California-based horses dominated the weekend's Kentucky Derby preps -- even though two of them were running in Louisiana and one of them found nothing but trouble at the end of his travels.
Notional shipped in from California for Saturday's $300,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, then drew the No. 12 post position. Undaunted, jockey Robby Albarado kept the In Excess colt well placed in mid-pack, came through horses and drew off in the long stretch run to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Imawildandcrazyguy. Zanjero was third. The 1 1/16 mile took 1:44.18.
Albarado said Notional "was in tight quarters a little turning for home. But this is a nice, big horse with a quick turn of foot when you ask him and what also helped us today was a quick pace up front."
Another California shipper, Circular Quay, runner-up to Street Sense in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, got a slow start while making his 3-year-old debut in the Risen Star. He was just gearing turning for home when he was stopped badly behind a fallen rider at the top of the stretch. Circular Quay still rallied well to finish fifth.
Notional, after two sub-par performances on the artificial track at Hollywood Park last year, won the San Rafael in his 3-year-old debut last time out at Santa Anita. Zanjero was second to Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Remsen at Aqueduct last November. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Circular Quay "was flying by everybody at the end. Obviously, we were very unlucky today. But I wouldn't trade places with anybody now."
Meanwhile, back in California, Noble Court stayed in his home court and came away with a hard-fought victory in the $150,000 San Vicente at Santa Anita. After two of the favorites -- Hurry Up Austin and Major Pleasure -- were scratched, only five sophomores lined up to face the starter.
Noble Court stalked the pace, took the lead with a quarter mile to run and then held on to win by a neck over Law Breaker. Half Famous was third. Noble Court, a Kentucky-bred colt by Doneraile Court out of the Grindstone mare Grey Dawn Grey, ran the 7 furlongs on a "wet fast" track in 1:23.12.
"He was running a little green but I was just patient," said winning rider Corey Nakatani. "When you're on much the best horse, I'd rather save ground and win the race than ask the horse to do too much and not win the race."
Trainer John Sadler said he thought Noble Court struggled with the racing surface, but added, "We're happy to come out with a win on a surface he really didn't love." He said the San Felipe on March 17 is the next likely target.
In other potential Kentucky Derby preps:
-- Summer Doldrums dueled for the lead in Saturday's $65,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct, got the advantage at the top of the stretch and drew off convincingly, winning by 5 1/4 lengths. Sir Whimsey was second with Sports Town third. The odds-on favorite, Lawrence the Roman, faded badly to finish fifth of six in his first try outside the ranks of New York-breds. Pink Viper was last. Summer Doldrums, a Kentucky-bred colt by Street Cry, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.23. Mike Luzzi had the ride for trainer Richard Violette Jr. "This is a very nice horse," Violette said. "I'm glad he's reinforced the talent we thought he had. He's won three of his last four starts now." The Whirlaway is a prep for the Gotham Stakes and the Wood Memorial.
-- Joe Got Even took his chances with the track bias in Saturday's $50,000 WEBN Stakes at Turfway Park in Kentucky, lying behind the pace until midway around the stretch turn. Then, with encouragement from jockey Miguel Mena, the Kentucky-bred son of Stephen Got Even accelerated between rivals and ran off to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Cobrador was second but not gaining any ground and Eighteenthofmarch finished third. Joe Got Even ran the 1 mile in 1:39.73 and appears a likely candidate for the John Battaglia and the Lane's End Stakes, also at Turfway. His sire won the 1999 Lane's End, then called the GalleryFurniture Dot com Stakes. "I had a little concern because speed was holding up today," said winning trainer Phil Sims. "But we decided to stay with our game plan and make a big run like he wants to."
Kentucky Oaks preps
-- Rags to Riches rallied from near the back of the pack to win Saturday's $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita by 3/4 lengths over pace-setting Baroness Thatcher. Runway Rosie finished third with an even effort. Rags to Riches, a Kentucky-bred daughter of A.P. Indy, covered the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.85 with Garrett Gomez in the irons. "She overcame a lot today and she's not very seasoned," said Gomez. "I have high hopes for her." It was the third start for Rags to Riches, who cost $1.9 million as a yearling and broke her maiden at Santa Anita on Jan. 7.
-- Appealing Zophie led from gate to wire in Saturday's $200,000 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds, drawing off in the stretch to win by 4 1/4 lengths as the favorite. Total was second after tracking a moderate pace and Get Ready Bertie checked in third. Appealing Zophie, a Florida-bred daughter of Successful Appeal, was fourth in last November's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. She ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.13 under John Velazquez. "It's good to be right with the other speed horse and slow it down like we did," said Velazquez. "When I hit her, she switched leads and got away."
-- Saturday's $150,000 Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park produced a significant upset as last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly and Eclipse Award divisional champion Dreaming of Anna suffered the first defeat of her career. After stumbling at the start, Dreaming of Anna was rushed into contention, reached the lead turning for home but didn't have enough left to compete in the final furlong, fading to finish third. Dream Rush, who rushed right to the lead, held on for the win, finishing 3 1/2 lengths ahead of You Asked. Dream Rush is a Kentucky-bred filly by Wild Rush. She ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.60 for jockey Rafael Bejarano. "We're going to try to stretch her out," said winning trainer Richard Violette Jr. "She's out of an Unbridled mare and they are supposed to get two turns." He mentioned the Bonnie Miss on March 10. Dreaming of Anna is likely to return to turf competition.
