A commanding win in California and mild upsets in Florida and Kentucky highlighted the weekend Kentucky Derby prep action, with the Run for the Roses now just two months away.
The Pamplemousse dominated Saturday's $200,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, moving into the top ranks of Kentucky Derby contenders and setting up a potential showdown with Pioneerof the Nile in the Santa Anita Derby.
In Florida, Quality Road posted a mild upset in Saturday's $250,000 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park and moved squarely back into the Florida Derby picture while the favorite, Capt. Candyman Can finished fourth, lacking a late punch.
And Proceed Bee upset odds-on favorite Parade Clown in Saturday's $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky with a five-wide stretch move that promised more.
The Pamplemousse -- the name is taken from a restaurant near Del Mar -- shot right to the front in the Sham and set a brisk but unpressured pace under Alex Solis. After 6 furlongs in 1:10.29 and a mile in 1:35.09, the Kentucky-bred Kafwain colt opened up and coasted home first by 6 lengths, ridden out. Take the Points chased all the way and finished second while Mr. Hot Stuff came from far back to finish third.
The Pamplemousse, trained by Julio Canani, finished the 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:47.86. He came into the race off a win in last month's San Rafael that had Solis breathless. He was no less enthusiastic Saturday.
"I've never ridden anything like him," Solis said. "He has such a high cruising speed and he's getting more and more amazing. He has such a good mind and he was real relaxed the whole way. If you want to get an idea of how he'll do going a mile and a quarter, I switched to my left stick and hit him one time at the eighth pole and he just took off. He's unbelievable."
Canani said the April 4 Santa Anita Derby is the next stop for The Pamplemousse. Pioneerof the Nile, winner of the Robert B. Lewis in his last start, is expected to have his final Santa Anita Derby prep in the March 14 San Filepe.
In Florida, Quality Road was making just his third career start, and first in a stakes, in the Fountain of Youth. The Virginia-bred Elusive Quality colt, with John Velazquez up, chased the early lead, came three-wide around the turn to get to the front and drew off smartly to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Theregoesjojo ran well late to finish second and Beethoven, last in the early furlongs, clunked up for third, another 4 lengths back.
The favorite, Capt. Candyman Can, was in perfect striking position until the top of the stretch but couldn't find another gear in the final furlongs, settling for fourth.
Quality Road, trained by Jimmy Jerkens, ran the 1 mile in 1:35.01.
"He's got the pedigree to go on," Jerkens said of Quality Road. "But a one-turn mile is still basically a sprint and a lot different than going two turns. We'll talk it over before making a decision on what's next." Jerkens said he is "a New York guy," so the Wood Memorial Apr. 4 at Aqueduct is an option, along with the Florida Derby.
Trainer Ken McPeek said Theregoesjojo performed well, too. "We are really happy. We didn't lay it all down for this race," the conditioner said. "He wasn't 100 percent cranked and we're excited about going forward from here. I thought he ran a great race and lost to a very good horse. And believe me, the horse that won is one very impressive horse."
And in Kentucky, Proceed Bee proceeded to complicate the road to the Lane's End Stakes, final local Derby prep, by rallying five-wide into the stretch and drawing clear from the favorite, Parade Clown, to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Toccet Rocket finished third.
Proceed Bee, a Kentucky-bred son of Bernstein, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:47.49 under Rodney Prescott, who had to do some work to keep the gelding running straight on the turns.
"Rodney did a great job riding him," said winning trainer Terry Gestes. "He was a little green around the second turn and wanted to shy away from horses, so Rodney had to stay after him, tap him on the shoulder. He's just young … We're just figuring him out, trying to put him together. It's maturity. Some take more time than others, and you've got to stick with it and not get in a rush. He's got to put it all together."
Gestes said he may try Proceed Bee in the Rushaway Stakes on the Lane's End undercard. On the other hand, trainer Katherine Ball said Parade Clown still is in the Lane's End mix.
"Our horse was wide and aggressive on the first turn, and the first turn is a big deal in two-turn races," Ball said. "It was an uneven trip. He's changing his running style, getting more aggressive. He's a 3-year-old in the spring … so we'll see how he comes out and then decide about the Lane's End."
In other action on the Road to the Roses:
-- Scorewithcater battled down the stretch with Mine That Bird before winning Saturday's $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico by a neck. Smokin' Legend was third, 4 1/4 lengths farther back. Scorewithcater, a Kentucky-bred colt by Even the Score, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.96 for Michael Baze and trainer Doug O'Neill. O'Neill claimed the winner last fall for $40,000. Mine That Bird was last year's champion 2-year-old in Canada. The race is a prep for the $800,000 Sunland Park Derby March 29.
-- Citizen stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, opened a big lead at the top of the stretch and held on to win by a neck over Flyin Private. Lyin' Heart was third and the favorite, Dance Caller, waltzed home fourth. Citizen, a Kentucky-bred colt by City Zip, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.62 under Jon Court. A likely sprinter by breeding, Citizen is not nominated to the Triple Crown.
-- Rock On Justin stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, got to the lead with a furlong and a half to run and drew off to score by 2 3/4 lengths over Shipwrecktreasure. Adduce was third and the favorite, In the Juice, was never a factor, finishing fifth. Rock On Justin, a Maryland-bred gelding by Rock Slide, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.58. Tony Maragh rode for trainer Gary Capuano. "He showed a lot today," Capuano said. "He broke bad, rushed up and he looked like he was dropping back on the turn but when Tony eased him out he took off and finished off nice. To overcome that was impressive."
