The fortunes of Kentucky Derby hopefuls fluctuated like the stock market during the weekend, with Nobiz Like Shobiz's shares plummeting while Great Hunter's and Scat Daddy's staged significant rallies.
Also among the "most active" on Derby futures were Stormello, Catman Running and King of the Roxy on the up side; Joe Got Even and Forefathers on the down.
-- Great Hunter, making his first start since finishing third in last October's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, won with authority in Saturday's $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, surprising even his owner. After breaking near the back of the pack, the Pennsylvania-bred son of Aptitude came four-wide into the stretch and drew off smartly, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Sam P. was second and Saint Paul third. He ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:42.89 with Corey Nakatani aboard for trainer Doug O'Neill. "We really didn't think he had to win today, because our goal is the first Saturday in May," said owner J. Paul Reddam. "But it sure was nice to win, anyway." O'Neill said Great Hunter might have his final start before the Derby in the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 14.
-- Scat Daddy ranged up on the far outside in the stretch drive of Saturday's $350,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park and just got by pace-setting Stormello in the final stride to win by a nose. With John Velazquez up, Scat Daddy finished the 1 1/8 mile in 1:49.11. The odds-on favorite, Nobiz Like Shobiz had every chance in the stretch and kept running but could do no better than third, another half-length back. Scat Daddy had beaten Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Champagne at Belmont Park last fall, then finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But he got home third behind Nobiz Like Shobiz in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream last month. "We felt our best chance was to repeat our Champagne effort," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher, "and make a run at him late. We took the overland route but it was our only choice." He said he expects to run Scat Daddy, a Kentucky-bred son of Johannesburg, again in the Florida Derby. Barclay Tagg, trainer of Nobiz Like Shobiz, said Saturday's race "surprised me. I thought he's lay third, then go to the front and win. I thought we'd go to the Wood Memorial but now I don't know."
-- King of the Roxy got a slow start in Saturday's $150,000, 7 1/2-furlong Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park, came four-wide around the leaders on the turn and drew off smartly to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Bold Start rallied late to take second and Out of Gwedda was third. Forefathers, the post-time favorite, also missed the break but was unable to recover, finishing seventh and never a factor. King of the Roxy, an Ohio-bred colt by Littleexpectations, also is trained by Todd Pletcher and Edgar Prado had the winning ride. King of the Roxy was eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and making his first start as a 3-year-old. "I don't think he's done at 7 1/2 (furlongs)," Pletcher said. "But I also don't know if he's a mile-and-a-quarter horse. He crossed a big hurdle today."
-- Catman Running got running around the turn in Saturday's $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky and surged past the leaders to win by 1 3/4 lengths. The favorite, Joe Got Even, was shut off badly at mid-stretch, altered course and resumed willingly but was unable to do better than second, 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner. Cobrador ran evenly to finish third. Catman Running, a gray son of Tactical Cat out of the Dr. Blum mare Nurse Dopey, ran the 1 1/16 mile over the all-weather track in 1:45.42 with Willie Martinez aboard. "He's been kind of a 6-foot-tall 12-year-old, so to speak," said winning trainer Eric Reed of Catman Running's maturation. "Each time we run him, he gets a little better." He said he plans to run his charge back in the March 24 Lane's End Stakes, the final Turfway prep for the Kentucky Derby.
-- Watch out for Air Commander, a huge son of Point Given who has been pushed along slowly by trainer Bob Baffert. The colt was impressive Sunday in winning a conditioned allowance race at Santa Anita by 1 3/4 lengths, finishing 9 furlongs in 1:51.10 under Garrett Gomez. The colt, owned in part by Three Chimneys Farm owner Robert N. Clay, broke his maiden at 1 1/16 mile on Feb. 4. Before Sunday's race, Baffert told Daily Racing Form, "I've had high hopes for him, but he's got to prove it. ... He's a big horse and he's learning how to run. He's still a big baby. He's improving with every out."
The Kentucky Oaks trail:
-- In Saturday's $75,000 Happy Ticket Stakes at Fair Grounds, Princess Deelite took her time ranging into competition, finally coming around the leaders on the turn and drawing off to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Huckie. Sara Bon Adeau got home third. Princess Deelite, a Louisiana-bred daughter of Afternoon Deelites, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.59 with Jamie Theriot in the irons.
-- The 2007 Asian Mile Challenge opened with an upset Saturday as Aqua d"Amore led all the way to victory in the Power Pays Futurity Stakes at Caulfield Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia. The 5-year-old mare finished 1 length to the good of the only other female contender, Sea Change. The favorite, El Segundo, couldn't find the needed extra gear in the late going but ran on well enough to finish third. The series, with total purse and bonus money of $12.3 million, continues with the Dubai Duty Free on March 31, the Champions Mile at Sha Tin in Hong Kong on April 29 and the Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo on June 3.
