Hold Me Back, idle since being soundly beaten in the Remsen Stakes last November at Aqeuduct, rallied boldly on the far outside to win Saturday's $500,000 Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park and abruptly entered the Kentucky Derby picture.
Hold Me Back, a Kentucky-bred son of Giant's Causeway, ran impressively from far back in the 12-horse field. With urging from jockey Kent Desormeaux, he got through between horses on the stretch turn and quickened down the lane to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Flying Private was second and Proceed Bee third, both at long odds. Hold Me Back went to the post at odds of 9-1 in a field devoid of prominent Triple Crown contenders.
Trained by Bill Mott for WinStar Farm, Hold Me Back won his first two starts last year at Arlington Park and Keeneland, then was trounced in the Remsen -- a race won by one of the Kentucky Derby favorites, Old Fashioned.
"The Derby is definitely our plan," said WinStar Vice President Elliot Walden. "But we'll let the horse and Bill tell us if that is the right place. Our goal is the Derby every year."
Asked about the long layoff, Walden noted Hold Me Back "had won two races last year as a 2-year-old, so there weren't many allowance races that were going to fill for him at Gulfstream. One option was the Fountain of Youth but we didn't think the one-turn mile was the right place."
Concerning plans for the colt, Walden added, "We'll let Bill make the call, but I would think we'd probably go straight into the Derby. But the Blue Grass is also a nice race to win."
Historically, successful Derby contenders have had significantly more experience before the testing 1 1/4 miles of the Run for the Roses.
Elsewhere on the Derby trail:
-- Mafaaz, owned by Sheikh Hamdan, earned an automatic place in the Kentucky Derby starting gate by holding off the closers to win Wednesday's Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton Park in England. The colt was making just his third career start and, like Hold Me Back, his first as a 3-year-old. He did run creditably as a 2-year-old against top competition. Trainer John Gosden said he now hopes to start Mafaaz in the Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland. And, he told the Racing Post, "If he wins there and is in good order he'll go (to the Derby) … This is a great concept, very bold, and the more international our outlook, the better. Any initiative like this must be supported."
-- Cliffy's Future rallied from last to upset Saturday's $100,000 Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Ziegfield with Toccet Rocket third. Cliffy's Future, a son of The Cliff's Edge, got the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather surface in 1:44.38. Jesus Castanon had the mount for trainer Ninth Client.
-- St John's Gospel got right to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, set a pressured pace and held on to win by a head over the odds-on favorite, Not for Silver. Hehasnosay finished third. St John's Gospel, a Pennsylvania-bred gelding by Activist, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.62 with Hector Ramos in the irons.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Hot Cha Cha circled the field heading into the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park, then danced away from nine rivals to win by 6 lengths. Fitz Just Right was second and Instrumentalist third. Hot Cha Cha, a Kentucky-bred filly by Cactus Ridge, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:37.22 under Orlando Mojica.
In other weekend racing:
Collection rallied from far back to win Sunday's Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin by 1 1/2 lengths over Thumbs up. Mr Medici finished third. Trained by John Moore and ridden confidently by Darren Beadman, Collection advanced to contention with a half mile to run. Once the Peintre Celebre gelding found his best stride, the outcome was clear. "I had to play the cards that were dealt to me," Beadman said. "The pace was very muddling but he is quite a seasoned horse, given that he ran over this sort of ground in Europe at a high level." Moore said Collection will turn back in distance to run in the Championss Mile April 26, rather than the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup, to avoid a confrontation with stablemate Viva Pataca. "I think he would be very competitive in that race because he has got a hell of a turn of foot and they will go the speed he wants," Moore said. Then, he predicted, the pair will square off in the City Champions & Chater Cup on May 30.
Belmont Cat got a narrow lead at mid-stretch in Sunday's $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap for fillies and mares, then gamely held off the late rush of Bel Air Sizzle to win by a head. The favorite, Visit, was another neck back and only a head in front of fourth-place finisher Satan's Circus. Belmont Cat, a New Zealand-bred daughter of Felix the Cat, ran the 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:48.68. Joel Rosario rode for trainer John Sadler. "I think she wants to sit back and kick," Sadler said. "So we really tried to emphasize that today in this race. Joel has been working with her the last couple of weeks, and I just told him to wait with her."
Midships led throughout Saturday's $150,000 San Luis Rey Handicap, setting a measured pace under Victor Espinoza and winning by 1 3/4 lengths under a hand ride. Medici Code was second and Artiste Royale third as the favorite. Midships, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Mizzen Mast, completed the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:25.63. It was the third start in this country and the first U.S. victory for the Bobby Frankel trainee. He finished 5 1/4 lengths behind You Got Me Rocking in a 9-furlong allowance race last month. You Got Me Rocking was a late scratch Saturday. "Bobby told me to just let him run free. He left it up to me and I was very happy with the way he broke out of the gate," Espinoza said. "I was real confident with how he was running the whole way. He was running very easily."
