After a pair of major weekend upsets, the Kentucky Derby picture looks as wide open as it ever has been.
Early Kentucky Derby favorite War Pass, previously undefeated, finished last in Saturday's $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby after acting up in the gate and surviving a bit of bumping early in the race. And Z Fortune, second in an earlier key race, was soundly defeated after breaking from the difficult outside post position in Saturday's $200,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park in New Orleans.
Only Georgie Boy, the winner of Saturday's $200,000 San Felipe at Santa Anita, carried the favorite's banner into the winner's circle. And at Sunland Park in New Mexico, an invader from Louisiana picked up big check and some Derby credentials.
Big Truck, a New York-bred, took advantage of War Pass's shocking fade in the Tampa Bay Derby, running past the pace-setters in the late going to win by a neck over Atoned. Dynamic Wayne finished third.
War Pass was the heaviest of favorites and "bridge jumper" money on him in the show pool resulted in inflated payoffs for that slot. Dynamic Wayne, for instance, paid $76.40 to show.
Big Truck, a son of Hook and Ladder out of a Go For Gin mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.25 under Eibar Coa. Barclay Tagg, who trains Big Truck, seemed surprised he beat the favorite.
"I told the jock to ride like he did last time (in the Sam F. Davis) and hope for second," Tagg said, "because there was no way to beat War Pass unless he folded for some reason. Fortunately for us, he did. Unfortunately for Nick (Trainer Nick Zito), I feel bad for him. He's a wonderful horse."
Zito said War Pass had a fever early in the week, although he said he hadn't expected that to make a difference. Otherwise, he offered no excuses, despite the fact his colt was pinched at the start and forced back into an unaccustomed pace-stalking position.
"You saw what happened," Zito said. "But he got moving and I thought he was in a good position going down the backstretch. But when Cornelio (Velasquez) asked him, nothing happened. I don't know what happened."
At Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., Sierra Sunset came from just off a moderate pace to win the $300,000 Rebel Stakes by 3 lengths over a pair of longshots, King's Silver Son and Isabull. Z Fortune, starting widest of all in a nine-horse field, was never close, finishing fifth.
Sierra Sunset, a California-bred son of Bertrando, finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.88 under Christopher Emigh and moves smartly into the Derby picture for trainer Jeff Bonde in winning for the fourth time in 11 starts.
The Bertrando colt, a $40,000 purchase for a partnership, won both the Bay Meadows Juvenile and the Cal Cup Juvenile last year. He ran fourth behind the then-undefeated El Gato Malo in the San Rafael at Santa Anita earlier this year before Bonde shipped him to Arkansas. He ran second to Denis of Cork in the Southwest over the Oaklawn strip, then continued to work well for the Rebel.
In the San Felipe, Georgie Boy, a California-bred Tribal Rule gelding, stalked the pace, shifted out into the stretch and won by 3/4 length over Gayego. Bob Black Jack finished third. The top three also were the top three in the post-time odds.
Baze had not ridden Georgie Boy since a third-place finish in his maiden debut at Hollywood Park last June 16 and was subbing for the injured Rafael Bejarano. "He's matured dramatically since the last time I rode him," Baze said. "Around the turn, I just had to wait, wait, wait, and, at the top of the lane, I was able to swing out and say 'goodbye.'"
Asked what's next for Georgie Boy, Walsh said: "I don't know. We're just going to get through this race and make up our mind."
In Sunday's $600,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland Park, Liberty Bull posted a 2-lengths victory over maiden contender Screen to Screen. Ablaze with Spirit finished third. Trained by Tom Amoss in New Orleans and ridden by Eusebio Razo Jr., Liberty Bull finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.82. The colt is a Kentucky-bred son of Holy Bull out of the Dehere mare Lasting Sensation.
Liberty Bull had finished third behind Denis of Cork and Sierra Sunset in his last race, the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. With Sierra Sunset's upset win in Saturday's feature at Oaklawn, Liberty Bull's victory in the WinStar Derby boosted him into the Kentucky Derby picture.
