As the Kentucky Derby contenders put in their final works in preparation for Saturday's big race, a sub-plot was playing out involving horses who might join the Triple Crown trail one race down the line.
Typically, there is an exodus of pretenders who are exposed in the Derby and even of talented also-rans who have been knocked out by the grueling run-up to Churchill Downs. That leaves room two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes starting gate for what have become known as "new shooters" -- horses who didn't make it to the Derby but are ready now to enter the fray against the survivors.
Two of the weekend's top races could well have been setups for "new shooters" for the May 16 second jewel of the Triple Crown.
In Saturday's $150,000 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, Mr. Fantasy rallied to the lead along the inside with a quarter mile to run, then held off the favorite, This Ones For Phil, by 1 3/4 lengths at the wire. Gone Astray was third. Mr. Fantasy, a New York-bred colt by E Dubai, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.91 with Richard Migliore up for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
Mr. Fantasy now is 3-for-4, with only a third-place finish in the Gotham Stakes behind I Want Revenge blotting his copybook.
Migliore noted Mr. Fantasy was a bit hot in the paddock. "Kiaran and (assistant trainer) Artie (Magnuson) have done a tremendous job managing his mental attitude," he added. "If he would act better, I'd think he'd deserve a shot at the Preakness. He's that talented. Maybe in maturity, he'll pop out. But he's the best horse I've sat on in a while."
In Saturday's $100,000 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs, Hull remained undefeated -- and largely untested -- drawing off sharply in the stretch to score by 4 lengths. Kensei was best of the rest and Checklist finished third. The favorite, Silver City, disputed the pace, then faded to get home fifth. Hull, a Kentucky-bred son of Holy Bull, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:30.21. Miguel Mena rode for trainer Dale Romans.
Hull now has three straight wins, all by daylight.
"We entered in the Lexington but we had this race as our backup," Romans said. "Everything had to be perfect if he ran in that race (Lexington), because he was coming back so soon after the Turfway race (on April 2). When he drew post 12, we didn't hesitate to scratch him and point for this. We'll take a look and see what happens in the Derby, who goes on from there and who doesn't. The Preakness is a possibility for him right now."
Other weekend racing, including some important, early-season grass races at Keeneland, Calder, Golden Gate Fields and Hollywood Park and Sha Tin in Hong Kong, which could preview end-of-year championship battles:
Presvis, invading from England, got a clear run up the rail in the final 300 meters of Sunday's HK$14 million Audemars Piguet QEII Cup at Sha Tin in Hong Kong and made the best of it, winning by a length over local favorite Viva Pataca. Thumbs Up was third with French challenger Chinchon fourth. Presvis, trained by Luca Cumani, was ridden by Ryan Moore over "yielding" turf. "I love international racing," Cumani said. "It has great prize money and great atmosphere." Moore, who rode in England Saturday, said the race "went perfectly. I was happy to sit in last as the gallop was honest on that ground. I was never worried as he was handling the ground well, and when I asked him once he picked up one horse. I knew he'd pick them all up." Cumani said he will wait a few days before deciding whether to take Presvis on to Singapore for the Singapore Cup. If he does, "Then he'll have a rest," the trainer said. "But I'd love to bring him back here in December for the big race -- the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup."
Sight Winner, at long odds, edged Egyptian Ra after a long stretch duel in Sunday's Champions Mile at Sha Tin. With Brett Prebble up, Sight Winner put in a late bit and just beat Egyptian Ra. Dao Dao was third and the favorites, Good Ba Ba and Collection, settled for fourth and fifth. "It's a nice surprise," Prebble said of his 64-1 winner. "But John (trainer John Size, who saddled four runners in the race) seemed quietly confident in the paddock beforehand. So that got my confidence up a little." Size said the yielding turf played a role, as did not letting Egyptian Ra get too far in front. He said he will consider sending Sight Winner overseas -- an important consideration since the horse already is nominated for the Singapore Airlines International Cup on May 17, will earn an invitation to the Yasuda Kinen at Tokyo in early June and automatically qualified thanks to Sunday's win for a spot in the Breeders' Cup Mile Nov. 7 at Santa Anita in California. "We'll see how he comes out of the race first," Size said.
Golden Gate Fields
Mr Napper Tandy trailed the field early in Saturday's $300,000 San Francisco Mile, circled wide around the turn and was up in time to win by a head over the pace-setter, Yacht Spotter. Bold Chieftain was third and the favorite, Ferneley, finished sixth. Mr Napper Tandy, a 5-year-old, British-bred son of Bahamian Bounty, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:36.08 with Julio Garcia up for trainer Jack Carava. "I really wanted to try him on that turf course because of his come-from-behind style," said Carava via phone from Hollywood Park. "The turf course there isn't as hard as the ones here and I thought that might help him. "I've always liked this horse even though he's a frustrating horse because of all the seconds. Julio rode him well. He's a tough horse to ride."
