Achilles of Troy, after dominating the locals in New York, is headed for Florida with a chance to work his way into the top ranks of Kentucky Derby contenders.
The gray son of Notebook, 30-1 in the first Derby futures pool, on Saturday won his second straight stakes race, rallying from just off the pace to beat One Way Fight by an easy 4 3/4 lengths in the $65,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct. A month earlier, he won the Count Fleet over the same track by 14 lengths.
"That was nothing more than an open gallop," Paragallo said of the Whirlaway. "Ramon said that when you ask him, he just accelerates. ... As soon as he chirped him, he just exploded. As soon as Ramon asked him to ease up, he eased up. This horse can do anything you want him to do."
Under Dominguez' urging, Achilles of Troy ran the 1 1/16 mile of the Whirlaway in 1:43.28 as the "Blizzard of '06" dropped its first snowflakes on Gotham.
"His next race depends on how he acclimates himself down there (Florida)," Paragallo said. "He didn't really exert himself today. We'll probably point him to the Fountain of Youth" on March 4.
In other races with potential Kentucky Derby implications:
--Too Much Bling shot out of the gate in Sunday's $150,000 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita and the outcome was never in serious doubt. At the wire, the odds-on favorite was in front, with Peace Chant 1 1/2 lengths back in second. New Joysey Jeff was third. With Garrett Gomez riding for trainer Bob Baffert, Too Much Bling ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.50. A gray son of Rubiano, the colt is a Maryland-bred. He also won the 6-furlong San Miguel Stakes a month ago in stakes record-tying time of 1:08.59. "He put those horses away after about half a mile," Gomez said, adding that Too Much Bling was tiring in the final furlong "but so was everyone else from chasing him."
--Gold For Sale remained unbeaten with a come-from-behind win in Friday's UAE 2000 Guineas at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai. The Saudi Arabian trainee, with Mick Kinane up, raced near the back of the field and was still there as they turned for home. Racing down the middle, Gold For Sale didn't hit the lead until five jumps from the wire, finishing 1/2 length to the good of Where's That Tiger. "I'm surprised he was so far back," said winning trainer Ian Jory. "I was a bit worried. ... I don't think he will have a problem stepping up to the Derby distance" on Dubai World Cup Day. Kinane explained the race "didn't go according to plan. I had to be patient. He looks like he'll stay the Derby distance." The Argentine-bred son of Not For Sale is owned by Prince Sultan Mohammed Saud Al Kabeer.
--Keagan rallied four-wide through the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Turf Paradise Derby, caught California invader Sky Diving with a 1-16th to go and went on to beat the Bob Baffert trainee by 1 length. Soft Seventeen was third. Keagan, a Washington-bred colt by Basket Weave, ran 1 1/16 mile on the fast main track in 1:43.90 under Scott Stevens.
On the Kentucky Oaks trail:
--Balance stalked the pace in Saturday's $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita, came-four-wide into the stretch to take the lead, then held off favorite Wild Fit to win by 1 length. Itty Pitty Pretty was third. Balance, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Thunder Gulch, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.54. Victor Espinoza rode for trainer David Hofmans. "She's a very mature filly," said Hofmans, "and she's coming into her own now. She's a stronger, calmer, smarter filly than she was last year." Hofmans is pointing Balance to the March 12 Santa Anita Oaks.
--Sierra Sweetie came four-wide into the stretch to challenge for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 California Breeders' Cup Oaks at Golden Gate Fields, then got clear and won off by 1 3/4 lengths. Private World was second and Bai and Bai third. Sierra Sweetie, a California-bred daughter of Old Topper, got the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:43.64 with Martin Garcia riding. She now has four wins and three seconds from seven career starts. Winning trainer Jeff Bonde said she probably will have one more race before the May 5 Kentucky Oaks but didn't say what that prep might be.
--Celestial Legend, the heavy odds-on favorite, just did make good on her promise in Saturday's $75,000 Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland. After saving ground, the City Zip filly was boxed in as the field turned for home and forced to go through a narrow opening on the rail. Once through, she just got up to win by a nose over Cantora. Sea Pines was third. Celestial Legend, a Maryland-bred filly with Erick Rodriguez up, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:41.53. "My horse wanted to go but it was just a matter of waiting for the perfect moment to make a move," said Rodriguez. "She was just galloping and then the rail opened." Trainer Dale Capuano said he will "play it by ear" in deciding whether to point Celestial Legend for the Oaks or keep her home for the Black Eyed Susan on Preakness Eve.