However, the $300,000 Liberty Bull earned for the WinStar win will not count toward getting him into the Kentucky Derby field since the New Mexico race is not graded. Only graded stakes earnings count in deciding who starts at Churchill Downs should more than the 20-horse maximum field be entered.
Kentucky Oaks preps
-- Awesome Chic came from off the pace to upset Saturday's $200,000 Florida Oaks, dominating through the stretch to win by 4 1/2 lengths over Elusive Lady. My Baby Baby, the favorite, finished third. Awesome Chic, a Florida-bred daughter of Awesome Again out of the A.P. Indy mare Trading, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.38 under Irwin Rosendo. Rafael Ramos trains the filly. Jose Acero, owner of Aurora Springs Stable, said of his filly's win, "She has the class, and today she showed she's a tough contender for the distance -- a very tough contender. God Will Bless us, and we will be (at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks) on the second of May, the day my father passed away 30 years ago."
-- Eight Belles, the odds-on favorite, had things all her own way in Sunday's $100,000 Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park. After stalking the pace, the gray, Kentucky-bred daughter of Unbridled's Song took the lead when asked by rider Ramon Dominguez and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Pure Clan. Kadira was third. Eight Belles won largely on her own, with minimal urging and finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.91.
-- Carolyn's Cat led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $100,000 Cicada Stakes at Aqueduct. At the end, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Forestry was 3 3/4 lengths in front of the second-place finisher, Ready for Fortune. Dill or No Dill finished third. With Alan Garcia up, Carolyn's Cat ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.16.
-- Sky Mom rallied from last of seven to win Sunday's $200,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks in New Mexico, drawing off at the end to finish 4 3/4 lengths ahead of Snake Proof. R Charlie's Angel finished third. Sky Mom is a Kentucky-bred Maria's Mon filly out of the Sky Classic mare Swiftly Classic. With Garrett Gomez up for trainer Steve Asmussen, Sky Mom completed the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.5.
In other weekend racing:
Helene Mascot, the 11-8 favorite, raced well back of the leaders in Sunday's Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin in Hong Kong until jockey Felix Coetzee asked the Peintre Celebre colt for run as the field turned for home. Chased by Jackpot Delight, Helene Mascot gamely held the lead, winning by a neck. Green Birdie finished third. "He's a terrific horse," said winning trainer Tony Cruz. "He fights and doesn't know when he's beaten. I said after he won the Classic Mile that he is going to be an international star and you've just seen the proof of that." Helene Mascot is expected to return in the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup in April. "I look forward to taking on a horse like Viva Pataca with him," Cruz added.
In Sunday's companion Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup, Good Ba Ba won by 1/2 length when the favorite, Sacred Kingdom, was blocked at the critical juncture in the stretch run. Joyful Winner was third. Most observers thought Sacred Kingdom, a natural sprinter, would have won with a clear trip and Good Ba Ba's conditioner, Andreas Schutz agreed. "I wouldn't want to meet Sacred Kingdom again so I hope he stays in the sprints," Schutz said. "Good Ba Ba is better over a mile so to win today against such a great rival was tremendous."
Tampa Bay Downs
The bridge-jumpers took another dunking as Dreaming of Anna dominated Saturday's $175,000 Hillsborough Stakes for fillies and mares, leading from gate to wire and winning by 6 3/4 lengths over Lady Digby. Mary Louhanna was third and the favorite, Lear's Princess, ran evenly to finish fourth, pumping up show prices on the top three. Dreaming of Anna, who has quietly put together a sparkling career since going undefeated as a juvenile, ran the "about" 9 furlongs on yielding turf in 1:52.18 under Cornelio Velasquez. She is a 4-year-old daughter of Rahy. Winning owner Frank Calabrese said he "handicapped the race that way. I thought she was 5 or 6 lengths better than the field." He said Dreaming of Anna's future plans are uncertain. "We'll see how she comes out of the race. We'll give her another race or two and then breed her."