Noble Court rallied through the stretch to win Saturday's $65,000 Joe Hernandez Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over Dodgen Bullets. Euroglide finished third. Noble Court, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Doneraile Court, ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.16 with Joel Rosario riding.
Buddy's Humor stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Pan American Stakes, caught pace-setting Presious Passion at the top of the stretch and was all out to prevail by 3/4 length. Presious Passion held second and Sligovitz was a distant third. The 1 1/4 miles, originally scheduled for turf, went in 2:02.64 over the sloppy main track. Jose Lezcano rode Buddy's Humor, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Distorted Humor. "We talked it over before the race and didn't hesitate to go ahead and run when the race came off the turf," said winning trainer Bruce Levine from New York. "We were planning on going back to dirt with him later this year anyway. I always thought distance would be no problem for him."
Dress Rehearsal took charge in the stretch in Sunday's $150,000 Orchid Stakes for fillies and mares going long on the grass, winning off by 2 3/4 lengths over Lamentation. The favorite, Criticism, led much of the way but coughed up the lead at mid-stretch and finished third. Dress Rehearsal, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred filly by Galileo, ran the 1 1/2 miles on "good" turf in 2:29.77. Kent Desormeaux rode for trainer Bill Mott. "What you saw was a pretty gritty effort on her part -- a lot of heart and determination. She gave me a little kick at the eighth pole and that's when I knew we were ready to make a move on Edgar (Prado, on Criticism). It was a hell of a performance by a hell of a horse."
Secret Gypsy battled Zada Belle for the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Distaff Handicap, inherited the lead when Zada Bell broke down at the half-mile pole and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Distorted Passion. Royale Michele finished third. Secret Gypsy, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Sea of Secrets, ran the 6 furlongs on the inner track in 1:10.01 under Robby Albarado. Trainer Ronny Werner shipped Secret Gypsy in from Fair Grounds to try to get a graded stakes win for her and succeeded. "She's a very nice filly," Albarado said. "She really does it on her own. I didn't have to push her. When you ask, (she wins) by a hand ride. She just gives you what she has. I think I only her hit her once -- and she came in second that time."
Golden Gate Fields
Siren Lure rallied from last of five to win Saturday's $75,000 Golden Gate Fields Sprint Stakes by 1 length over Big Bad Leroybrown. Mutak Gold finished third. Siren Lure, an 8-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Joyeux Danseur, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.75 under Frank Alvarado.
Tizaqueena made all the pace in Saturday's $60,000 Fortin Handicap for fillies and mares and held on at the end to win by 1/2 length over Sharbat. Nans Joy ran well late to take third. Tizaqueena, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Tiznow, ran the "about" 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:47 with Jamie Theriot in the irons.
Red Hot N Gold and Silver Edition both came charging down the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Hot Springs Handicap, passing the leaders and finishing together. The photo finish camera couldn't separate them at the end and a dead heat was posted. Secret Intelligence was 1 1/2 lengths back in third while the favorite, Semaphore Man, faded to finish fourth. The 6 furlongs went tin 1:09.58.
She's Our Annie led from gate to wire in Sunday's $50,000 Prima Donna Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over On the Menu. The odds-on favorite, Auspicious, never put in a bid and finished third with Mrs Cindy's Walkin completing the order of finish. She's Our Annie, a Florida-bred daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.03 under Jon Court.
Turfiste took well to the Polytrack in Saturday's $50,000 Hansel Stakes for 3-year-olds, taking the early lead and then coasting home a 1-length winner over the favorite, King Puma. He Ain't Right was third. Turfiste, a Kentucky-bred colt by Military, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.1 with Julien Leparoux in the irons.
Just for Keeps set the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Queen Stakes for fillies and mares and held on at the end to win by 3/4 length over Proud Heiress. Mrs Petoski was third. Just for Keeps, with Julien Leparoux riding, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.41. She is a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Broken Vow filly.
Key's Band dueled for the early lead in Saturday's $100,000 Mt. Cristo Rey Handicap for New Mexico-breds, then opened up a clear advantage and coasted home first, 5 1/4 lengths ahead of Chaco Latte. Z Z Dome finished third as the favorite. Key's Band, a 5-year-old Chimes Band gelding, ran the 4 1/2 furlongs in 49.43 seconds with Jorge Bourdieu up.
In Sunday's $100,000 Sydney Valentini Handicap for state-bred distaffers, Let the Musicbegin dueled down the stretch with Bullish Liz before edging clear in the final yards to win by 1/2 length. Treading Water finished third. Let the Musicbegin, a 6-year-old Chimes Band mare, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.89 with Miguel Perez in the irons.