The Kentucky Derby shapes up as a full field of 20 horses, with no clear favorite and a lot of promising longshot players.
Weekend racing only added to the puzzle as the first two finishers in Saturday's $325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland may become additional pieces in the Run for the Roses jigsaw.
But the Derby lost what might have been its biggest head-scratcher when Godolphin Racing announced last week Discreet Cat, impressive winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai, will not contest the Triple Crown races. Instead, the impressive colt will ship to New York and prepare for a summer and fall campaign, presumably to culminate at Churchill Downs -- but in the Breeders' Cup, not the Derby.
In the Lexington, Showing Up stepped into the stakes ranks for the first time in his third career start and ran impressively. After enduring some bumping and traffic problems early, jockey Cornelio Velasquez saved ground until the field neared the stretch, then came wide, got clear and won off by 1 1/4 lengths. Like Now was second and longshot Bear Character completed the trifecta.
Showing Up, a Kentucky-bred colt by Strategic Mission, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:46.42. He is trained by Barclay Tagg for Lael Stables, which also owns undefeated Derby hopeful Barbaro.
Tagg said Showing Up is "not a big, robust horse" and the two-week interval to the Derby indicates "probably good judgment and good sense would say not to run. But there is only one Kentucky Derby and he's done everything we've asked of him. So you think you have to give him a chance."
Showing Up earned $201,000 as the winner's share of the Grade II race -- more than enough to get him into the Derby field. Like Now, winner of the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in his last start, may not have enough in the bank to get into the Derby.
In other Derby developments:
-- At Pimlico, Ah Day stalked the pace down the backstretch in Saturday's $100,000 Federico Tessio Stakes, got to the front on the turn and drew off to win convincingly, by 5 1/2 lengths, over Vegas Play. Putonyerdancinshuz was third. Ah Day, a Maryland-bred son of Malibu Moon, got the 1 1/8 mile in 1:50.88 over a sloppy, sealed track for jockey Ryan Folgersonger. Even though he has won three of his last four starts, however, Ah Day has no graded stakes earnings and wouldn't qualify for a full Kentucky Derby field. And trainer King Leatherbury said he probably won't supplement Ah Day to the Triple Crown so he could run in the Preakness Stakes.
-- Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer announced Saturday that Cause to Believe, despite a dull effort in the Illinois Derby, will go on to the Run for the Roses. The colt has won six of 10 starts, including the California Derby and the El Camino Real Derby. "The way the race is shaping up was the deciding factor," Hollendorfer said. "We just think there will be a lot of speed in the race."
-- Irridescence shot out to the lead in Sunday's Audemars Piguet QE II at Sha Tin in Hong Kong and jockey Weichong Marwing made her advantage stand up -- barely. At the wire, the filly was a head better than Best Gift and just another head in front of an onrushing Ouija Board. "That wasn't exactly the plan," said a relieved and happy Marwing. "I think that she is a better filly when she is held up. But when there was no pace and she broke well, I felt that I had to go on. It all worked out okay in the end and she held on well to the line." Owner Steve Karlin indicated he might like to send his filly to Europe. But South African-based trainer Mike de Kock said Irridescence might not have the disposition to make a good international traveler. Eric Saint-Martin, who partnered the Hong Kong-based Best Gift, said he had no excuses. Frankie Dettori, in to ride Ouija Board, said his mare was flying in the straight. "At a mile and a half, she's the winner. No doubt about it," Dettori said. "She just ran out of track." Viva Pataca, winner of the Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby, finished sixth in the QE II. "He had a bad draw, couldn't get in, caught three-wide with no cover and that was his chance gone," said trainer John Moore.
In weekend racing with potential implications for this fall's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred championships:
Three Hour Nap sat behind the leaders in Saturday's $250,000 National Jockey Club Handicap at Hawthorne Race Course, then got through on the inside and went on to win by 1 length over Summer Book. Courthouse was third and the favorite, Colita, ran last all the way around. With Francisco Torres aboard, Three Hour Nap ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:52.48. The 4-year-old colt is a Kentucky-bred son of Afternoon Deelites. "This horse runs better when he has a horse to run at," said Torres. "We just got lucky when the fence opened up today. Winning trainer Hugh Robertson, who also handled Polar Expedition during his glory years, said Three Hour Nap has survived a lot of injuries. "Hopefully he'll be sound now," Robertson said. "He's a pretty nice horse and always acted like a mile and an eighth would be his best distance. Maybe it will be." Jockey Jose Santos said Colita never ran well at any point in the race.
