As the crop of 2003 officially turned 3 years old on Jan. 1, they became eligible for the New Year's many derbies and oaks. Barbaro was first in line.
The undefeated, Kentucky-bred son of Dynaformer stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Tropical Park Derby at Calder Race Course and got to the front with a furlong left. He then easily drew off to win by 3 3/4 lengths, ridden out, over Wise River. Barbaro traveled the 1 1/8 mile on firm turf in 1:46.65.
"He's obviously a very talented horse," said winning trainer Michael Matz. "Whether he carries the class he shows on turf over to the dirt, we just don't know yet. But his mother and half-brother (Holy Ground) ran well on the dirt."
Added winning rider Edgar Prado, "He can be any kind of horse."
On the distaff side, J'ray stayed close to the pace in Sunday's $100,000 Tropical Park Oaks, wore down pace-setter Stolen Prayer and went on to win by 1 length over that rival. Nice Nelly was third.
J'ray, a New York-bred filly by Distant View, was defeated in her first start on the main track but now has won three straight on the green course. She finished Sunday's 1 1/16 mile in 1:40.88 under John Velazquez.
"There isn't much for her for the first six weeks at Gulfstream," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "So we'll probably take the opportunity to give her a little break."
In other weekend races for this year's derby eligibles:
-- Vegas Play survived a rough trip to pull a mild upset in Saturday's $75,000 Maryland Juvenile Championship for state-bred 2-year-olds at Laurel Park. Reserved off the pace early by jockey Richard Monterrey, the Exploit colt rated to the turn, then took the inside route to the front. After being steadied, Vegas Play angled in, hit the rail, angled back out and closed well to win by 1/2 length over Creve Coeur. The odds-on favorite, Travelin Leroy, finished third after leading to mid-stretch. The 1 mile took 1:40.94 on a fast track. "I got into trouble," said Monterrey, "I just tried to do my best to make it clear and try to win the race." The race has produced some Triple Crown participants. Deputed Testamony, who was second in the Maryland Juvenile in 1982, son the Preakness the following year. Magic Weisner, who just missed in the 2002 Preakness, won the event in 2001.
-- In Sunday's $75,000 Dancing Count stakes at Laurel, Great Seneca was, as they say, much the best, drawing away to win by 5 3/4 lengths while on his left lead. Ah Day was second and The Village Vicar third. Great Seneca, a Maryland-bred son of Allen's Prospect, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05.25 with Horacio Karamanos in the irons, remaining undefeated in three starts. "We'll probably keep him sprinting for now," said winning trainer Gary Capuano, "depending on what comes up after this. If it's not broke, don't fix it. ... We're going to have a lot of fun with him."
-- Sunday's $75,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes wasn't quite the same at Louisiana Downs but it was a wide-open affair for newly turned 3-year-olds. At the end, it was Catonight the gate-to-wire winner, beating Here Tiger by 2 1/2 lengths with Kingsfield third. Catonight is a Washington-bred son of Katowice, trained by Steve Asmussen. Roman Chapa rode the chestnut colt over 6 furlongs in 1:10.94.
-- Disappearing Trick was visible at the front all the way in Saturday's $100,000 Riley Allison Futurity at Sunland Park in New Mexico, first dueling for the lead, then edging clear to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Forrest G. The odds-on favorite, Cab, finished third. Disappearing Trick, a Kentucky-bred son of Favorite Trick, got the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18.55 for Ken Tohill.
-- Lawyer Ron won his case easily in Saturday's $100,000 Peninsula Gaming's Diamond Jo Stakes for 2-year-olds at Evangeline Downs. Jumping right to the lead and dawdling along with no pressure, Lawyer Ron drew off to win by 8 1/2 lengths over Desert Wheat. The favorite, Premier Dance, was home third. Lawyer Ron, with John McKee aboard, finished the 1 mile in 1:39.19. The Kentucky-bred colt is by Langfuhr.
Among the fillies:
-- Make Mine Minnie celebrated her official 3-year birthday by winning Sunday's $75,000 Blue Norther Stakes at Santa Anita. After tracking the pace, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Honour and Glory started her move on the turn, got to the leader with a sixteenth to run and won off by 1 3/4 lengths. Zoemeg was second, Cross third and the favorite, Dance Daily, sixth. Mike Mine Minnie, with Garrett Gomez riding for trainer Jeff Mullins, finished 1 mile in 1:35.94.
