If "will to win" makes the difference in the Kentucky Derby, look out for Barbero.
The Dynaformer colt Saturday remained undefeated and answered a last, lingering question as he gamely battled down the stretch to win the $1 million Florida Derby by 1/2 length over Sharp Humor.
Even though he was undefeated in four previous starts, Barbero had never raced on a fast main track. His first three wins came on the turf and his last on a sloppy track in the Holy Bull Stakes, eight weeks ago. He had no trouble Saturday handling the fast Gulfstream Park surface.
The dark bay son of Dynaformer had plenty of trouble with Sharp Humor, however, and needed plenty of pluck to prevail. Sharp Humor, winner of the 7-furlong Swale Stakes in his last outing, set a moderate pace with Barbaro right behind and on the outside. On the turn, jockey Edgar Prado set Barbaro to challenge and the pair ran, as Mike Battaglia would say, "together" through much of the stretch before Barbaro edged in front. He finished the 1 1/8 mile in 1:49.01. Sunriver was third.
Trainer Michael Matz said Barbaro will go right to the Kentucky Derby with five weeks' rest. "I'm no more concerned now than I was about the 8-week layoff," Matz said of the open stretch of time to the first Saturday in May. "We'll keep him here about a week or so, and then probably go to Keeneland, probably work once there and then go on to Churchill."
Sharp Humor also will be trained up to the Derby, said trainer Dale Romans. "If you had told me yesterday that I'd get beat a head, I'd be ecstatic," he said. "But my horse fought so hard and kept looking like he was going to win, it's become a disappointment."
Todd Pletcher said Sunriver "needed to run well to go forward and I think he did that. Now it will be a question of graded stakes earnings" to see if he can get in the Kentucky Derby field, which is limited to 20.
Kiaran McLaughlin, whose Flashy Bull finished a dull seventh, said he will "regroup and point for the Kentucky Derby.
-- In the day's other major Derby prep, trainer Bob Baffert sent out the exacta in Saturday's $600,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico. Wanna Runner, the even-money favorite, stayed close to the pace on the backstretch, challenged outside the leaders on the turn and easily won off by 4 3/4 lengths. The Ontario-bred son of El Corredor ran the 9 furlongs in 1:48.88. Sky Diving was second, well clear of Belligerence in third. Wanna Runner was third in the San Rafael behind Brother Derek and Stevie Wonderboy, so he is no stranger to top competition. However, he was a well-beaten fifth in his last start, the El Camino Real Derby, when Baffert experimented by removing his blinkers. He now has three wins from seven starts. "He looked pretty awesome today," said Baffert of Wanna Runner. Owner Mike Pegram indicated the colt might head to Canada, presumably to contest the Queen's Plate. But Baffert said the Kentucky Derby still might be on his radar screen. "I'm getting that temperature," he said. "Derby fever. I feel pretty good."
In races with potential Kentucky Oaks implications:
-- Sweet Fourty camped behind the leaders until the stretch run of Saturday's $250,000 WinStar/Sunland Park Oaks, then dueled pace-setting Princess Patricia into submission and held on to beat Well Hidden by 3 1/2 lengths. Princess Patricia held third. Sweet Fourty, a Florida-bred daughter of Sweetsouthernsaint, ran the 1 1/16 mile under Victor Espinoza in 1:43.73. The filly, trained by Jeff Mullins, was the odds-on favorite despite making her first start of the year. She went 2-for-6 last year but did not win a stakes.
In other weekend racing:
Silver Whistle was just up in the final strides to win Saturday's $150,000 Pan American Handicap by a neck from pace-setting Ramazutti. Go Deputy was third. Silver Whistle, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Alphabet Soup, ran 1 1/2 mile on the turf in 2:24.35 with Edgar Prado in the irons for trainer Bill Mott. "It took him all the way to the wire to finally win one of these," Mott said. "He had some near misses at Saratoga and it looked like he could stay. He did it in decent company. Hopefully, there's more to come."