Lone Star Park
Jonesboro took a wide trip around the turns in Saturday's $300,000 Texas Mile but still was able to get up at the end to win by 1/2 length over King Dan. Encaustic finished third and the favorite, Halo Najib, was fourth. Jonesboro, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Sepafianio, finished in 1:36.94 on a fast track. He is trained by Randy Morse and Cliff Berry had the winning ride. "Randy told me to try to get him out good and that it was up to me from there," Berry said. "Those other horses pushed him out a little bit going into the first turn, but he's a tough old horse and he just kept trying. He ran great. He dug in the whole way." The win pushed Jonesboro's career earnings past the $1 million mark. "He's earned it the hard way," Morse said. "This is actually the biggest race he's ever won and for him to reach this milestone here in Texas, it's special. I'm from Texas."
Winter View rallied from last to win going away in Thursday's $150,000 Grey Goose Bewitch Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/2 miles on the grass. After coming wide around favorite Dress Rehearsal, who set a very measured pace, Winter View drew clear and scored by 2 lengths. Communique edged Dress Rehearsal for second and Caprice was another nose back in fourth. Winter View, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Thunder Gulch Mare, finished in 2:34.11 on firm going under Julien Leparoux. Jonathan Sheppard trains. "Julien gave her a beautiful ride," said Sheppard. "I was a little concerned about the slow fractions, but I know that's her style and it's not good to alter it. We discussed that ahead of time because on paper it didn't look like there would be much speed."
Spice Route came from off the pace to capture Friday's $200,000 Fifth Third Elkhorn Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on the turf, winning by 2 lengths over Musketier. Brass Hat was third. Better Talk Now was sixth and the favorite, Champs Elysees, failed to fire, finishing seventh. Spice Route, a 5-year-old, British-bred son of King's Best, got the distance in 2:29.23 with Rene Douglas riding for trainer Roger Attfield. "Mr. Attfield told me to wait as long as I could because he likes to wait for horses," Douglas said. "So that was my main thing. I didn't want to get the lead early and coming into the eighth pole it seemed like he was getting the lead and I didn't want to get the lead. From the eighth pole home, I just decided to let him go and he responded very well."
Calder Race Course
Criticism led from gate to wire in Saturday's $150,000 La Prevoyante Handicap for fillies and mares, beating Long Approach by 1 length under the wire. Icon Project was third. Criticism, a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by Machiavellian, ran the 12 furlongs on firm turf in 2:29.33. Javier Castellano rode the Darley Stable homebred for trainer Tom Albertrani. "We're headed back to New York and the Diana at Saratoga may be the goal. It's a Grade 1. We'll try to make a schedule that works backwards from there," Albertrani said.
Wesley pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Miami Mile Handicap, got the lead three-wide entering the stretch and drew clear, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Mambo Meister. Fearless Eagle flew home third. Wesley, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred El Prado colt, finished in 1:36.31 with Castellano in the irons for trainer Mark Hennig. "I'm glad we put the blinkers on him," Hennig said. "I think it helped a lot today. Without them, he might have gotten too far back off that pace to be able to overcome it. He's by El Prado and still maturing ... I think we can look forward to a good year from him. There are all kinds of options for him up here."
Madeo caught pace-setting Storm Military in the final jumps to win Sunday's $100,000 Inglewood Handicap by a head. U.S. Ranger was just another head back in third. Madeo, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Mizzen Mast, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.04 with Mike Smith in the irons. "He's got such a great little turn of foot," Smith said. "He's so agile. When I called on him, he jumped on it. He wanted to hang just a little, but I let him know to go on by and he did."
Jockey Rafael Bejarano won four of the six major stakes events for California-breds Saturday.
Compari led most of the way to a 1 3/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for California-bred 3-year-olds. Triumphant Flight was second and J P Jammer finished third. Compari, a Redattore gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:48.63. Garret Gomez was in the irons.
Unusual Smoke pressed the pace in Saturday's $150,000 TVG Khaled Stakes for Cal-breds, pulled his way to the lead with a furlong to run and won by 1 length over Seminole Native. Apoplectic finished third. Unusual Smoke ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.28 under Martin Garcia. He is a 4-year-old Unusual Heat colt.
Liberian Freighter dueled for the lead in Saturday's $150,000 Tiznow Stakes for state-breds, finally got the clear advantage in the stretch run and won off by 1 1/2 lengths. Star Nicholas ran well late to take second and Bestdressed was third. Liberian Freighter, a 4-year-old Bertrando gelding, ran the 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:27.74 under Bejarano.
Pretty Unusual rallied from near the back of the field to upset Saturday's $200,000 Melair Stakes for Cal-bred, 3-year-old fillies, winning by 1 length over Chalula One. Beltene was third. Pretty Unusual, a daughter of Unusual Heat, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.88 with Bejarano riding.
Bootleg Annie led all the way to a 1-length win over Spinning Yams in Saturday's $150,000 Fran's Valentine Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares. Onebadkitty was third and the favorite, Bel Air Sizzle, ran fifth. Bootleg Annie, a 5-year-old Go For Gin mare, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.6 with Bejarano handling the reins.