In other weekend racing:
Star Parade took charge in the stretch run in Saturday's $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap for fillies and mares, drawing clear to win by 2 lengths over the favorite, Proposed. Hollywood Story rallied from far back to take third. Star Parade, a 7-year-old, Argentine-bred mare by Parade Marshall, ran 1 1/16 mile on a fast main track in 1:42.31 for jockey Martin Pedroza and became only the second distaffer to win the event twice. Gay Style turned the trick in 1975 and 1976. Star Parade's career earnings also moved over the $1 million mark thanks to the Santa Maria purse. "Star Parade is definitely one of the best mares I've ever ridden," said Pedroza.
In Sunday's $200,000 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies, Seafree led from gate to wire, posting a significant upset. Play Ballado was second, 1 3/4 lengths back and Sharp Lisa was 7 1/2 lengths farther back in third. The heavy odds-on favorite, Pussycat Doll, dueled for the lead on the inside, weakened and finished fourth of five, snaring some bridge-jumpers and creating juicy show payoffs. Seafree, a daughter of Chief Seattle, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:50.04 with Patrick Valenzuela aboard for trainer Bobby Frankel. It was her first stakes race. Bob Baffert, who trains Pussycat Doll, said the filly "didn't run her race. She got a little rank on the inside there and (jockey Garrett Gomez) said at the half-mile pole he was totally out of horse."
Gulch Approval broke on top in Saturday's $100,000 Appleton Handicap and stayed there, winning by 1/2 length over fellow long shot Old Dodge. Drum Major was third and the favorite, Host, checked sharply entering the stretch, fell back to finish eighth and his rider lost a claim of foul. Gulch Approval, a 6-year-old son of Gulch, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:32.80 with Roberto Alvarado Jr. in the irons. "I just followed instructions," said Alvarado. "He made it pretty easy. So I just let him run and he took care of everything from there." Gulch Approval was coming back from a 3-month vacation. Last year, he was 1-for-10, with the only victory coming in an optional claimer at Churchill Downs.
Sunday, Can't Beat It rallied outside from well back to win the $60,000 Hallandale Beach Stakes for 3-year-olds by 1 3/4 lengths. Mr. Silver was second and Up an Octave third. Can't Beat It, a Kentucky-bred son of Atticus, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:39.39 with Eddie Castro up. "We're not going to rule out putting him back on the dirt," said winning trainer Marty Wolfson. "These Atticuses get better as they get older." The cot was coming off a fifth-place finish behind Barbaro in the Tropical Park Derby at Calder Race Course on New Year's Day.
Rockport Harbor led most of the way in Saturday's $100,000 Essex Handicap and won by 2 1/4 lengths, but not before turning back a determined bid by Thunder Mission at the top of the stretch. Thunder Mission held on for second, just a neck in front of Silver Axe. Rockport Harbor, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Unbridled's Song, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a "good" main track in 1:47.68. "I guess they just let him go, figuring he'd come back," said winning trainer John Servis. "But he showed 'em the old Rocky. The race reminded me of the (2005) Remsen, when Galloping Grocer got to him, and he held him off." Look for Rockport Harbor next in the Razorback on March 12.
Capitano, the favorite, worked through traffic to the lead on the turn for home in Saturday's $75,000 Turf Paradise Handicap, then held on well to beat Western Act by 1/2 length. Aza, the early leader, held on for third-place money. Capitano is a 5-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Belong to Me. She ran the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:43.44 with Jon Court up.
Cat Quatorze got the lead halfway through Saturday's $50,000 Likely Exchange Stakes and drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Cercatore. Quite a Ruckus was third. Cat Quatorze, a 4-year-old bay filly by Louis Quatorze, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:39.85. "She kind of wanted to go," said winning rider Julien Leparoux, "so I let her do what she wants. She was maybe a little nervous in the paddock and in the post parade. But then she relaxed and was very good."
Tampa Bay Downs
Sir Shackleton, last seen running eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic, had things more his own way in Saturday's $50,000 Super Stakes. After stalking the pace, the 5-year-old son of Miswaki wore down pace-setter Above the Wind during the stretch drive and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Purim. Above the Wind held third. Sir Shackleton, with Jeremy Rose aboard, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:22.28. "He is a real warrior -- no question about it," said winning trainer Nick Zito. "He has run with the best in America and it is always a pleasure to run at Tampa."