Little Thunder got to the lead on the turn in Saturday's $100,000 Artax Handicap and easily drew clear of six rivals, winning by 5 lengths over Nightmare Affair. Gygistar, the favorite, finished third. Little Thunder, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred son of Sword Dance, ran the 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:27.97 with Clinton Potts up. In his previous start, he won a $50,000 claimer. "He's a nice horse and he's great to work with," said winning trainer Alex Prado. "This race was our payoff for our work."
Exclusive Quality pressed the early pace in Saturday's $75,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes for 3-year-olds, got the lead on the turn and then held on late to beat Diabolical by 1/2 length. R Loyal Man finished third. Exclusive Quality, a Florida-bred son of Elusive Quality, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.88 for John Velazquez. "He's probably a sprinter," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "Maybe the most we'd stretch him out is seven-eighths, or even a mile. There are races like the Withers or the Riva Ridge, or any number of other races at Belmont.
Honey Ryder took charge when asked by jockey John Velazquez in Saturday's $150,000 Orchid Handicap for fillies and mares and swept to a 4-lengths victory over Olaya. Noble Stella was third and Dynamite Lass fourth. Honey Ryder, a 5-year-old daughter of Lasting Approval, is named for the heroine of the first James Bond movie, "Doctor No." She ran the 1 1/2 mile of the Orchid in 2:23.07. "I think this is probably the best race she's ever run," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "And that's saying a lot because she's been such a very good, consistent mare." He said he "will take a look at" the Bewitch at Keeneland "and play it from there."
Bandini led almost all the way to a 1 1/4-length victory over We Can Seek in Saturday's $100,000 Skip Away Handicap. O'Connell's was third. Bandini, the heavy favorite, ran the 1 1/8 mile in 1:49.11 for John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher, who both had a good day. Bandini is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Fusaichi Pegasus. "We'll point for the Met Mile," said Pletcher. "That's been the plan."
Drum Major marched home first in Saturday's $75,000 Lure Stakes, rallying from mid-pack with an inside move at the top of the stretch. Rebel Rebel was second and Wishingitwas finished third. Drum Major, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Dynaformer, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:32.67 with Raphael Bejarano up.
Surf Cat, the prohibitive favorite, had things his own way in Sunday's $200,000 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap. After tracking the pace, the 4-year-old Sir Cat colt swept to the front turning for home and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Grinding It Out. Oceanus was third. Surf Cat ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.00 with Alex Solis up. But winning trainer Bruce Headley said the colt won't be staying in the sprint ranks long. Rather than heading east for the Met Mile at Belmont, "I'm going to Hollywood for the Mervin LeRoy (1 1/16 mile), the Californian (1 1/8 mile) and the Hollywood Gold Cup," Headley said. Solis said Surf Cat "is just a good horse. He'll do some great things."
Saturday, Bettarun Fast did just that in the stretch run of the $100,000 Santa Paula Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, closing nicely in the final sixteenth to nip El Mirage Queen by 1/2 length at the wire. Acceleration finished a nose farther back in third. Bettarun Fast, a Florida-bred daughter of Kelly Kip, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.08 with Aaron Gryder up. "She broke well," Gryder said, "and kind of settled in behind them and I thought the best chance we had was just to sit there. ... Turning for home, there was a little bit of a gap and my filly responded when I called on her." Court said Preachinatthebar "really seemed to get a hold" of the wet-fast track "and he was liking it."
In Saturday's $100,000 Tokyo City Handicap, Preachinatthebar came from off the pace to win a dash to the wire, beating Texcess by 1 length. Melanyhasthepapers was third and the favorite, El Roblar, finished fourth. Preachinatthebar, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Silver Charm, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:48.14 for jockey Jon Court.
West Virginia came from the middle of the pack to run down pace-setting Funny Cide and win Saturday's $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths. Colita, the favorite, finished third. West Virginia, a 5-year-old, New York-bred son of Tomorrows Cat, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:48.28 with Norberto Arroyo Jr. up for trainer Todd Pletcher. "He gives you 110 percent every time you lead him over there," said Pletcher assistant Seth Benzel. "It's nice to see him rebound after a copule of tough races." Funny Cide's rider, Richard Migliore, said the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner "ran a fantastic race. Blood and guts all the way to the wire."
