Weekend Kentucky Derby preps were a disappointment as the 2-5 favorite bolted on the first turn in one and another was canceled outright. But in the weekend's richest race, the star-crossed Quality Road finally showed signs he has arrived as a superstar.
First, the Derby preps:
Eightyfiveinafifty, the prohibitive favorite in Saturday's $100,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct, broke a step slowly from the inside post position, pulled jockey Jorge Chavez up to the lead and then totally blew the turn.
After losing touch with the other four starters, Eightyfiveinafifty crashed through the outside rail, unseating Chavez, jumped another rail and headed back to the stable area.
That left a tactical race with Papa's Nice Cat leading the way comfortably down the backstretch. At that point, Peppi Knows came along to the lead, opened up a big advantage at mid-stretch and was under pressure at the end from late-running longshot Afleet Again.
The final margin for Peppi Knows was 1 length, with Three Day Rush third, another 1/2 length back. Peppi Knows, a Kentucky-bred Stephen Got Even gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast inner track in 1:47.1 under Richard Migliore.
"It worked out real good for us," Migliore said. "We got to save ground when the other horse didn't make the turn. He's just a real nice, handy little horse. He's not a whole lot to look at, but he has a big heart. I just hope Jorge's alright."
Chavez was conscious after being unseated and was taken to a nearby hospital for observation. His agent said the jockey told him Eightyfiveinafifth's bit broke shortly after the start, causing him to lose control.
Eightyfiveinafifty's trainer, Gary Contessa, said he has no idea what happened.
"He has a 2-inch cut on his right hind leg and he'll need a couple of stitches, but he was walking sound. I'm completely mystified as to what happened. I don't know if it was the horse, the jockey or an equipment malfunction. The bit was broken and the rein was shredded. The equipment was in shambles. But I don't know if that happened during the race or after he bolted. He's handled the turns fine in the mornings."
On the other hand, before the race Contessa said pushing the son of Forest Camp to two turns -- after a 17 1/4-length sprint win last month -- was an experiment. "If it weren't for thinking about the Kentucky Derby, this is probably not the road I would have taken with him," he told NYRA publicists Feb. 3. "Going from a maiden win to facing stakes horses around two turns is a lot to ask."
Sunday morning, Contessa said Eightyfiveinafifty will return to training in about a week but declined to speculate on his next race.
Meanwhile, heavy rains and standing water on the Santa Anita track forced cancellation of Saturday's entire program, including the scheduled $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, an early test for Santa Anita Derby candidates and other top 3-year-olds.
Among those entered for the Lewis were the highly regarded American Lion, Tiz Chrome and Dave in Dixie.
Track General Manager George Haines said all five stakes set for Saturday will be rescheduled. "We know that in many cases, owners and trainers are plotting schedules with their respective horses and they need to know when these races are going to be offered back," Haines said. "This is a very difficult situation and we will let everyone know what our plan is as quickly as possible."
In other 3-year-old races:
-- Also Saturday, Wildcat Frankie battled for the lead with Bank the Eight in a Saturday allowance event at Gulfstream Park, then got clear at the end and won by 1 1/4 lengths over that rival. Under Paco Lopez, the Florida-bred Wildcar Heir gelding ran a mile in 1:38.51. The victory followed a 15-lengths win in his career debut and a second-place finish in the Spectacular Bid on Jan. 9. Tuvia's Force was third for trainer Nick Zito but WinStar Farm's Soldier Field disappointed, never in the mix and finishing seventh of eight.
-- Sunday's $125,000 Hallandale Beach Stakes on the Gulfstream grass turned into a slam-bam stretch duel between pace-setting Bim Bam and heavily favored Interactif. Bim Bam showed the way into the stretch, traded the lead with Interactif and put his nose in front on the wire. Asphalt was third, 2 lengths farther back. Bim Bam, a Florida-bred Deputy Wild Cat colt, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.07 under Eibar Coa. "It didn't look like there was much speed in the race, so our plan going in was to go to the lead and hope to slow it down, which is the way it went," said winning trainer David Brownlee. "From there it was up to Eibar." Brownlee said Bim Bam will stick to turf for now. Kent Desormeaux, who rode Interactif, said, "I'm shocked. I didn't think I could get beat from the quarter pole."
Among the older horses, the going was a little brighter
The Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park is the first major event of the year in the United States for older horses and has become a major prep for the Dubai World Cup. Saturday's $500,000 renewal was a walk in the park for Quality Road.