On the road to the Kentucky Oaks:
Justwhistledixie sat just behind the early pace in Sunday's $150,000 Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park, was sent to the lead at the quarter pole by jockey Alan Garcia and romped home first, 3 3/4 lengths ahead of Casanova Move. The favorite, Frolic's Dream, set the early fractions and held on for third. Justwhistledixie, a Kentucky-bred filly by Dixie Union out of the Honour and Glory mare General Jeanne, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.67. Kiaran McLaughlin trains Justwhistledixie for West Point Thoroughbreds. "We thought a mile would suit her perfectly and be a perfect stepping-stone for what we hope will be a start in the Kentucky Oaks," McLaughlin said. "We have a couple options for her next race -- either the Bonnie Miss or the Fantasy. I'd prefer the Bonnie Miss because the timing is perfect and she's proven she likes this track."
In Sunday's $50,000 Island Fashion Stakes at Sunland Park in New Mexico, Oro Blanco came from last of seven to win by 1 3/4 lengths over the favorite, One for Jim. Lady Hi Teck was well up the track in third. Oro Blanco, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Hold for Gold, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.02 with Alejandro Medellin handling the reins for trainer Henry Dominguez.
In other weekend racing:
Twilight Meteor stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Canadian Turf Stakes, dueled for the lead with pace-setting Buddy's Humor to mid-stretch, the edged clear to win by 1 length over that rival. Buffalo Man, always close, got home third. Twilight Meteor, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred son of Smart Strike, got the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.31 for jockey John Velazquez. Todd Pletcher trains the winner. Twilight Meteor finished fourth in a Jan. 29 Gulfstream allowance race in his first start since late April. "He ran very well in his first race back," said Pletcher. "But he got a little tired going a mile and an eighth, which is understandable coming off a long layoff. He got a great trip today and was able to settle just off the pace. We'll look at going to Keeneland for the Maker's Mark."
Medzendeekron raced well off the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Crystal Water Handicap, rallied toward the leaders at the top of the lane and was just up in time to win by a head over Liberian Freighter. Swift Winds finished third. Medzendeekron, a 6-year-old, California-bred gelding by Unusual Heat, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.35 under Garrett Gomez. Barry Abrams trains the winner. "He settled real good with me going into the first turn," Gomez said, "and from there we had a very good trip. I reached back and back-handed him one time and he accelerated well and he ran down some decent horses today."
Battle of Hastings won the battle of the stretch run over favorite Flashmans Papers in Sunday's $100,000 Baldwin Stakes for 3-year-olds down the hillside turf course. With Tyler Baze up, Battle of Hastings took the wide route down the course and into the stretch and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Flashmans Papers tracked the pace but couldn't compete in the final sixteenth. Luckiest Man led early and saved third. Battle of Hastings, a British-bred gelding by Royal Applause, trained by Jeff Mullins, was making his second U.S. start. "He ran better than I thought he would," Mullins said. "Tyler has worked him every time and I didn't need to tell him anything."
Barrier Reef advanced from the back of the pack in Saturday's $65,000 Stymie Handicap, worked through some traffic on the turn despite clipping heels with a rival and then got clear in the stretch to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Real Merchant. True Resurgence finished third. Barrier Reef, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Mizzen Mast, ran the 9 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:50.57. Ramon Dominguez had the mount for trainer Tom Albertrani and owner Darley Stable. "I was very impressed with the fact that after he clipped heels, he came back running," Dominguez said. "If he is that good on the inner track, he has to be good on the outer track, too. Or any other track."
Lights Off Annie led from gate to wire in Sunday's $65,000 Broadway Handicap for New York-bred fillies and mares, scoring by 5 lengths over Let's Fly Away. Cammy's Choice, also the pari-mutuel choice, was another 1/2 length back in third. Lights Off Annie, a 4-year-old Freud filly, ran the 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:10.83 with Rajiv Maragh riding.
Tampa Bay Downs
Striking Tomisue struck in the stretch in Saturday's $65,000 Wayward Lass Stakes for fillies and mares, angling out five-wide for running room and rallying to win by 1 length. Moon Catcher was right behind for the place and Boudoir ran evenly and held on for third. Striking Tomisue, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Smart Strike out of the Belong to Me mare Avenging Tomisue, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.5 under Jermaine Bridgmohan.
Wanna Cuddle circled most of the field into the stretch run in Saturday's $60,000 Sarah Lane's Oates Stakes for Louisiana-bred 3-year-old fillies, then drew off in the stretch to win by 2 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Tensas Palmyra. Sunday in the Bay rallied from last to finish third. Wanna Cuddle, a daughter of Leestown, ran the "about" 1 mile on firm turf in 1:39.66 with Corey Lanerie up.
Milwaukee Miracle saved ground until the final turn of Saturday's $60,000 Gentilly Stakes for state-bred 3-year-olds, came out for room and went on to win by a smart 2 1/2 lengths. Smoothcideup was second with Hear No Angel third. Milwaukee Miracle, a Milwaukee Brew colt, ran the "about" 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:46.76 with Donnie Meche riding.
On "Fat Tuesday," Selva led from the early going in the $60,000 Mardi Gras Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and held well to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Fleet Streak. On the Menu was third. Selva, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Forest Wildcat, got the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:04.63 with Robby Albarado riding.