-- Christmas Kid pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream, went to the lead midway around the turn and drew off to win by 4 lengths over High Again. Lisa M finished third. The favorite, Mediations, pulled up at the top of the stretch and was vanned off. Christmas Kid, a Virginia-bred filly by Lemon Drop Kid, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.34. Rene Douglas had the ride for trainer James Jerkens. The dirt race was an experiment after Jerkens had run Christmas Kid successfully on the green course. "You could see the way she was training, the way she would work next to other horses on the dirt, that it was just effortless," Jerkens said. He said he may run the filly back in the Bonnie Miss on March 10.
-- Bare Dancer had to come five-wide to get room in Saturday's $50,000 Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland but once she got free, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Cherokee Run got up in time to win by 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Laila's Punch. Wow Me Free was third. Bare Dancer, with Dyn Panell aboard for trainer Gary Contessa, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:40.08.
-- Eastlake Avenue stalked the pace set by odds-on favorite Glorification in Saturday's $100,000 California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields near San Francisco, came to challenge on the turn and got clear after some bumping to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Black Hills Goldie was third and Whims and Fancies completed the order of finish. Eastlake Avenue is a California-bred daughter of Globalize. She ran the 1 1/16 mile on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:45.90 with Chad Schvaneveldt up.
In other weekend racing:
Master Command was in command all the way in Saturday's $200,000 Mineshaft Handicap. After stalking the pace, the 5-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred son of A.P. Indy went to the lead as the field entered the long Fair Grounds stretch and ran off to win by 6 lengths. Patriot Act was second and Well Said finished third. Master Command ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.28 with John Velazquez at the controls on a day when both the main and the turf course were playing exceptionally fast. "At the sixteenth pole, he began to wander a bit," said Velazquez, "but at that point he was much the best." Trainer Todd Pletcher said he plans to run the horse back in the New Orleans Handicap.
Cloudy's Knight, winless for some two years, made a determined move along the outside through the stretch and was up just in time to win Saturday's $200,000 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap by a neck over Devilment. Storm Treasure was third and the defending champion, Fort Prado, finished fifth as the favorite. Cloudy's Knight, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Lord Avie, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:49.48 with Ramsey Zimmerman at the controls.
Gaff rallied from off the pace to win Saturday's $100,000 Taylor's Special Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Wrzeszcz. Santana Strings finished third. Gaff, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Maria's Mon, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.12 for jockey Donnie Meche.
Sugar Shake broke from the rail and led all the way in Saturday's $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap for fillies and mares, shaking clear in the end to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Ermine. Rahy's Appeal finished third. Sugar Shake, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Awesome Again, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a fast track in 1:43.89. David Flores rode for trainer Bobby Frankel. "She just changed gears and went to a different stride when they got close to her," Flores said. "She kind of pricked her ears again down the lane and I just had to work a little bit on her."
Sunday, Balance returned to the form that found her in the winner's circle after last year's Kentucky Oaks as she rallied from well off the pace to post a dominating win in the $200,000 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies. With Victor Espinoza up for trainer David Hofmans, Balance came four-wide around the stretch turn and charged to a 4 3/4-length win over Bai and Bai. Les Ry Leigh finished third. The 9 furlongs took 1:49.41 on a "wet fast" track. Balance had not won in three starts as a favorite since her Oaks win. "It's great to have her back," Hofmans said. "I think she's stronger and bigger. You can just see it." He said she is likely to run back in the Santa Margarita Handicap on March 10.
Jonesboro took the lead right out of the gate in Saturday's $100,000 Essex Handicap, set a moderate pace and cruised home first, 5 3/4 lengths ahead of Red Raymond. More Than Regal finished third. Jonesboro, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Sefapiano, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.20 with Calvin Borel up for trainer Randy Morse.
Tampa Bay Downs
D'artagnans'spirit trailed most of his 12 rivals through the early stages of Saturday's $75,000 Super Stakes, moved up along the inside and then got through on the rail with a furlong to go and went on to win by 1 length. Weigelia finished second and Above the Wind was a longshot third. D'artagnans'spirit, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred gelding by Secret Hello, finished the 7 furlongs on a fast track in1:23.62 with Jose Lezcano in the irons.
Ella Belle got the jump on nine rivals in Saturday's $50,000 Likely Exchange Stakes for fillies and mares and wasn't caught. At the wire, the 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Elnadim was 3 1/2 lengths in front, with Half Heaven second and Daring Julie third. Ella Belle ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:39.86 under Phil Teator.
Victorina, the odds-on favorite, came from just off the pace to win Saturday's $45,000 Princess of Palms Handicap for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths in a confident ride by Glenn Corbett. Katy Smiles, who lead turning for home, held well for second and Mirando was a distant third. Victorina, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred filly by Delaware Township, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.50.
Artesian led from gate to wire in upsetting Saturday's $50,000 Budweiser Handicap. Dispatched at odds of 23-1, the 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Siphon set a pressured pace into the stretch, then drew clear and won by 2 lengths over Any Questions. Dangerous Devon finished third. With Jake Barton riding, Artesian ran 5 furlongs in 56.55 seconds.