With John Velazquez in the irons, the 4-year-old, Virginia-bred Elusive Quality colt stalked the pace, took over midway around the turn and blew the doors off eight rivals, winning by 12 3/4 lengths. Dry Martini was shaken up late by Javier Castellano to get up for second, 1 length better than Delightful Kiss.
Quality Road finished the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:47.49, breaking the track record he set himself in the Florida Derby.
"Not much to say after a performance like that," Pletcher said. "Obviously, he ran the kind of race we know he's capable of … He's got a very high cruising speed and can go 46 and 1:09 and still keep going. Not many horses can do that."
Pletcher said he and owner Edward Evans are not thinking about Dubai. Instead, they plan to give Quality Road a brief rest, return to New York for the Met Mile and the Saratoga fixtures, then prepare for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.
Quality Road was among the favorites for last year's Kentucky Derby after winning the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby. But foot problems forced him to the sidelines and, when Todd Pletcher took over training duties, he was pointed to the Breeders' Cup Classic.
On the big day at Santa Anita, he first refused to load, then broke through the starting gate and eventually was scratched. He came back last month to win the Hal's Hope at Gulfstream, going away.
In other weekend racing:
Britain's Alexandros, under Frankie Dettori, was the great winner in Thursday's feature $200,000 Al Rashadiya, the first turf race at Dubai's Meydan Racecourse.
"The turf track is great," said Dettori, "and I was really impressed with the condition it is in and especially the sweeping bends." Dettori followed with a second turf win aboard home-bred Age of Reason.
Ireland's Global City was the first of local trainer Saeed bin Suroor's three consecutive Thursday wins, taking the 6-furlong Dubal International Trophy on the Tapeta surface.
South African Trainer Mike de Kock also scored a hat trick on the night, with equine countryman Mr. Brock, Musir (Australia) and King of Rome (Ireland}. America's War Monger ran a disappointing 10th to Mr. Brock.
Dubai International Carnival hosted a second full card Friday highlighted by American filly Soneva winning the featured Cape Verdi Stakes with Belgian Christophe Soumillon up. "She's a nice filly I used to ride in France," Soumillon said. "That was a nice performance."
Ireland's Allybar was a surprise winner at a mile-and-a quarter over Briton Presvis in a three-horse second race. American Zulu Chief, a son of Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, was last.
Barbecue Eddie singed a 12-horse field to take the Jaguar Trophy. Kentucky Derby-runner West Side Bernie could manage only 10th on the all-weather surface. "He ran well, but he just didn't have that kick," Dettori said.
The International Racing Carnival has six more meetings leading up to Dubai's $10 million World Cup Day March 27.
While Quality Road was showing his heels to Florida competition, Richard's Kid made a statement of his own in Sunday's $150,000 San Antonio Handicap. In his first start since a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic, the 5-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid started at the rear of an 11-horse field, came to the rail entering the turn and got by them all, winning by a head over Dakota Phone. Philatelist stamped the bottom spot in the trifecta. Richard's Kid, with Garrett Gomez up for trainer Bob Baffert, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:49.05. Before his Classic start, the Maryland-bred finished third in the Goodwood and won the Pacific Classic. "I stayed down inside with him because there wasn't a whole lot I could do about it," Gomez said. "Nobody was really stopping today, so the only way we were going to overcome that was to save ground. He's got a great kick." Purchased after the Breeders' Cup by the Zabeel Racing Stable of Dubai's Sheik Rashid bin Mohammad al-Maktoum, Richard's Kid is expected to contest the World Cup.
Take the Points crossed the wire first in Saturday's $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, only to be set down to fifth for drifting in at the sixteenth pole and interfering with a rival. The DQ promoted Court Vision, who had finished 1 1/2 lengths back, to the winner's share. Never On Sunday and Le Grand Cru were moved up to second and third. Court Vision, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Gulch, was ridden by Edgar Prado. Todd Pletcher, who trains Take the Points, said he is considering an appeal. "The thing that bothers me most is that there was no way the horse he was supposed to have bothered was ever going to beat him. I've always thought that if it isn't clear, you just leave it alone."
Tottie stalked the pace in Saturday's $125,000 Suwannee River Stakes for fillies and mares, eased out in the stretch run and got up to win by 3/4 length over Cable. Early leader In My Glory held on for third. Tottie, a British-bred daughter of Fantastic Light, ran the 1 1/8 mile on firm turf in 1:50.34 with Jose Lezcano in the irons. Trainer Chad Brown said he gave Tottie time to acclimatize. "I think middle distances, a mile to a mile-and-an-eighth, are her best. There are plenty of opportunities for her later on, Brown said.
