I Want Revenge and Pioneerof the Nile confirmed their status as Kentucky Derby favorites with weekend victories, and Musket Man moved squarely into Derby contention with a minor upset win of his own.
Since hitting the real dirt surfaces in New York, I Want Revenge has turned into a monster. After Dominating the Gotham last month, the Stephen Got Even colt came back to win Saturday's $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct despite a nightmare trip.
I Want Revenge first broke in the air, spotting the field several lengths. Then, when jockey Joe Talamo got him going heading for home, he had to wait behind a wall of horses, swing five wide and restart his rally. Still, he got home a 1 1/2-lengths winner, going away. West Side Bernie was second and Just A Coincidence finished third.
The 9 furlongs on a fast track went in 1:49.49.
I Want Revenge, second by a nose to Pioneerof the Nile in the Cash Call Futurity in December, came back to finish third behind that rival and Papa Clem in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita before trainer Jeff Mullins shipped him east. After the bad start in the Wood, Mullins thought the day was over.
"I was heading back to the barn," Mullins said.
"You don't want to see that kind of trouble, and nine out of 10 times they don't overcome it. So, for him to do what did today is just unbelievable. He had every trouble you could have in a race and still overcame it. That's as good as it gets right there."
Talamo said, despite the trouble, "I thought today was a fairly easy race for him. To be honest, he only ran the last eighth of a mile, so I don't think it took too much out of him. He just keeps getting better and better."
Mullins said he is eager to get I Want Revenge to Churchill Downs to start training for the May 2 Derby. And Kelly Breen, who handles West Side Bernie, said the runner-up also has Derby Plans. "The Kentucky Derby -- I don't want to say it's a once in a lifetime shot. But it would be my first shot, knock on wood," Breen said. "If this horse comes out of the race good, then we're all systems go."
Pioneerof the Nile inherited the front-runner position in Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby when The Pamplempousse was scratched with a soft-tissue injury. The Empire Maker colt made the most of it, tugging jockey Garrett Gomez to the lead and winning by a comfortable if not overpowering 1 length over northern California shipper Chocolate Candy. Mr. Hot Stuff finished third and Take the Points was a disappointing fourth.
Pioneerof the Nile ran the 9 furlongs in 1:49.17 on the all-weather track. He is trained by Bob Baffert, who has won the Kentucky Derby three times but hasn't saddled a derby starter for the past two years. "I'm glad to be back in the show," he said.
Gomez said the scratch of The Pamplemousse and Pioneerof the Nile's insistence on taking the lead down the backstretch prevented him from giving the colt a lesson in rating.
"I wouldn't say it's a missed opportunity," Gomez said. "I was just a little disappointed I wasn't able to get it done the way we wanted to. You're always happy to win the Santa Anita Derby. But, just knowing the next step for him, I was trying to get a little more preparation for the next step."
Despite his stellar record, Pioneerof the Nile has been downgraded by some Derby handicappers for not winning more convincingly and not racing more kindly. He likely will carry that reputation to Louisville as a result of Saturday's effort.
Musket Man forged his way into the Kentucky Derby picture with a picture-perfect, off-the-pace win in Saturday's $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course. With Eibar Coa up for trainer Derek Ryan, the Yonaguska colt advanced to the leaders on the stretch turn, accelerated smartly and got home first, 2 lengths ahead of Giant Oak, who followed the winner and finished second. His Greatness stalked the pace got the lead at the top of the lane and held on for third.
Musket Man, who ran the 9 furlongs in 1:49.91, now has five wins and a third from six starts and the winner's share of Saturday's purse should be sufficient to get him into the field at Churchill Downs. His previous wins included the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs.
Giant Oak reportedly is off the Derby trail after finishing fourth in the Louisiana Derby.
Ryan, in jest, pretended the Illinois Derby winner imposed a burden on him relative to the Run for the Roses. I suppose we have to go now," he said. Ryan also said he has no concerns about Musket Man's pedigree, which would indicate the 1 1/4 miles of the Kentucky Derby could be a stretch for the colt.
"Everyone talks about that. But he'll go as far as you want," he said.
Only next week's Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn and the Blue Grass at Keeneland remain as major Kentucky Derby preps.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Hooh Why got the jump on the field in Saturday's $400,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, led all the way and held on at the end to win by a neck over fellow longshot Gozzip Girl. The odds-on favorite and 2008 Eclipse champion, Stardom Bound, put in her typical late run but could do no better than third, 2 3/4 lengths farther back. Hooh Why, a Florida-bred daughter of Cloud Hopping, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:43.80 under Corey Lanerie. In another mystery of racing, Hooh Why went to the post at odds of 24-1 even though she finished third, beaten only a head, behind Stardom Bound in the Santa Anita Oaks in their last start. Before that, she was second in the Sunshine Million Oaks.
