Beau took charge in the stretch to win Friday's $100,000 Aegon Turf Sprint by 2 3/4 lengths over Chosen Chief. Sgt. Bert was third. Mighty Beau, a 6-year-old, Oklahoma-bred gelding by Rainbow Prospect, ran the 5 furlongs on firm going in 56.18 for Pat Valenzuela.
-- Shadow Cast came from last to win Friday's $100,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap by 1 length over Island Sand. Storm's Darling finished third. Shadow Cast, a 4-year-old Smart Strike filly, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.43 with Robby Albarado up.
-- Rey de Cafe won a dash to the wire in Friday's $100,000 Crown Royal American Turf for 3-year-olds, beating Rush Bay by a nose with Guillaume Tell just 1 length farther back in third. Rey de Cafe, a Kentucky-bred son of Kingmambo, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:42.00.
In other weekend racing, briefly:
Trainer John Shirreffs' Kentucky Derby victory with Giacomo looked miraculous because the horse didn't appear talented enough to win. A few hours later, Shirreffs posted another victory with a favorite who needed a near miracle just to survive. Hollywood Story, the odds-on favorite in the $100,000 Hawthorne Handicap for fillies and mares, clipped heels with Cissy in the first turn, nearly flinging jockey Victor Espinoza to the track. Recovering, Espinoza was next-last in the field of seven. Swinging four-wide into the stretch, he then rallied past the bulk of the field to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Siphon Honey was second and House of Fortune took third. The 1 1/16 mile went in 1:42.42. "As soon as we clipped heels," Espinoza said, "she pulled my whole body to the front. My chest hit her neck. Then she pushed me back into the saddle. I saw the ground so close to my head that I could have reached out and touched it. ... A lot of times, you may not believe in being religious. But when it comes to something like this, I feel that God protected me in this race."
Sunday, Virden scored a 26-1 upset victory in the $100,000 Senorita Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, taking the lead and holding on to beat Three Degrees in a photo finish. Thatswhatimean was third. Virden, a daughter of Tactical Cat, shipped in from Arizona and ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.37. "The plan wasn't necessarily to go to the lead," said winning rider Omar Figueroa. "But I read the Racing Form and saw there was no other speed in the race. The trainer (Don McFarlane) told me not to fight her and she wanted to go to the lead. We were able to slow it down pretty good."
Seeking the Ante broke last of seven starters in Saturday's $200,000 Nassau County Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, advanced toward the leaders on the turn and wore down Slew Motion in the late going to win by 1 length. Exit to Heaven was third after leading early in the race. Seeking the Ante, a New York-bred daughter of Seeking the Gold, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.86 under Mike Luzzi.
Also Saturday, Uncle Camie upset Don Six in the $100,000 Bold Ruler Handicap, running by the pace-setting favorite rather easily in the stretch drive to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Thunder Touch was third. Don Six had clicked off fractions of 21.23 and 43.92 before tiring. Uncle Camie completed the job in 1:08.67 for Richard Migliore. He is a 5-year-old, New York-bred son of Abaginone.
Verne's Baby pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Queenston Stakes for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, went to the lead on the turn, was headed by Enough Is Enough and finally came back to win by a head. Enough Is Enough had enough to hold second and Moonshine Justice was along for third. Verne's Baby, a gelded son of Whiskey Wisdom, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:23.40.
Sunday, River Nore romped to a 4 1/4-length victory in the $150,000 (Canadian) Fury Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, jumping into contention for the $500,000 (Canadian) Labatt Woodbine Oaks on June 12. Under jockey Jim McAleney, the Archers Bay filly settled in fifth position early, started her move on the turn for home and easily proved best. She finished the 7 furlongs in 1:24.53. Time Saver was second and Silver Impulse third. "She ran very well today," said McAleney. "She settled a lot better than I could have imagined and she finished very strong."
Tampa Bay Downs
Hear No Evil shot quickly to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Chris Thomas Turf Classic and never looked back, posting a 3/4-length upset victory over favorite Revved Up. Headline was third. Hear No Evil, a 5-year-old son of Carson City, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:49.40.
Also Saturday, Whenthedoveflies got her wings fluttering in the stretch run to win the $75,000 Lightning City Stakes for fillies and mares by 5 easy lengths over Inhonorofjohnnie. Impressive Star was third. Whenthedoveflies, a 5-year-old daughter of Dove Hunt, overcame some traffic problems and a wide trip around the turn before finishing the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.54 seconds.
Egg Head stalked the early pace in Saturday's $75,000 Francis "Jock" LaBelle Memorial Stakes for 3-year-olds, then was smart enough to take the lead in the stretch and win by 9 1/2 lengths. Lieutenant Danz was second and Shmooo laid a third-place check. Egg Head, a Kentucky-bred son of Honor Grades, finished the 6 furlongs in 1:11.28.
Mountaineer Race Track
Bernie Blue blew by pace-setting favorite Danieltown at mid-stretch to win Saturday's $75,000 Panhandle Handicap by 1/2 length. Top Shoter was third. Bernie Blue, a 3-year-old, Florida-bred son of Bernstein, got the 5 furlongs in 56.11 seconds. Shake You Down was one of two scratches.
Calder Race Course
Perspicacious let even-money favorite Sir Ray take a slow lead in Saturday's $50,000 My Old Kentucky Home Stakes, then went to the front with a sixteenth to go and won a duel to the wire by a neck. The Man was third. Perspicacious, a 6-year-old, Argentine-bred son of Payant, ran the 1 1/4 miles on a fast track in a slow 2:09.13.
Gunning For rallied from last in a field of nine to upset Saturday's $50,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes at 1 mile on the grass. Circling the field on the turn for home, the 4-year-old Dove Hunt gelding opened up a big lead at mid-stretch and coasted home a 1/2-length winner over Package Store. Rubi Echo was third and the favorite, Tam's Terms, struggled home eighth. Gunning For was clocked in 1:34.25.
Premium Saltine scored a crisp upset of favorite Coach Jimi Lee in Saturday's $50,000 Prairie Express Stakes. Moving to the lead at the top of the stretch after stalking the pace, Premium Saltine held on to win by 3/4 length, running 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:02.64 under Tim Doocy. Roarofvictory was third.
Paz Ciudadana dueled for the early lead in Saturday's $50,000 Honeymoon Stakes for fillies and mares, got to the front turning for home and drew clear to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Yousmineours. Chitchat Chitchat was third. Paz Ciudadana, a 5-year-old, Chilean-bred mare by Golden Voyager, got the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.15.