Curlin, undefeated and still essentially untested after his weekend victory in the Arkansas Derby, now looms as one of favorites for the May 5 Kentucky Derby.
Curlin's stock improved even more as the weekend's second major Derby prep, the Blue Grass at Keeneland, was won by a rapidly improving longshot while several other top Derby contenders had their problems.
The outcome of the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass was muddled somewhat by traffic problems in the stretch run that compromised the chances of runner-up Street Sense, last year's Breeders' Cup and Eclipse Award champion.
It was clear, however, that the day belonged to Dominican, a Kentucky-bred son of El Corredor who has shown dramatic improvement since being gelded. Dominican, under Rafael Bejarano, had to come seven-wide from the middle of the seven-horse field to reach contention in the final furlong and then just got up in the final jump to nip Street Sense by a nose.
Zanjero, who also had the lead briefly during the eventful stretch battle, settled for third, just another head back. Teuflesberg, the pace-setter, caused the trouble by bearing out sharply at mid-stretch and finished another head back in fourth. Perhaps the worst victim of the stretch problems was Great Hunter, who was in the thick of the battle, forced to take up and then finished fifth.
The 9 furlongs took 1:51.33 on the all-weather track.
The step forward for Dominican was dramatic, as he was sent off as the fourth choice in the mutuels at 8-1 following a victory in the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park three weeks ago. That race is run on the Lane's End undercard, for 3-year-olds not quite ready for the top competition.
"We needed to test him," winning trainer Darrin Miller said of the decision to run Dominican in the Blue Grass. "We wanted to go to the Derby and we needed to see if he could hook them."
Trainer Carl Nafzger said Street Sense "finished good and finished strong" despite losing in the final jump. "I think his learning process is over," Nafzger added.
Great Hunter's trainer, Doug O'Neill, said the result was "a bummer. I thought we'd have been right there if not for that incident in the stretch."
While Dominican was picking up just his third win in seven starts, Curlin was remaining undefeated -- and, really, unchallenged -- in his third start in the Arkansas Derby.
Coming off victories in a Gulfstream Park maiden event and the Grade III Rebel at Oaklawn, Curlin was sent to the post as the odds-on favorite over eight rivals. He justified that esteem by rating nicely for jockey Robby Albarado before taking over in the stretch and drawing off to win by 10 1/2 lengths, the biggest margin of victory in the 71 runnings of the Arkansas Derby.
Storm in May was second-best at long odds and Deadly Dealer finished third. Another logical contender, Officer Rocket, was "wiped out" in bumping at the start, according to the Equibase chart.
Curlin, a Kentucky-bred son of Smart Strike, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:50.09.
Albarado said trainer Steve Asmussen asked him to school Curlin in the race, keeping him "tucked in" during the run down the backstretch as a lesson in how the Kentucky Derby might treat him. The lesson clearly was a success.
Curlin's margin of victory in his three starts now is 12 3/4 lengths in the maiden win, 5 1/4 lengths in the Rebel and 10 1/2 lengths Saturday. Those 28 1/2 lengths could add up to the favorite's role May 5 at Churchill Downs.
Dominican, Street Sense, Zanjero and Great Hunter all still are ticketed for the Kentucky Derby, according to their trainers. Teuflesberg would remain a candidate for the big race if his limited graded stakes earnings are sufficient to get him into the starting gate, said trainer Jamie Sanders.
Kentucky Oaks preps
-- Street Sounds dueled for the lead widest of all in Thursday's $250,000 Stonerside Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland, got to the front on the turn and prevailed in a tight finish, beating the favorite, Forever Together, by a neck. Palace Pier finished third. Street Sounds, an Ontario-bred filly by Street Cry, ran the "about" 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:24.93. Edgar Prado rode for trainer Michael Matz. "We weren't sure we were making the right move," Matz said, "because she did so well on the turf. But she trained well on the Polytrack and it worked out well today." Street Sounds was victorious on the turf last fall at Laurel Park. She now has won half her six career races.
-- Boca Grande, in the familiar black and cherry red of the Phipps Stables, responded best down the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Comely Stakes at Aqueduct and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Winning Point. The favorite, Perfect Forest, led early but faded to finish third. Boca Grande, a homebred daughter of A.P. Indy out of the Seeking the Gold mare Country Hideaway, ran the 1 mile in 1:36.54 with Mike Smith riding for trainer Shug McGaughey. As usual, the Phipps connections were being cautious with future plans. "She's nominated to the Kentucky Oaks," McGaughey said. "But whether we go there or not, who knows? I think the more time we give her, the better she's going to be."
-- Cream Only, at odds of 30-1, stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Instant Racing Breeders' Cup Stakes at Oaklawn Park, went by the leader at mid-stretch and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Nice Inheritance. Chatham finished third and the favorite, Angel Smoke, was never in the mix, finishing seventh of nine. Cream Only, a Florida-bred daughter of Exchange Rate, got the 1 mile on the fast track in 1:38.88 with Tim Doocy up for trainer Steve Asmussen.
-- Round Trip Flight dawdled at the back of a four-horse field until the stretch turn of Saturday's $100,000 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Oaks. But when jockey Joel Rosario got her going, the Florida-bred daughter of Monarchos lapped them all and drew off to win by 2 lengths over pace-setting Glorification. Eastlake Avenue, the favorite, finished third and Jungle Girl was a well-beaten fourth and last. Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer saddled the trifecta for three different owners. Round Trip Flight completed the 1 1/16 mile on a "wet fast" track in 1:43.66.