Rachel Alexandra went to the post at a dime on the dollar in Sunday's $250,000 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park, went right to the lead and won by 8 3/4, never asked for her best run by jockey Calvin Borel. Afleet Deceit was second, 3 lengths ahead of Just Jenda. Rachel Alexandra, a Kentucky-bred filly by Medaglia d'Oro out of the Roar mare Lotta Kim, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.35. She is trained by Hal Wiggins. She now has four consecutive wins, coming into the Fantasy off a victory in the Fair Grounds Oaks. "I really don't know how good she is," Borel said. "She's never been pressured and if she stays like she is, I don't know if she ever will be pressured. She's unbelievable." Wiggins said he will ship Rachel Alexandra to Churchill Downs Wednesday, leaving some on the Oaklawn backstretch wondering if the best 3-year-old of either sex will have left the building three days before the Arkansas Derby.
In other weekend racing:
Seventh Street made all the pace in Saturday's $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap and won with authority. Entering the stretch into the teeth of a brisk wind, the 4-year-old Street Cry filly opened up and drew off, winning by 5 3/4 lengths over Superior Storm. Acoma, the odds-on favorite after winning the Azeri here in her last start, made a late run but finished third. Seventh Street, owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.13 on a fast track. Rajiv Maragh was up for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Seventh Street now has won four of her last five races. The other was a second-place finish in the Barbara Fritchie at Laurel Park after rearing at the start. "This filly can be the best," Maragh said. "I would think right now, Zenyatta has been there and done that. Hopefully, that's where this filly will take us." Zenyatta won last year's Apple Blossom en route to a championship season. Seventh Street's connections said to look for her in the Louisville Distaff on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs.
It's a Bird let local favorite Jonesboro set the pace in Saturday's $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, came alongside entering the stretch and drew off easily to win by 6 lengths. West Coast invader Runforthedoe ran well late to nip Jonesboro for place money. It's a Bird, winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic two races back, finished the 9 furlongs Saturday in 1:48.96 under Julien Leparoux. Marty Wolfson trains the 6-year-old, Florida-bred son of Birdonthewire, who now has 10 wins from 29 lifetime starts and passed the $1 million mark in career earnings. "Things went just as we hoped at the start," Leparoux said. "I was laying just off the pace and pleased with that. When he made the lead, he just drew out." Wolfson, who watched the race from Florida, said he hasn't yet charted a course for It's a Bird's summer season.
Kodiak Kowboy rallied from near the back of the field, came five-wide into the stretch and was just up in time to win Saturday's $300,000 Carter Handicap by a head over Fabulous Strike. Driven By Success was third and the winner's stablemate, Biker Boy, finished fourth. Kodiak Kowboy, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Posse, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:22.47 under John Velazquez. He was making his second start of the year after a second-place finish in the D.F. Kenner in the Fair Grounds slop last month. "He makes you work for it, but he runs," said Velazquez. "At the eighth pole, I was very confident, and when I got to the sixteenth pole, he started to slow down a little bit. I said, 'Oh no buddy. You got to keep going.' Then, he jumped a footprint near the wire, and I said, 'My gosh!' He gave me the impression that he was going to pass (the leaders). Once he got rolling on the turn, I knew I had a pretty good shot to win it."
Giant Moon stalked the pace set by Cool Coal Man in Saturday's $200,000 Excelsior Handicap, came to even terms at the top of the stretch and won a prolonged stretch duel, prevailing by 1/2 length. The favorite, Barrier Reef, was 2 lengths farther back in third after lacking racing room turning for home. Giant Moon, a 4-year-old son of Giant's Causeway, posted his second straight win, finishing the 9 furlongs in 1:50.90 under Edgar Prado. Last year, the colt won the Count Fleet and finished a close fourth in the Wood Memorial, then got home a distant eighth in the Preakness. He then was sidelined with hoof problems. "It's so gratifying," said winning trainer Richard Schosberg. "We've had all the patience in the world with this horse. This was a real team effort -- from the crew on the farm to the crew at Belmont. He had a phenomenal winter, healed up so nicely. The main thing is his feet right now look like the way when God put them on originally. Last year, after the Preakness, his feet got away from him. It was a great comeback."
Capt. Candyman Can stalked the pace under a firm hold through the early furlongs of Saturday's $200,000 Bay Shore Stakes for 3-year-olds, then drew off when allowed to run by jockey Javier Castellano, winning by 3 3/4 lengths over Taqarub. Yano was third after showing the way. Capt. Candyman Can, a Kentucky-bred son of Candy Ride, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:22.9. The gelding won the Hutcheson at Gulfstream Park at 7 furlongs, then faded to finish fourth in the Fountain of Youth. "I am very happy," said winning trainer Ian Wilkes. "Our plan was to settle. I asked Javier to give me four lengths at the start; after that, it was up to him. I thought there'd be more speed in the race." Wilkes said his colt clearly is a sprinter, not a Derby horse. "I think he'll run three-quarters, seven-eighths. He's a one-turn horse. I think he might stretch out to a mile later on. Our ultimate goal is the King's Bishop" at 7 furlongs on Aug. 29 at Saratoga.
Bishop (Grade 1, $300,000, seven furlongs, Aug. 29, Saratoga). In between we have several options. Right now, I am going to enjoy this."