-- Fleet Indian, the odds-on favorite, ran to her reputation in winning Saturday's $250,000 Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne Race Course outside Chicago. Jumping out quickly to the lead for jockey Jose Santos, the 5-year-old, New York-bred daughter of Indian Charlie set a pressured pace down the backstretch, hit another gear at the top of the lane and won off by 12 1/2 lengths, ridden out. Silver Highlight was best of the rest and Platinum Ballet finished third. Fleet Indian ran the 1 1/8 mile in 1:49.37. "This filly is getting better and better," Santos said. "There is no strategy with this kind of horse. You just have to make sure you don't fall off." Owner Paul Saylor bought Fleet Indian with the thought of breeding her. "But, she showed in the two races that I've had her that she's better than I thought she was," he said. "Good horses, good trainers and good riders make owners look smart."
-- Magnolia Jackson pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct in New York, got past pace-setting Trickle of Gold and went on to win by a neck over the late-running Grecian Lover. Annika Lass finished third, with Trickle of Gold fourth and the favorite, Smuggler, fifth and last after stumbling at the break. Magnolia Jackson, a 4-year-old, New York-bred daughter of Cape Canaveral, ran the 7 furlongs on a track listed as fast (sealed) in 1:23.87. "She's always been a great filly in my eyes," said winning trainer Gary Contessa. "I loved how she won stretching out to 7 furlongs today. I think this could be a nice springboard to a mile race." Smuggler, winner of the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award last year, was victimized by the bad start and slow pace. "It was good to get her back going," said trainer Shug McGaughey.
-- Lost in the Fog lost his undefeated status in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint and has been resting ever since. So trainer Greg Gilchrist warned he might not be at the top of his game for Saturday's $100,000 Oakland Tribune Golden Gate Fields Sprint. Fair warning, largely ignored by the punters, who made Lost in the Fog the odds-on favorite for the race. But it was Carthage, with Dennis Carr up, who went to the lead on the turn and held on easily to beat Lost in the Fog by 3 lengths. Elegant Ice was third and Twentythreejaybird completed the order of finish. Carthage, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Smoke Glacken, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.08. Lost in the Fog's trainer, Greg Gilchrist said he wasn't discouraged, pointing out his horse toted 125 pounds and didn't like the "cuppy" track. "You're the Eclipse Award winner, you're supposed to carry eight and supposed to be the best horse," he said.
Filly and Mare Turf
--nSharp Lisa broke sharply in Saturday's $200,000 Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita, went quickly to the lead under Corey Nakatani and drew clear down the backstretch. In the stretch run, she drifted out a bit and just managed to hang on to win by a nose over Eternal Melody. Cissy was third and the favorite, Argentina, was fourth. Sharp Lisa, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Dixieland Band from the Dynaformer filly Winter's Gone, ran the 1 1/4 mile on firm turf in 2:02.17. "We couldn't have won it without Corey's ride," said winning trainer Doug O'Neill. "Corey slowed it down up front and left a lot in the tank." Argentina's rider, Alex Solis, said his mount "just flattened out the last eighth of a mile."
-- Lady of Venice, making her U.S. debut for trainer Patrick Biancone, got a rough start and a wide trip in Sunday's $100,000 Appalachian Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland but survived and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths over May Night. J'ray was third. Lady of Venice, a French-bred daughter of Loup Solitaire, got the 1 mile on firm footing in 1:35.85 with Julien Leparoux riding. "She's a lovely filly," Biancone said. "We've loved her since the first time she worked. Julien gave her a good ride and she was the best today."
-- T.H. Approval Sunday won the $250,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap for the second time, making him the first horse in the 38-year history of the marathon. Rallying from off the pace with Alex Solis at the controls, T.H. Approval got to the lead at mid-stretch and got clear to win by 1 length over One Off. Quinquin the King was third. T.H. Approval, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of With Approval, finished the "about" 1 3/4 miles on firm turf in 2:45.29. "We had a great trip," Solis said. "I love this horse. He's so great to ride. He is such a cool horse and that's good for this kind of race because he relaxes so well."
