Ice Box, a 20-1 longshot, came from last to win Saturday's $750,000 Florida Derby and -- depending on how you evaluate the race -- vault into the top rank of contenders for the May 1 Kentucky Derby.
With Jose Lezcano riding for trainer Nick Zito, Ice Box rallied strongly along the outside entering the stretch and ran by his rivals. He nipped fellow longshot Pleasant Prince by a nose. The favorite, Rule, led at the top of the lane and salvaged third.
Lentenor, a full brother to Barbaro, finished a credible fourth. However, if he is to have any Kentucky Derby hopes, he would need an interim start to accumulate enough graded stakes earnings.
Ice Box, a Kentucky-bred son of Pulpit, was making just his second stakes appearance. He was fifth, beaten 12 lengths, in the Fountain of Youth in his last race. Before that, he needed four races to reach the winner's circle for the first time, though he was racing against top company on the New York circuit.
"I have to take it one step at a time with this horse and be thankful that he won this race," Zito said. "That's the way we're going to approach it. You can think about running him back in three weeks and then another three weeks (on DerbyDay). But we'll just have to figure that out … He's had three tough races in a row, so I've got to see what I'm going to do with him."
Wesley Ward, who trains Pleasant Prince, summed up the surprising outcome of the Florida Derby in commenting on his colt. "Horses at this time of year can take such leaps, improve day-to-day," he said. "I think this horse is has been doing that. We just have to hope he keeps moving in that direction."
Rule, who inherited the favorite's role when Fountain of Youth winner Eskendereya was pointed toward next week's Wood Memorial in New York, also is still headed toward the Run for the Roses.
Rule's jockey, John Velazquez, said he made a tactical mistake in Saturday's race. "He was going along pretty good and he was settled, but I probably should have eased him back a little" rather than contesting the lead on the backstretch, Velazquez said. Trainer Todd Pletcher said he will ship Rule to Kentucky after a few works in Florida.
In other 3-year-old racing:
-- D'Funnybone showed he's the best 3-year-old sprinter -- and maybe the best sprinter of any age -- in North America with a dominating victory in Saturday's $150,000 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream. After breaking well, the Florida-bred D'wildcat colt dueled for the lead down the backstretch, got clear early in the stretch run to open a daylight advantage and got home 1 1/4 lengths better than Ibboyee. Privilaged was third. D'Funnybone, with Edgar Prado in the irons, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.98. "He ran like I thought he would," said winning trainer Rick Dutrow. "It looked like he was pretty much in control all the way. My first choice for him next would be the Withers (April 24 at Aqueduct), a one-turn mile, then see where we are." After that, the Preakness has been mentioned as a stretch-out possibility.
-- Plantation remained unbeaten in four starts by stalking the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park, dueling through the stretch with Reckless Runner and prevailing by 1/2 length. Regal Warrior finished third. Plantation, a West Virginia-bred gelding by Luftikus, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.18 with Travis Dunkelberger up. "We just sat off the pace and hoped they'd run out there a little bit so we didn't get in a speed duel," Dunkelberger said. "He settled good and ran down the lane. He's learned something every race. He's getting better and better and better." Plantation broke his maiden at Laurel, then won twice at Charles Town against fellow West Virginia-breds.
In other weekend racing:
Dubai World Cup preview
The Meydan all-weather surface apparently won't scare away four U.S.-based horses who will take to the Tapeta in search of the $6 million first prize in the 15th running of the Dubai World Cup Saturday.
American turf champion Gio Ponti is likely to be the runaway favorite, with last year's runner-up, Brazilian-bred Gloria de Campeao, a second choice. Furthest Land, Take the Points and Richard's Kid also will fly the U.S. colors. Scheduled starter Life is Sweet was scratched following a training injury.
While previously announced runner and Japanese horseracing legend Vodka, a seven-time Group One winning mare, was scratched and retired following a second consecutive post-race nosebleed, Japan will be well-represented by the big filly with the red stockings, Red Desire, who impressed in her victory in the al-Maktoum Challenge Round III on Super Thursday at Meydan. Christophe Soumillon, on the heels of an impressive International Carnival showing, has the mount.
"This is a challenge for Red Desire," said Assistant Trainer Takashi Saito, who confirmed the connections' decision to pass on the Dubai Sheema Classic for a chance at the big prize. "We know it's a tough race, but we are not worried about other horses."