-- Misty Rosette stayed close to the leaders early in Saturday's $60,000 Sandpiper Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at Tampa Bay Downs, got to the front with a three-wide move around the turn and won off by 3 3/4 lengths over Runaway in Love. Running Lass was third and Rgirldoesn'tbluff faded in the stretch to finish fourth. Misty Rosette, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Stormin Fever, negotiated the 6 furlongs in stakes-record time of 1:10.33 under Sebastian Madrid. "I told Sebastian that if she breaks well, don't take he back, but to see what kind of run she has down the lane and she proved me right today," said winning trainer James Chapman. "I always thought she had a ton of ability but she needed a three-quarter-mile race under her before we take her back to California." The filly is 2-for-2 in her career.
Silvestris dueled for the lead in Monday's $65,000 Ruthless Stakes at Aqueduct, got it and then took charge. Leading by nearly 3 lengths early in the stretch run, the Forest Wildcat filly held on nicely to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Livermore Valley. Jet Set Broad was third and Oprah Winney was fourth and last. Silvestris, with Eibar Coa aboard, ran 6 furlongs on the "good" inner track in 1:11.21.
In other weekend racing:
Calder Race Course
Mocita swung into the stretch six-wide in Saturday's $100,000 Stage Door Betty Handicap, got to front with a furlong left and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Special Report. Pitanga was third and the favorite, Sweet Lips, was never in the mix, finishing sixth. Mocita, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Boundary, ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:48.56 with Eddie Castro handling the reins. It was her fourth win of the year. Castro said trainer Marty Wolfson "told me that she would finish well as long as I kept her to the outside and gave her a chance." Wolfson said the filly will run at Gulfstream.
Drum Major came between horses to get the lead near the top of the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Pet Axthelm Stakes for 3-year-olds and quickly took charge, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Dream On Dream On. Therecomesatiger was third. Drum Major, a Kentucky-bred colt by Dynaformer, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:26.83. Rafael Bejarano was aboard for trainer George Weaver. The Axthelm was Drum Major's first stakes win. "We knew he was a nice horse from the start last year after his first two starts on the turf," said trainer George Weaver. "Then, he showed enough on dirt in the fall to try him in the big races." He said it's likely the colt will run on the grass at Gulfstream.
Malibu Mint was taken up sharply on the turn in Saturday's $100,000 Chaposa Springs Handicap for fillies and mares, but swung outside, regained her momentum and raced off to win by 3 lengths over Tigi. Lilah was third. Malibu Mint, a 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Malibu Moon, ran 7 furlongs on the main track in 1:24.97 for jockey Kristi Chapman. She has three straight wins. "Frankly, I still think she's better on grass," said winning trainer James Chapman. "There are plenty of opportunities for her at Gulfstream."
Laurafina also came from well off the pace to win the final event of Grand Slam III -- the $100,000 Frances A. Genter Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Laurafina, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Cozzene, rallied sharply between horses turning for home, swung quite wide at the top of the lane but had enough in reserve to get to the front late, winning by 3/4 length over Champagne Ending. More Than Promised was third and the favorite, Pommes Frites, finished fourth. Laurafina ran 7 1/2 furlongs on the firm turf in 1:27.07. Bejarano was aboard. Trainer Bobby Barbara said Laurafina has recovered from an injury sustained last summer at Saratoga. "We considered bringing her back in an allowance race last week but said, 'What the heck. Let's go for it and run her in a stakes.'" He hasn't decided on the filly's next start. The race is named for the late owner of Unbridled.
Navesink River stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Gallant Fox Handicap, came wide to challenge on the turn and easily won off by 5 1/2 lengths over India Halo. Chilly Rooster got home third. Navesink River, the odds-on favorite, ran 1 5/8 miles on the fast inner track in 2:44.96 under Michael Luzzi. He is a 4-year-old Unbridled colt, trained by Todd Pletcher for Char-Mari Stable.
Sunday, Comacina led most of the way in the $75,000 Interborough Handicap for fillies and mares, holding on to win by 1/2 length over Fast Laner. Schemer was third and the favorite, Bank Audit, was fourth. Comacina, a 4-year-old daughter of Dixie Union, ran 6 furlongs on a sealed, muddy track in 1:10.79 with Pablo Fragoso in the irons.