-- Foreverness sat right behind the leaders in Saturday's $100,000 Fort Marcy Handicap at Aqueduct, angled out at the top of the stretch to reach the lead and then took charge, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Pa Pa Da. Sabre d'Argent was third. Foreverness, a 7-year-old, New York-bred gelding by Island Whirl, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:42.99 for jockey Eibar Coa, breaking a nine-race losing skein. "When I asked my horse on the turn, I wasn't sure how much run he was going to give me," Coa said. "But as soon as he switched leads, he had another gear. This should set him up for a really big season."
In other weekend racing:
Gilded Gold pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Giant's Causeway Stakes for fillies and mares, got the lead at the top of the stretch and held on to win by 3/4 length over Bright Gold. Ebony Breeze was third. Gilded Gold, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Gilded Time, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:02.81 for Javier Castellano.
Jockey Patrick Valenzuela found a hole along the rail Pure as Gold during the stretch run of Saturday's $100,000 San Simeon Handicap, went through and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Saint Buddy. The favorite, Siren Lure, was third with a late rally. Pure as Gold, a 4-year-old, Washington-bred son of Stolen Gold, ran "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.56. "When we crossed the dirt," said Valenzuela, the leader drifted out. We got through and he just took off."
Pagan Moon rallied past pace-setting Rainbow Inthestorm with a furlong to go in Saturday's $125,000 Maryland Stallion Station Stakes for 3-year-olds and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over that rival. Valid Brush finished third. Pagan Moon, a West Virginia-foaled son of Malibu Moon, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.74 on a sloppy track for jockey Ryan Folgelsonger.
Plata led from the git-go in Saturday's $125,000 Northview Stallion Station Stakes for fillies and mares and held on to win by 1 length over the favorite, Sticky. Silmaril was third. Plata is a 5-year-old mare by Skip Away. She got the 9 furlongs in 1:52.13 for jockey Mario Pino.
Somethinaboutbetty set a measured pace down the backstretch in Saturday's $125,000 Country Life Farm Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and held well, winning by 3/4 length over Crown You. Keep On ran tird an the favorite, For Kisses, faded in the stretch run to finish a well-beaten fourth. Somethinaboutbetty, a daughter of Forestry, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:46.13.
Sunday, The Student took the lead in the stretch and went on to win the $75,000 Hoover Stakes by 3/4 length over early leader P. Kerney. Gold Cluster finished third. The Student, a 7-year-old, Argentine-bred gelding by Mutakddim, ran the 6 furlongs on a "good" main track in 1:10.04 with Roberto Alvarado Jr. in the irons.
Atlas Shrugs rallied on the turn in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Woodstock Stakes for 3-year-olds, got through between horses in the stretch with a bit of difficulty and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Vibank, the favorite, was home second and Louis Nekie finished third. Atlas Shrugs, an Ontario-bred son of Compadre, got the 6 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:11.65 with Corey Fraser up. "Even after I had to take ahold of him (turning for home), I still had the feeling I was going to win," said Fraser. "He's such a game horse." Atlas Shrugs and Vibank are both prospects for the Queen's Plate.
Sunday's Star Shoot Stakes, and three other races, were canceled because of poor track conditions. The Star Shoot will be run next Sunday.
Carson's Castle led the way in Saturday's $50,000 Golden Circle Stakes for 3-year-olds, then just held off Kingsfield in the final strides to win by a head. Devil's Flight was third and the favorite, Okie Time, was third after stumbling at the start. Carson's Castle, a Kentucky-bred gelding by Slew City Slew, ran 6 furlongs under Alex Birzer in 1:10.28.
Hello Liberty rallied to the lead at the furlong pole in Saturday's $75,000 Peach Blossom Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and won off by 3 1/2 lengths. Amandatude was second and Lady of Summer third. Hello Liberty, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Forest Camp, ran the 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:10.62 for jockey Ramon Dominguez. Hello Liberty now has three wins from six starts. Trainer H. Larry Jones said she probably will stay at Delaware "because it looks like she really likes the track."
Answer to last week's quiz: No Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has ever sired a Kentucky Derby winner. In fact, among all sires of Kentucky Derby winners, only two have ever even run in the Juvenile -- both in the 1986 edition. Polish Navy ran seventh in that year's Juvenile, then sired 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero. Gulch ran fifth in the 1986 Juvenile and sired 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch. Gulch also ran ninth in the 1987 Breeders' Cup Classic and won the 1988 Sprint.