While the invaders were stealing the limelight in the Win Star Derby, Fullofenergy proved peppiest in the companion $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby. Taking advantage of a pace-stalking trip, the Desert God gelding moved to the leader, Manolito, in the stretch run and beat him to the wire by 1 length. Matchstick Man was third. Fullofenergy ran 1 mile in 1:36.76 with Carlos Madeira up.
Show Me Your Glory was never headed in Saturday's $100,000 Harry W. Henson Breeders' Cup Handicap for fillies and mares, drawing clear in the stretch to win by 5 1/4 lengths over Red Lifesaver. Peace Symbol ran third. Show Me Your Glory, a 5-year-old, California-bred mare by Alphabet Soup, ran 1 mile in 1:35.47 for Victor Espinoza.
Golden Gate Fields
Eleanor Rose made every post a winning one in Saturday's $100,000 Work the Crowd Handicap for California-bred fillies and mares. Breaking from the inside post under jockey Martin Garcia, the 5-year-old In Excess mare shook off a challenge from odds-on favorite Somethinaboutlaura and went on to beat that rival by 6 lengths. Just a Tizzy was third. Eleanor Rose ran the 11/16 mile in 1:43.31.
Seabreeze Blvd. rallied around the leaders as the field turned for home in Saturday's $75,000 Inaugural Stakes for 3-year-olds and went on to win by 4 lengths over Chief What It Is. L.S. Fast Jack was third. Seabreeze Blvd., a Kentucky-bred son of Mt. Livermore, finished the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.48 for jockey Jose Riquelme.
Princess Pelona jumped out to an early lead in Saturday's $60,000 Snow Goose Stakes for fillies and mares and held the advantage to the wire, winning by 3 1/4 lengths over Dynamic Deputy. Take A Check finished third and the favorite, Promenade Girl, was fifth. Princess Pelona, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by El Prado, ran the 1 mile in 1:37.78 for jockey Jose Caraballo.
Dress Grey won a sharp duel for the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Smart Halo Stakes for 3-year-old fillies -- the first quarter went in :21.94 -- and then drew clear to win handily. At the line, the Maryland-bred daughter of Lion Hearted was 8 1/2 lengths ahead of her nearest rival, Ten Halos. The favorite, Summer Cruise, cruised home third. Dress Gray ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.48 for jockey Erik Rodriguez.
Gallant Secret came from next-last in a field of 12 to win Saturday's $50,000 Fairway Fun Stakes for fillies and mares. Fanned out five-wide on the turn, the 4-year-old Menifee filly blew by the leaders and went on to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Cape Hope. Quite a Ruckus finished third. The 1 1/16 mile went in 1:46.03 on the all-weather track. James Graham rode the winner for trainer James Jackson.
Heart Appeal was quickly in front in Saturday's $50,000 Rainbow Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds and extended his lead to the wire, winning by 4 1/4 length over Catch That Moxie. Meme's Boy was third and the favorite, Brassie Prince, finished fifth. Heart Appeal, a gelding by Smolderin Heart, went to the post at odds of nearly 23-1. With John Jacinto up, he finished 6 furlongs in 1:12.22.
In the companion $50,000 Rainbow Miss for 3-year-old, Arkansas-bred fillies, Stormy Destin stalked the pace, got to the leaders with a three-wide move on the turn and cruised home a 5-lengths winner over Rachelsarompin. Downthedustyroad was third. Stormy Dustin is by Storm and a Half. She ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.48 under Robby Albarado.
Saturday, Platinum Princess got the lead along the rail in the $50,000 Carousel Stakes for fillies and mares and held the advantage all the way home. At the wire, she was 3/4 length ahead of Miss Elsie, with True Tails third. Platinum Princess, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Wolf Power, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.61 with Stewart Elliott in the irons.
Quiz answer: "Came home hands and heels" means the jockey rode the horse to the wire without having to resort to the whip -- encouraging the steed with movements of his hands and pressure of his feet. To those who responded -- Alastair Donald, Susie Sourwine, John McEvoy and Susan Parker -- thanks both for the answer and for reading all the way to the bottom of this weekly opus.