-- Absolute Champion and Vengeance of Rain, two of Hong Kong's international starts, strutted their stuff in a Group I double-bill Sunday at Sha Tin Race Course. Vengeance of Rain came from a pace-stalking position to take the lead at the top of the stretch in the Hong Kong Gold Cup and then held on to win by a neck over Viva Pataca -- his first victory since he took the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup in December 2005. He is being considered for the Dubai Sheema Classic on March 31 and trainer David Ferraris said a decision on that trip is imminent. "It was a tremendous win," Ferraris said of Sunday's effort, "one full of merit. And I honestly think there is still some room for improvement in him." Viva Pataca also is targeting the Sheema Classic. Absolute Champion, victor in the Hong Kong Sprint last December, survived a furious battle to the wire in the Chairman's Sprint prize, with Planet Ruler just a head-bob back in second at the finish. "It was a bit hearts-in-mouths, that's for sure," said winning trainer David Hall. "But somehow the good horses always know how to win." He said he hopes to stretch Absolute Champion out to as much as 1,400 meters. "I think he is more vulnerable at sprint trips nowadays," he said of the 5-year-old.
-- The March 31 Dubai World Cup got a bit more intrigue on Thursday when Godolphin Racing' current star attraction, Discreet Cat, missed his scheduled prep race with what racing manager Simon Crisford described as "a slightly elevated temperature." "It is not ideal in terms of his World Cup preparations to miss this race," Crisford admitted. "We now will go to 'Plan B' and try to give him a gallop to ensure that he is spot-on for the World Cup." The World Cup is billed as a showdown between Discreet Cat and last year's U.S. Horse of the Year, and Breeders' Cup Classic champ, Invasor.
In other weekend racing:
It's almost a "ho-hum." Lava Man rallied from a pace-stalking position in Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap, took the lead in the stretch and won by 3/4 length over Molengao. Boboman finished third. Lava Man, essentially unbeatable in California, became only the third horse to win the "Big Cap" twice, following John Henry and Milwaukee Brew. With Corey Nakatani up, the 6-year-old Slew City Slew gelding ran the 1 1/4 mile in 2:02.11. As consistent as he has been in California, Lava Man has been unsuccessful elsewhere, including a seventh-place finish in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. "This horse will do whatever you need him to do," said Nakatani. Unfortunately, he didn't like the track at Churchill Downs in the Breeders' Cup. Hopefully, this year at Monmouth Park, it will be a different story." Winning trainer Doug O'Neill said he will just "celebrate this moment ... .It's unbelievable." Jason Wood, a co-owner of the one-time $12,500 claimer, said next month's Dubai World Cup is still under consideration for Lava Man. The gelding already has earned more than $4.6 million.
In the Mile division, Kip Deville pulled off a mild upset in Saturday's $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap. Rallying from just off the lead, the 4-year-old, Oklahoma-bred son of Kipling got to the front in deep stretch and just held on to beat Bayeaux by a neck. Silent Name was another nose back in third. Kip Deville, with Richard Migliore up for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., finished in 1:33.88. "They went a little slower than I thought they would early," said Migliore. "But my horse relaxed well and I was happy with my position. ... My horse was really game to hold the lead like he did."
Passified dueled for the lead most of the way around in Saturday's $90,000 China Doll Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then had just enough left to win by a head over Hucking Hot. Gotta Have Her was third. The favorite, Courtwood, finished fifth. Passified, a British-bred daughter of Compton Place, was sent to the post at odds of 23-1 and finished the 1 mile in 1:34.88 under Mike Smith.
In Sunday's $100,000 La Habra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Super Freaky pressed the pace down the hillside turf course, took the lead crossing the dirt course into the stretch and drew off to win by 1 1/4 length over Macadamia. Macadamia then was disqualified for stretch interference, promoting Pay Wright to second and Seaside Affair to third. Super Freaky, a Florida-bred filly by Smart Strike, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs, aided by gravity, in 1:12.66 with Jon Court aboard.
Corinthian stalked the pace, saving ground, in Saturday's $350,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap, came three-wide on the turn to take the lead and then held off a late challenge from Hesanoldsalt to win by a neck. A.P. Arrow was third. Corinthian, the even-money favorite, ran 1 3/16 mile on a fast track in 1:55.06 under Javier Castellano. Corinthian is a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Pulpit out of the Easy Goer mare Multiply. "I thought Hesanoldsalt was going to get him," said winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens. "But he dug down. Little by little, he's learning how to act. Now he's not nervous. He's just ornery. Last year, he was nervous and ornery." He said he will take the horse back to New York and figure out where he will run next.