Lookinforthesecret set a blistering pace in the $75,000 Turf Dash and still held on gamely to win by 3/4 length over Prosico. Fort Prado came late to edge Dead Red for show money. Lookinforthesecret, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred son of Cimmaron Secret, ran the 5 furlongs on yielding turf in 57.7 seconds under Daniel Centeno.
Gotcha Gold stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Skip Away Handicap, took charge in the stretch and won by 3 1/2 lengths over 40-1 shot Mr. Umphrey. Hunting was third and the favorite, Frost Giant, finished fourth. Gotcha Gold, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Coronado's Quest, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.31 under Charles Lopez. "We'll take him back to Monmouth this summer, knock on wood, if all goes well," said winning trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. "It's a great place to be and leaves you lots of options to ship to important stakes anywhere in the northeast."
Stream of Gold launched his bid on the turn for home in Sunday's $150,000 Mac Diarmida Handicap, gained the lead with a furlong to go and then just held on at the end to win by a neck over True Cause. Cougar Bay was third. Stream of Gold, a 7-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Rainbow Quest, finished the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in course-record time of 2:10.87. Eddie Castro rode for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Bonfante settled off the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Bay Meadows Sprint Championship, then came on in the stretch run to win by a handy 4 1/2 lengths over Jack Hes Tops. Vicarino finished third and the odds-on favorite, Tribesman, was fourth and last. Bonfante, a 7-year-old, California-bred gelding by Fruition, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.39 under Frank Alvarado.
Storm Treasure rallied from near the back of the large field to win Saturday's $100,000 Allen La Combe Memorial Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths over 50-1 longshot Winyah. Lattice was third, a neck further back and just another neck in front of the favorite, Sterwins, who got home fourth. Storm Treasure, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Storm Boot, ran the "about" 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.88 with Donnie Meche up.
Polonius led all the way to a 4-length, upset victory in Saturday's $75,000 Pasadena Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 mile on the grass. EZ Dreamer, Afleet Ruler and Funny Me completed the superfecta with the favorite, Sky Cape, finishing fifth. Polonius, a Florida-bred son of Broken Vow, finished in 1:34.12 on firm turf with Jon Court in the irons.
In Sunday's $100,000 Crystal Water Handicap for California-breds, Celtic Dreamin rallied from last of eight to win by a neck over Mr. Wolverine. It was just another head back to pace-setting Lucky J.H. Celtic Dreamin, a 4-year-old Game Plan gelding, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.1 under Alex Solis.
Tough Tiz's Sis, shipped in by trainer Bob Baffert, had all she could do to win Sunday's $100,000 Harry W. Henson Handicap for fillies and mares. After tracking the pace, the 4-year-old Tiznow filly came three wide and was all out to get up and win by 3/4 length over Nice Inheritance. Goodbye Norma Jean finished third. Tough Tiz's Sis, with Aaron Gryder up, ran the 1 mile in 1:37.14.
Run Like Fire pressed the pace in Sunday's $100,000 New Mexico Breeders' Derby for state-breds, then went by the pace-setting Brax in the late going to win by 1/2 length. Move Moves made a late move to take third. Run Like Fire, a son of Premeditation, ran the 1 mile in 1:37.58 under Jorge Bordieu.
All Giving stalked the early pace in Saturday's $60,000 Conniver Stakes, took over the lead when the early pace-setter bolted with a half mile to run, then held on well to win by 5 1/2 lengths over La Chica Rica. The favorite, For Kisses, made a late run but could do no better than third-place money. All Giving, a 4-year-old, Maryland-bred filly by Allen's Prospect, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.41 with Erik Rodriguez up.
High Blues made a four-wide run into the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Tejano Run Stakes and closed quickly to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Self Made Man. Solo Cat was third and the odds-on favorite, Jade's Revenge, faded in the stretch to finish seventh of eight. High Blues, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred ridgling by High Yield, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:51.71 with James Lopez up.
Wind Water led all the way to a 4 3/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $50,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Handicap. Absolutely True was second with a late rush, beating Zamrite by a nose for the place. Wind Water, a 6-year-old, California-bred gelding by Bold Badgitt, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.59 under Ken Tohil.