Red Desire will be stalked by a man who knows her well, her Maktoum Challenge rider Olivier Peslier, previously booked on French runner and Hong Kong Cup winner Vision D'Etat. Another fleet Japanese challenger, Buena Vista, outdueled Red Desire in the Japanese Oaks and 1,000 Guineas last year, but is likely to run in the Sheema Classic, avoiding another showdown.
Not to be overlooked among the full field of 14 challengers are UAE local favorite Allybar, Britain's Crowded House and twin South African entries, Mr. Brock and Lizard's Desire.
The $2 million UAE Derby features Kentucky Derby possible Mendip competing against Breeders' Cup Juvenile victor Vale of York, stablemates Siyaadah and Frozen Power and a triplet of South African entries led by Raihana.
In other highlights on the eight-race Dubai World Cup Day card, 2009 winner Eastern Anthem looks to repeat on the turf in the $5 million Sheema Classic against Turkish up-and-comer Pan River, Buena Vista and perennial turf threat Youmzain. Bankable will try to prove more worthy than Deem in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free on turf and Gayego will battle Force Freeze for $2 million in the Golden Shaheen on Tapeta.
America's California Flag will carry the colors against Sirocco Breeze and Sir Gerry in $1 million al-Quoz Sprint on turf, Desert Party will vie for the $1 million Godolphin Mile on the all-weather and No Risk Al Maury will contest fellow Purebred Arabian Fryvolous on the Tapeta in the Kahayla Classic racecard opener.
The post-position draw is scheduled for Wednesday. World Cup Day will mark the official opening of Dubai's Meydan Racecourse, billed as the world's largest.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Devil May Care blew by favorite Amen Hallelujah at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $200,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes at Gulfstream Park and, despite ducking in at mid-stretch held on to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Amen Hallelujah was second, 5 lengths better than Joanie's Catch. Devil May Care, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Malibu Moon, got the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.06 for jockey John Velazquez. Devil May Care won the Frizette at Belmont Park last fall, then finished 11th in the Breeders' Cup. She was a badly beaten fifth in her seasonal debut in the Silverbulletday at Fair Grounds but was fractious in the gate before that race. "We've always thought a lot of this filly," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "But I'm not surprised that some could be a little skeptical after her last two races. In the case of the Breeders' Cup, it was simply a matter of she hated the synthetic (at Santa Anita). She trained great for the race in Louisiana, but then she misbehaved at the gate and then they got pretty severe with her and then used tongs, which most fillies don't handle well." He said she now will go directly to the Kentucky Oaks. Julien Leparoux, who rode Amen Hallelujah, said his mount "got a little tired late and she started to pull a bit. But I think it was a good race and she'll be in good shape for the race in Kentucky."
In other weekend racing:
Unrivaled Belle acted up in the paddock, then got the jump on seven rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Rampart Stakes for fillies and mares and kept right on going, winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Champagne Eyes put in a bid on the turn but couldn't get by, settling for second. Miss Singhsix was third. Unrivaled Belle, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Unbridled's Song, got the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.36 under Kent Desormeaux. Winning trainer Bill Mott said Unrivaled Belle normally is quite docile -- except in the paddock. "She's been invited to the Apple Blossom (April 9 at Oaklawn Park, where she would face Zenyatta) and then there is a race Derby weekend at Churchill," Mott said. "We've also got another nice filly in Justwhistledixie, so we'll look at the options." Unrivaled Belle now has won four of seven starts. Bambera, a Venezuelan sensation, stumbled badly at the start, losing all chance, and finished last.
Society's Charmer just put a head in front of Rahy's Attorney on the wire in Saturday's $100,000 Appleton Stakes, posting a mild upset. Kiss the Kid finished third. Society's Charmer, a 7-year-old, Ontario-bred son of Not Impossible, raced near the back of the field until the stretch turn in the 7 1/2-furlong turf test. But when jockey Jose Lezcano got him going, Society's Charmer found just enough to get the job done. The final time was 1:27.79. "A mile is probably his best distance," said winning trainer Roger Attfield, "and he likes a shorter stretch rather than the longer one at Woodbine. I'll take him to Kentucky and perhaps run him once there or just wait until we get back home (to Woodbine) and run in the Connaught Cup early in the meet again."
Tuscan Evening got the early lead in Sunday's $150,000 Santa Ana Handicap for fillies and mares, turned back a challenge from Cat by the Tale and went on gamely to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Cat by the Tale held second, well clear of General Consensus in third. Tuscan Evening, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred Oasis Dream mare, ran 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:48.03 with jockey Rafael Bejarano winning his fourth straight race on the program and completing a sweep of the weekend's stakes events. Tuscan Evening now has won nine of her last 13 starts. "This mare can do anything she wants, especially at this distance," Bejarano said. "I knew we were the speed and I was very confident. She stumbled a little bit at the top of the stretch and she lost her momentum for a jump or two. But she was full of run and she got going again."