In other weekend racing:
Silent Name took total charge of Saturday's $400,000 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Stakes in the stretch run, drawing clear early and drawing off late to a 4-length win over Lewis Michael. Steel Light finished third. Silent Name, a 5-year-old, Japanese-bred son of Sunday Silence, had stalked the pace into the stretch and finished the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.26. Corey Nakatani rode for trainer Richard Mandella. Mandella said Silent Name worked well on the Keeneland Polytrack last fall. "We could see that if the decision was made to leave him in training another year and not stand him, then we should definitely bring him back here," Mandella said. "It's one of those rare occasions when you think about something six months ahead of time and it actually comes to fruition. I can't claim that a lot but it worked today."
Kip Deville battled head-to-head with Showing Up through the final furlong of Friday's $250,000 Maker's Mark Mile, prevailing by a head at the wire. Purim was just 1/2 length farther back with a late, wide bid. Kip Deville, a 4-year-old, Oklahoma-bred son of Kipling, finished in 1:35.51 over a turf course rated firm. Edgar Prado rode for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. Prado said Dutrow told him: "'When the gates open, it's up to you.' I was able to settle right behind and bide my time and run down Showing Up at the end." Kip Deville now has won three straight races and four of his last five.
In Wednesday's $200,000 Vinery Madison Stakes for fillies and mares, Mary Delaney shot quickly to the front and had things all her own way, winning by a comfortable 1 1/2 lengths as the favorite. Ginger Punch was second and Leah's Secret third. Mary Delaney, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Hennessey, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:22.24 with Edgar Prado in the irons for trainer Eddie Kenneally.
Takedown rallied from well back in the eight-horse field to win Saturday's $100,000 Northern Spur Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3/4 length over Harrow Land. Speedway was home third. Takedown, a Kentucky-bred colt by Point Given, ran the 1 mile on the fast track in 1:38.82. Steve Asmussen, who saddled all three stakes winners on the card, gave the leg up to Robby Albarado.
My Typhoon rallied four-wide into the lane in Saturday's $200,000 Jenny Wiley Stakes for fillies and mares and won a stretch duel with Precious Kitten by a neck. Fantastic Shirl finished third. My Typhoon, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred mare by Giant's Causeway, ran the 1 1/16 mile on the all-weather track in 1:43.37 for jockey Eddie Castro. The race was taken off the turf. Winning trainer Bill Mott said he had no concerns about running My Typhoon on the Polytrack, noting she had worked on it before the Breeders' Cup last fall. "I felt good that she handled it," he said. "But you just don't know what everybody else is going to do." Wait A While, the favorite, didn't handle the surface, said her trainer, Todd Pletcher. "I made a bad decision when I didn't scratch," he said.
Sunday's $100,000 Shakertown Stakes went to The Nth Degree -- even though trainer Eduardo Caramori had considered scratching because of the soft turf. Instead, The Nth Degree raced wide throughout the 5 1/2-furlong sprint, took the lead at mid-stretch and held off Congo King by a neck. Sgt. Bert finished third. The Nth Degree, recently voted Colorado Horse of the Year according to his trainer, won for the fifth time in 27 starts.
Golden Balls rallied through the lane in Saturday's $100,000 La Puente Stakes for 3-year-olds and was just up at the wire to nip pace-setting favorite Desert Code by a nose. Vauquelin finished third. Golden Balls, an Irish-bred colt by Danehill Dancer, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.61. Brice Blanc was up for trainer James Cassidy.
Sunday, River's Prayer went right to the lead in the $100,000 Las Cienegas Handicap and held well to win by a 1/2 length over the favorite, Indian Flare. Strong Faith was third. River's Prayer, a 4-year-old, California-bred filly by Devon Lane, finished the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.99 with Clinton Potts in the irons.
Stradivinsky was in front most of the way in Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Jacques Cartier Stakes -- far in front at the end. Crossing the wire, the 4-year-old, Florida-bred son of Stravinsky had 7 3/4 lengths on the runner-up, Judiths Wild Rush. Are You Serious was third. Stradivinsky, with Emma-Jayne Wilson in the irons, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.68. Pierce Malcolm trains the gelding. "He just has so much class and so much ability, he just ran himself off his feet," said Wilson. "I was really happy with the way he went."
Sunday, Seductively drew clear in the lane to win the $125,000 (Canadian) Whimsical Stakes for fillies and mares by 2 1/4 lengths over Hide and Chic. Summer Girlfriend finished third. Seductively, a 4-year-old, Ontario-bred filly by Thunder Gulch, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:12.27 with Gerry Olguin up.
High Moment led throughout Saturday's $60,000 Dahlia Stakes for fillies and mares and held on at the end to win by 3/4 length over the odds-on favorite, Grigorieva. Redaspen finished third. High Moment, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by High Yield, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.14 with Erick Rodriguez in the irons for trainer Rodney Jerkins.
Geririg stayed close to the pace in Saturday's $45,000 Wildcat Handicap, came to the lead at the top of the stretch and won a battle to the wire, beating odds-on favorite In Joe's Honor by a 1/2 length. Mighty Bodacious was third. Geririg, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Geri, ran the 11 furlongs on firm turf in 2:18.34 with Adolfo Morales up.
Alba Dabas Secret swept to the lead on the turn in Saturday's $50,000 Hallowed Dreams Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and took complete charge, winning off by 4 3/4 lengths in a substantial upset. Coach Mike finished second, Inomuff third and the favorite, Classify, fourth. Alba Dabas Secret, a West Virginia-bred miss by Madraar, got the 5 1/2 furlongs under Marlon St. Julien in 1:04.79.