Pussycat Doll trailed early in Saturday's $250,000 La Brea Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, worked through traffic on the turn to get the lead by mid-stretch and the drew off to win by 5 3/4 lengths over Leave Me Alone. Thrilling Victory was third, Sharp Lisa fourth and the favored entry, Great Intentions and Mystic Chant, finished sixth and last of 11, respectively. Pussycat Doll, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Real Quiet, got the 7 furlongs in 1:21.36 on a sealed wet-fast track under Garrett Gomez. "I was borderline to scratch (because of the off track)," said trainer Bob Baffert. "But I told Mike (Pegram, owner), 'She's doing so awesome, she's training so fantastic, that you just hate not to run her.'" He said he did tell Gomez not to force the filly if she didn't handle the track. Said Gomez, "She handled the track OK." Pussycat Doll is 4-for-8. She won her last start in a small stakes at Hollywood.
Badge of Silver, making his first start on the grass, rebounded from a pair of disappointing main-track losses to win Sunday's $150,000 San Gabriel Handicap, leading virtually gate to wire. With Patrick Valenzuela riding, the 6-year-old son of Silver Deputy rolled to a daylight lead and was never challenged through fractions of 49.45 seconds and 1:14.11. After that it was no contest and the lukewarm favorite, Atlando, was second under the wire, 2 1/2 lengths back of Badge of Silver. The final time for the 9 furlongs on "good" turf was 1:50.02. Valenzuela said trainer Bobby Frankel "had him plenty ready and he knew his action was good on the turf. He said, 'He'll run good. Don't worry. Just ride him with confidence.' And that's exactly what I did." Badge of Silver was eighth in his last start, the Nov. 26 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. Before that, he struggled home sixth in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on June 18. Frankel assistant Humberto Ascanio said Sunday's performance might force a reconsideration of retirement plans for Badge of Silver. "We'll just have to wait and see," he said.
Saturday's $100,000 Monrovia Handicap came off the turf. That didn't discourage Awesome Lady, who stalked the pace, got to the lead on the turn and drew clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths over Beneficial Bartok. Allswellthatnswell was third. Awesome Lady, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Bianconi, ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.77 for Tyler Baze.
Monday, With Distinction stalked the pace in the $100,000 El Conejo Handicap, rallied between horses and was just up to beat favorite Jungle Prince by a head. Jet West was a nose farther back in third. With Distinction, a 5-year-old son of Storm Cat from the Alydar mare Extravagant Woman, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:02.44 under Javier Santiago. "This is a great way to start the New Year," Santiago said. "Boy, it's wet out there." Winner trainer D. Wayne Lukas said With Distinction, despite his regal breeding "has been kind of a blue collar worker. He's been consistent. He's maturing mentally. But he's still got some attitude issues."
Also Monday, the $75,000 Hill Rise Stakes for 3-year-olds came off the turf and nearly half the field scratched. Best of the remainder was Objective, who took charge in the stretch and won by 4 1/4 lengths over Class of Fifty. The favorite, Rock Lobster, was third with an even effort. Objective, a Kentucky-bred son of El Corredor, ran 1 mile on the sloppy, sealed track in 1:35.18 for Garrett Gomez.
Some Ghost was spooky good in Sunday's $100,000 Albert Dominguez Memorial Handicap for New Mexico-breds, taking the lead on the second turn and running away to win by 8 3/4 lengths. Mojo Mundo was second and the favorite, Rocky Gulch, third. Some Ghost, a 4-year-old son of Ghostly Moves, moved well enough to get the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:45.28 with Ricardo Jaime aboard.
Secret Corsage led from gate to wire in Sunday's $75,000 Cotillion Handicap for fillies and mares, beating Vencedora Amiga by 3/4 length. First Draft and Sparkling Humor completed the order of finish. Secret Corsage, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Lost Soldier, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a muddy track in 1:43.49 with Russell Baze up for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Saintly Look rallied from far off the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Holiday Cheer Stakes and took off in the stretch run, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Sgt. Bert. Private Horde was third. Saintly Look, a 5-year-old son of Saint Ballado, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:11.03 with Rafael Mojica Jr. aboard.