Is the "jinx" finally about to end, with a Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner finally going on to win the Kentucky Derby?
That feat has never been accomplished. In fact, since the inception of the Breeders's Cup, Juvenile winners have been notable by their absence in Triple Crown winners' circles in their 3-year-old season.
Some attribute the phenomenon to early maturity by winners of the Juvenile, with rivals "catching up" the following year. Others, to trainers pushing 2-year-olds too hard. Others, just to a "jinx."
It could end with Street Sense, the winner of last year's Juvenile at Churchill Downs, who came back from a four-month layoff to win Saturday's $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby by a nose after a nip-and-tuck stretch duel with Any Given Saturday.
"He's been off for so long," said winning rider Calvin Borel. "Believe you me, he's 20 lengths better than he ran today."
"He 's a contender," added owner James Tafel. "The Daily Racing Form had Street Sense on the cover and it said, 'The Champ is Back.' And the champ is back."
Trainer Carl Nafzger, who won the Kentucky Derby with Unbridled, said he plans only one more prep race before the Derby. "The Blue Grass. That's a natural race," he said. "We won't push him out of that. We like the Blue Grass."
Street Sense, a Kentucky-bred colt by Street Cry, ran the 1 1/16 mile over the Tampa Bay Down oval in 1:43.11. Delightful Kiss finished third with a nice run, but was 6 1/4 lengths back of Any Given Saturday at the end.
If Street Cry can't break the "jinx," owner Merv Griffin might have another answer to the problem -- win both races with different horses.
Griffin saw his chances for a Juvenile-Derby double go out the window last year when 2005 Juvenile winner Stevie Wonderboy went down with an ankle injury. Now, Griffin is back with a Derby contender who didn't run in the 2006 Juvenile -- Cobalt Blue.
"It's alive again," Griffin said of his Derby hope after Cob alt Blue won Saturday's $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.
With Victor Espinoza up for trainer Doug O'Neill, Cobalt Blue sprinted out of the gate on the lead and then set a moderate pace until the stretch. When he accelerated, Air Commander made his run but without impact. At the end, Cobalt Blue, a Florida-bred son of Golden Missile, was 2 lengths to the good, with Level Red third. The 1 1/16 mile went in 1:42.46.
O'Neill will saddle Liquidity as the likely favorite for the April 7 Santa Anita Derby so he said Cobalt Blue probably is headed out of California for his final Kentucky Derby prep.
"We'll make sure he comes out of this race good," O'Neill said. "But we were talking about maybe the Illinois Derby for this guy." The Illinois Derby, also April 7 at Hawthorne Race Course outside Chicago, has become a popular alternative spot for Triple Crown contenders.
Air Commander's trainer, Bob Baffert, said he's unsure what's next.
"He's a big horse," Baffert said. "He can't quicken. I knew we were in trouble when I saw the fractions. At the half, they were walking. When they sprinted home, he just didn't have the acceleration."
In the day's third major Kentucky Derby prep, Curlin came from well off the pace to win the $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. Taking aim on the first flight of horses around the turn, Curlin swept past and went on to win by 5 1/4 lengths over Officer Rocket. Teufelsberg broke poorly and settled for third, lacking a rally.
Curlin, a Kentucky-bred son of Smart Strike, sold for $3.5 million as a yearling to an ownership combine. Making just his second career start, the colt ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.70 under Robby Albarado.
Kentucky Oaks preps
-- Cotton Blossom rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win Saturday's $200,000 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs by 2 lengths over Suaveness. Marla's Kitty finished third. Cotton Blossom, a Kentucky-bred filly by Broken Vow, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.06 for jockey John Velazquez. She is trained by Todd Pletcher for Dogwood Stable.
-- Trainer D. Wayne Lukas saddled the first- and third-place finishers in Friday's $100,000 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Time's Mistress stalked the pace, then took over and drew off to win by 4 3/4 lengths, finishing the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.49. High Heels was second with Grace Happens third. Time's Mistress is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Mr. Greeley. John Jacinto applied the winning ride.
Sweet Fervor rallied from near the back of the field to win Saturday's $200,000 Shirley Jones Breeders' Cup Handicap by 1 length over the pace-setting favorite, Any Limit. My Lucky finished third. Sweet Fervor, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Seeking the Gold, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.67. Fernando Jara rode for trainer Bill Mott.
River's Prayer led virtually all the way to win Saturday's $125,000 Irish O'Brien Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths over Bachelorette One. Gn. Group Meeting finished third. River's Prayer, a 4-year-old, California-bred filly by Devon Lane, ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside "green" in 1:12.66 under Clinton Potts.
Tampa Bay Downs
Cassydora led most of the way to a 1 3/4-length victory over My Typhoon in Saturday's $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares. With John Velazquez up for trainer Todd Pletcher, the 5-year-old, British-bred mare set a moderate pace and had plenty left to hold on at the end. Masseuse finished third. The 9 furlongs on "good" turf took 1:48.90
Also Saturday, Lookinforthesecret moved quickly to the front in the $75,000 Turf Dash, opened up a daylight advantage and held well, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Mr. Silver. The Nth Degree finished third. Lookinforthesecret, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred horse by Cimarron Secret, ran the 5 furlongs on a course rated "good" in 56.51 seconds.
Rolling Sea went to the lead on the turn for home in Saturday's $75,000 Forlin Handicap for fillies and mares, quickly seized command and rolled home a 5-lengths winner over Morlana. Space Cruise finished third. Rolling Sea, a 4-year-old, Illinois-bred filly by Sefapiano, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.42 with Joseph Talamo up.
Hawthorne Race Course
Catalissa put in a determined stretch bid to win Saturday's $45,000 Hula Chief Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over Star by Design. High Expectations finished third. Catalissa, a 7-year-old, Texas-bred gelding by Tale of the Cat, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.20 with Jose Betancourt up.
Sweetnorthernsaint, the dominant, odds-on favorite, led all the way to a 4-length victory in Saturdays' $60,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial. With jockey Mario Pino up, the 4-year-old, Florida-bred son of Sweetsouthernsaint set a dawdling pace but was never challenged. He finished 9 furlongs on a muddy track in 1:51.37. A year ago, the gelding was very much in the mix of Triple Crown contenders.
Jade's Revenge rallied from the middle of the pack to win Saturday's $50,000 Tejano Run Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Sidcup. Dynareign was third. Jade's Revenge, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Quiet American, ran 9 furlongs in 1:50.11 on the all-weather track.