Stormalory stormed from last to first in winning Friday's $150,000 Central Bank Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by a neck over Smart Bid. Fiorentino finished third. Stormalory, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Storm Cat, ran the 1 1/16 miles on yielding turf in 1:45.73. Julien Leparoux had the mount for trainer Bill Mott.
Dixie Chatter rallied nicely along the inside to win Saturday's $150,000 Arcadia Handicap by 3/4 length over Mr Napper Tandy. The favorite, Madeo, rallied from last of eight on the outside to finish third. Dixie Chatter, a 4-year-old son of Dixie Union, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.12 under Tyler Baze. Richard Mandella is the winning trainer. "It's just nice to win one with him. He's been trying so hard for so long. He got beat a half a length, three quarters of a length and it's nice to finally win with him," Mandella said.
Soul City Slew took the inside path down the backstretch, passed the early leaders around the turn and into the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Potrero Grande Handicap, then outfinished Halo Najib to win by 1/2 length. Paul's Hope was third. Soul City Slew, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Slew City Slew gelding, finished the 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:14:79 with Michael Baze in the irons. "He's a big, old, long-striding horse, and for an older horse, he's a really good-feeling horse," said winning trainer Jack Carava. "He's a fun horse to be around – easy to train … I'm more happy for him than I am for myself. He's just a cool horse – a very, very, very nice horse. Hopefully, he'll continue to do it. He likes Hollywood Park, and the sprint division's not all that tough right now. Maybe we'll just keep him down this path for now."
Acting Lady got through between horses in the stretch run of Saturday's $150,000 Providencia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and got home first, 1/2 length ahead of another longshot, Mrs. Kipling. Pasar Silbano was third and the favorite, Rosie Mantle, finished fifth. Acting Lady, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Theatrical, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.20 under Victor Espinoza. Doug O'Neill trains. "Anytime they win and they're 20-1, you're a little surprised," O'Neill said. "But we've been so proud of the fact that this filly tries hard every time. Victor rode her brilliantly. These turf races, so much of it is trip. He just saved the ground and gave her a dream trip. The owners are in town from England, so we're just going to enjoy this one for now."
Sweet August Moon caught front-running favorite High Resolve just past the furlong marker in Sunday's $100,000 Las Flores Handicap for fillies and mares and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Foxy Danseur nipped High Resolve for place money. Sweet August Moon, a 4-year-old, Pennsylvania-bred filly by Malibu Moon, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.21 under Aaron Gryder.
Finallymadeit led from gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 Skip Away Stakes, drawing off easily at the end to win by 8 1/4 lengths over Tizbig. Cool Gator was third. Finallymadeit, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Concerto, ran the 1 3/16 miles on a fast track in 1:56.76 with Eduardo Nunez in the irons.
Golden Gate Fields
Restless Soul came three-wide around the early leaders to win Saturday's $75,000 Yerba Buena Stakes for fillies and mares by 3/4 length over pace-setting You Life Me Up. Caprice was third. Restless Soul, a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by Singspiel, ran the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:20.49 under Chad Schvaneveldt.
Mullins Beach dueled for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 La Voyageuse Stakes for Ontario-bred 3-year-old fillies, got to the front and extended the lead to win by 3 3/4 lengths over Sans Sousi. The favorite, High Mist, settled for third. Mullins Beach, a daughter of Speightstown, ran the 5 furlongs on the all-weather track in 58.59 seconds with Patrick Husbands in the irons.
Tampa Bay Downs
Saturday was Florida Cup Day, with six races worth $85,000 each for state-breds.
Tamborim stalked the pace in the Dayton Anderson Dodge Sophomore Turf for 3-year-olds, got a short lead, gave it up and then came again to win by 3/4 length over Duke of Mischief. The Belong to Me colt ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.05.
On the Vineyard sat just off the early lead in the Hilton Garden Inn Sprint, took charge with a furlong to run and went on to post the 30-1 upset by 1 3/4 lengths over How's Your Halo. On the Vineyard, a 5-year-old son of Lite the Fuse, ran 6 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:09.59
Fearless Eagle sat well behind the pace in the Kinsman Turf Classic, then came swooping through along the rail to just get up for a neck victory over pace-setter Marquet Cat. Fearless Eagle, a 5-year-old son of Invisible Ink, got the "about" 9 furlongs on the grass in 1:48.09.
Bee Cee Cee rallied from mid-pack to win the Ocala Breeders' Sales Sophomore Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3 lengths over Biblionico. Bee Cee Cee, a Songandaprayer colt, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:22.80. The favorite, Anythingyouwant, was pulled up and vanned off after taking a bad step.
Quiet Meadow was close to the lead in the L and D Farm Turf Distaff, surged to the lead after 6 furlongs and then repulsed a challenge from Scolara to win by 1/2 length over that rival. Quiet Meadow, a 4-year-old daughter of El Prado, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the grass in 1:42.30.
Snow Lass was quickly out front in the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies and held on well to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Sweet Yulianna. Snow Lass, a daughter of Stormy Atlantic out of the Frosty the Snowman mare Keri's Snowman, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:23.78.