Half Ours survived a bumpy start and a backstretch challenge to win Saturday's $225,000 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship by 1/2 length over Park Avenue Ball, remaining undefeated after five lifetime starts. Diabolical was third and Bright One, who headed Half Ours nearing the turn, faded to finish fourth. Half Ours, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Unbridled's Song, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.21 with John Velazquez in the irons. "He's really a special horse -- very talented," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "I think he'll stretch out. But he's in such good form now, we ran him in here." He said he is eyeing the April 7 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct as the colt's next start.
In another early test in the Mile division, Silver Tree rallied from well back to take Sunday's $125,000 Appleton Handicap in the final strides, beating Steel Light by a neck. Old Dodge was third. Silver Tree, a 7-year-old, Florida-bred son of Hennessy, had been off since early last September. He finished the 1 mile in 1:32.12 with Edgar Prado up for trainer Bill Mott. "He was just old and tired and needed a rest last year," Mott said of the layoff. "He wasn't moving that well and needed to be turned out for about 60 days."
Wait a While didn't wait at all in Sunday's $100,000 Honey Fox Handicap for fillies and mares. Instead, when the gate opened, jockey John Velazquez sent the 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Maria's Mon filly right to the lead. And there she stayed, coasting across the wire first by 1 1/4 length over Precious Kitten. Chaibia finished third. Wait a While, trained by -- oh, gee, him again! -- Todd Pletcher, ran 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:39.37. "I let her break and she broke well," said Velazquez. "She was awesome. I gave her one spank and she took off." Pletcher said he might look at a race at Keeneland to prep for the bigger filly and mare turf events later in the year, including the Cash Call Mile at Hollywood Park, the Beverly D at Arlington Park and the Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita. "There's no rush with her," he said.
Desert Wheat was last of nine until the field hit the stretch turn in Saturday's $75,000 Dixie Poker Ace Stakes for Louisiana-breds. But when Corey Lanerie shifted the 4-year-old son of Wheaton from the rail to the middle of the track, he methodically moved to the front and crossed the wire 1/2 length in front. Perfect Harmony was a longshot second and Diggy Fresh finished third. Desert Wheat ran the "about" 1 mile on firm turf in 1:40.65.
Rocky Gulch gamely chased the leaders down the stretch in Saturday's $125,000 New Mexico State University Handicap for state-breds and inched to the front in the final yards to win by a neck over Some Ghost. Fullfoenergy had the lead early in the stretch run and held on to take third. Rocky Gulch, a 6-year-old son of Dry Gulch, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.28 with Glen Murphy up.
True Tails was out quickly in Saturday's $50,000 Spring Fever Stakes, opened up a daylight lead and then held on in the stretch, winning by a neck over Miss Elsie. The favorite, Hot Storm, took third. True Tails, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred mare by Yes It's True, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.94 with Carlos Gonzalez up.
Call Me Clash didn't do much clashing in Saturday's $50,000 Horatius Stakes for 3-year-olds. Set right to the front by jockey Jeremy Rose, the Maryland-bred Clash by Night gelding quickly opened a comfortable margin and was never threatened. At the wire, he was 3 lengths ahead of runner-up Casey Doon, with Heart Throbbin' third. Call Me Clash ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.49. He is trained by Scott Lake.
Tampa Bay Downs
Funny Annie fought to the lead halfway through Saturday's $60,000 Wayward Lass Stakes and held on gamely, beating odds-on favorite Potra Classica by a head. Gadolinium, who put in a bid at the top of the stretch, faded to finish third. Funny Annie, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Distorted Humor, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a wet-fast track in 1:45.23 under Cecilio Penalba.
Evening Attire stayed well back of the leaders and on the inside as the field turned for home in Saturday's $65,000 Stymie Handicap, got through between rivals and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Malibu Moonshine. Angliana finished third. Evening Attire, a 9-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by the legendary Black Tie Affair, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast inner track in 1:49.57. Jose Espinoza was up for trainer Patrick Kelly.
News and notes:
A record 16,272 foals were nominated to the Breeders' Cup program last year -- up by 9 from the previous record set a year earlier. Southern Hemisphere foals may be nominated until April 15, so the total is expected to increase. "The continued support of our nominators has allowed us to increase Breeders' Cup World Championships purses from $14 million to $20 million in 2006, and to create Breeders' Cup Friday, with $3.75 million in new purses for Breeders' Cup-nominated horses," said President and CEO Greg Avioli.