Racing Bran returned a healthy payoff after upsetting Saturday's $100,000 Essex Handicap. The 5-year-old, Illinois-bred Awesome Again gelding, at 11-1 odds, got the lead, slowed things down and won by 4 1/4 lengths over the odds-on favorite, Win Willy. Prom Shoes was third. Racing Bran, with Chris Emigh up for trainer Scott Becker, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.13. For Racing Bran the win was his fifth in his last six outings -- the only loss a third-place finish in the Buck's Boy Handicap at Hawthorne last October. He now has nine wins from 22 starts and likely will point to the $150,000 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn March 6.
Star Guitar is turning into a star on the Louisiana-Texas circuit. The 5-year-old Quiet American gelding was the obvious choice against nine opponents in Saturday night's $200,000 Premier Night Championship and ran to his notices. Under Curt Bourque, Star Guitar settled early, advanced toward the leaders nearing the final turn and drew off smartly in the stretch to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Snug was second and Ide Like a Double finished third. Star Guitar covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.71. He now has 12 wins from 15 starts.
In other Premier Night results for Louisiana-breds:
Redsugar led from gate to wire in winning the $125,000 Prince Stakes for 3-year-olds, winning by 4 1/4 lengths. The Laabity gelding ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:26.87 under Kirk LeBlanc. The $125,000 Starlet Stakes, for 3-year-old fillies went to Shezacrazygirl, an Ide filly who scored by 3 lengths and finished 7 furlongs in 1:27.37 with Curt Borque up.
John Charles rallied in the final sixteenth to catch pace-setting Rail Ridge and win the $100,000 Sprint by 1/2 length. John Charles ran the 5 furlongs in 58.29 seconds with Francisco Torres in the irons. In the $100,000 Matron Stakes for fillies and mares, Flawless Gold got the early lead and held on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Yare, finishing in 59.55 under Nathaniel Puello.
Superior Storm rallied from far back to take a big lead in the $150,000 Distaff, then held on at the end to win by a neck over Seven Seventythree. The Stormy Atlantic mare got the 1 mile in 1:40.54 for jockey Luis Quinonez.
Tampa Bay Downs
Musket Man got to the front entering the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Super Stakes, battled down the lane with Guam Typhoon and edged clear at the end to win by 1/2 length. Chief Talkeetna was third after leading through the early furlongs. Musket Man, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Yonaguska colt, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.1 under Daniel Centeno. Musket Man won last year's Tampa Bay Derby, then finished third in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. He had been away from the races for nine months. "He was only about 70 percent cranked," said owner Eric Fein. "I knew how good he was. I was nervous as usual, but I had tremendous confidence." He said he and trainer Derek Ryan will look around the country for the colt's next race.
Royal Express jumped quickly to the lead in Saturday's $60,000 Black Gold Stakes for 3-year-olds and kept on going, winning off by 3 1/2 lengths over Vito Filitto. Saluting Stormye overtook odds-on favorite Grand Slam Andre in the final strides to finish third. The field was shortened to just four when the race came off the turf. Royal Express, an Illinois-bred colt by Royal Academy, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track with James Graham aboard.
American Classic stalked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Budweiser Stakes, dueled for the lead at the top of the stretch and was just up to win by a head over Sky Jedi. Love's Bonus finished third. American Classic, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred Distorted Humor gelding, ran the 5 furlongs on a fast track in 57.7 with Agapito Delgadillo in the irons.
News and notes:
Okay, let's get ready to rumble! Oaklawn Park President Charles Cella is offering to up the purse for the April 3 Apple Blossom Handicap to $5 million if both Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra start. It's a natural. Both have won over the track and Oaklawn's Racing Festival of the South is a fitting, historic setting for a showdown. And if we're really lucky, it could start a multi-race showdown between the two superstar distaffers. And what if they face off in the Breeder's Cup Classic with Quality Road and some European stars? Make your plans now … And speaking of Churchill Downs, the track announced Sunday 366 early nominations to the Triple Crown. The list includes all those you'd expect, including reigning 2-year-old champ Lookin at Lucky, Breeders' Cup winner Vale of York, who heads a small herd nominated by Godolphin Racing, and eight fillies, including 2-year-old champ and Breeders' Cup winner She Be Wild.