Waveline stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 B Thoughtful Stakes for state-bred distaffers, then went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Gambler' Justice. Lady Railrider finished third. Waveline, a 4-year-old daughter of Stravinsky, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:20.89 with Bejarano up.
Bejarano also won Saturday's $70,000 Grey Memo Stakes aboard Tribal Justice for a five-stakes winning day. "Any jockey could have won with these horses," he said. "When you have the best horse, you can do anything you want. The last five races I won, I had the best horse in each race."
Bearcatt came from last to win Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Woodstock Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Congor Bay. Heart of a King seized the lead at the top of the stretch and then held on for third. Bearcatt, a Kentucky-bred son of Tapit, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.32 under Emma-Jayne Wilson. "I couldn't tell how far in front the inside horses were," said Wilson. "Once I got a good glimpse that I was pretty close to them, I got my horse to settle back and he was able to relax. By that time, he was last. "That's when he gained his composure," added Wilson. "Once he settled down, he was able to regain his legs and come with a good run down the lane. He's got a kick."
Disfunction caught Shadowless in a long stretch drive to win Saturday's $150,000 Jacques Cartier Stakes by a neck. It was only another neck back to Field Commission, who earlier battled for the lead. Disfunction, a 4-year-old, British Columbia-bred Vying Victor gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.62 with Emile Ramsammy in the irons.
Awesome Rhythm took charge of Saturday's $100,000 Wando Stakes for 3-year-olds in the stretch run, drawing off to win by 4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Bear's Rocket. Shafted finished third. Awesome Rhythm, a Kentucky-bred colt by Toccet, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.49. James McAleney was up for trainer John Ross.
Acting Zippy rallied smartly down the stretch to upset Saturday's $75,000 Vincent A. Moscarelli Memorial, winning by 4 lengths over fellow longshot Secret Intelligence. West Coast Flier finished third and the favorite, Rollers, settled for seventh. Acting Zippy, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred City Zip gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:08.37 with David Cohen riding.
Budge Man came from last to post a minor upset in Saturday's $75,000 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes. With Jesus Ponce up, the 4-year-old Fusaichi Pegasus gelding won by 2 1/2 lengths over Prospective Kiss, with the favorite, Sebastian County finishing third. Jonesboro and The Nutz were both late scratches. Budge Man ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.
Brickell saved ground into the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Henry S. Clark Breeders' Cup Stakes, moved to the outside to put in his run and was up in time to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Independent George. Midwatch was third. Brickell, sent off at odds of 50-1, ran the 1 mile on "good" turf in 1:39.8 with Harry Vega up.
Hawthorne Race Course
Jockey Lyndie Wade and trainers Brian Williamson and Christine Janks were the main celebrants of Illinois Champions Day Saturday. Wade rode the winners of half the $100,000-each events for state-breds while Williamson and Janks each saddled two stakes winners.
Home's the Best trailed the field early in the Peach of It Handicap for fillies and mares, came to contention at the top of the stretch and drew off to win by 4 1/2 lengths despite running a bit erratically in the lane. Lawn was second and Mongoose Gold third. Home's the Best, a 5-year-old Western Playboy mare from the Harvey and Nancy Vanier barn, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.45 under Lyndie Wade. The Vaniers also handle Lawn.
Stonehouse stalked the pace in the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap, got by pace-setting Gathering Kings and won off by 5 3/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Gathering Kings held second by a nose over P D Q Kiddo. Stonehouse, a 5-year-old son of Chester House, got the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.48 with Perry Compton riding for trainer Joseph Broussard.
Bow Tie Pasta rallied from well back, swung five wide into the stretch and went on to win the Pretty Jenny Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by 4 1/4 lengths over Cart's Linda. Lose None finished third. Bow Tie Pasta, by Champali, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.61 with Eusebio Razo Jr. up for trainer Tom Dorris.
Nicks rallied by the early leader, Magnetic Miss, in the stretch run to win the Governor's Lady for fillies and mares by 1 length. Magnetic Miss held second, 3/4 length to the good of Secret Kin. Nicks, a 5-year-old daughter of Salt Lake, got the 6 furlongs in 1:10.49 on a track downgraded from fast to sloppy after the skies opened. Lyndie Wade rode for trainer Christine Janks.
Agnostic rallied to the lead along the inside in the Land of Lincoln for 3-year-olds, then won by 2 lengths over late-running Devil's Halo. Johnnies Breeze was along for third. Agnostic, a son of Home at Last, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.96 with Lyndie Wade up for trainer Brian Williamson and owner Russell Reineman.
Mighty Rule battled down the stretch with Caruso before prevailing by a neck in the Robert S. Molaro for 4-year-olds and up. Carson's Hawk finished third, 1/2 length farther back. Mighty Rule, a 6-year-old Gilded Time gelding, got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.78. Jesse Campbell had the mount for trainer Christine Janks.
Wade, a fresh-faced youngster from Louisiana, credited his mounts. "It wasn't that I felt I could do no wrong. I just rode with more confidence and had more confidence in my horses," he said.