Bourbon Bay stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 San Luis Rey Handicap, got to even terms on the second turn and drew off smartly in the stretch despite drifting out, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. Fifty-to-1 longshot Romp rallied from well back to finish second and Sudden War was third. Bourbon Bay, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Sligo Bay gelding, ran the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:24.08, picking up his third straight turf marathon victory. Rafael Bejarano rode for trainer Neil Drysdale. "We were going a little faster than last time (San Luis Obispo)," Bejarano said. "But I still had a lot of horse at the end. He made a move at the three-eighths and passed everybody. This horse is getting better every time he runs." Drysdale bought Bourbon Bay as a 3-year-old "with the idea that he'd be a mile-and-a-half horse," Drysdale said. "So he's lived up to that."
Unzip Me and A Jealous Woman ran as a thematic team down the hillside turf course in Saturday's $100,000 Irish O'Brien Stakes for Cal-bred fillies and mares with Unzip Me finally getting the edge after crossing into the stretch. At the end, Unzip Me held of a late bid from U R All That I Am to win by a head with A Jealous Woman Third. The "about" 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going took 1:11.01. Bejarano rode the winner for trainer Martin Jones.
Liam's Dream came through along the rail at mid-stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Cicada Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Romantic Hideaway. Indian Burn was third and the favorite, Bickersons, faded badly late to finish sixth of seven after pressing the early pace. Liam's Dream, a Pennsylvania-bred Saint Liam filly, ran the 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:10.1 under Rosie Napravnik, who picked up her first graded stakes win. "It seems over the past few years, I've been guaranteed to be third in every graded stakes I've ridden. It's good to get the first one." Trainer Anthony Dutrow said Liam's Dream will stay in New York.
Icabad Crane came through between horses on the turn in Saturday's $65,000 Kings Point Handicap for New York-breds, shook clear in the stretch and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Mighty Morris. Manteca was third and Naughty New Yorker settled for fourth. Icabad Crane, a 5-year-old Jump Start gelding, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:50.65 with Gabriel Saez aboard for trainer J. Graham Motion.
Hour Glass saved ground through the early furlongs of Sunday's $60,000 Wheel Turns Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares, came around the speed at the top of the lane and won off by 1 1/2 lengths. Lights Off Annie was second and By the Light finished third. Hour Glass, a 4-year-old Petionville filly, ran 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:09.94 with David Cohen in the irons.
Lesters Secret battled nose-to-nose with 56-1 longshot Mr. Windsor throughout Sunday's $125,000 New Mexico State University Handicap for New Mexico-breds, finally getting home first by a head. Fullofenergy ran evenly to finish third. Lesters Secret, a 4-year-old Lesters Boy gelding, finished the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.64 with Luis Contreras up.
Kay's Band dueled with Gold Asure from gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 Mt. Cristo Rey Handicap for New Mexico-breds, prevailing by a neck. Lefty Who finished third. Kay's Band, a 6-year-old Chimes Band gelding, ran the 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 49.89 seconds with Jorge Bordieu in the irons.
Hot Dixie Chick dominated Saturday's $60,000 Prima Donna Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, pressing the early pace, then scooting away at the end to win by 5 3/4 lengths. Biorra was second, 3 lengths ahead of Woman Soldier. Hot Dixie Chick, a Kentucky-bred Dixie Union filly, got the 6 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:10.82 with Robby Albarado riding for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Country Day battled for the lead in Saturday's $60,000 Hot Springs Stakes, took the advantage turning for home and won off by 1 1/4 lengths over Riley Tucker. Ez Dreamer, the early speed, held on for third. Country Day, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Speightstown colt, ran 6 furlongs on the wet-fast surface in 1:09.52 with Brian Hernandez Jr. up.
Golden Gate Fields
You Lift Me Up led every step of the way in Saturday's $50,000 Work the Crowd Stakes for Cal-breds, crossing the wire 2 lengths better than Rule the Storm. Croxie was third. You Lift Me Up, a 5-year-old Lord Carson mare, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.64 with Russell Baze up.
Ide Like a Double pressed the pace in Saturday's $60,000 Costa Rising Stakes for Louisiana-breds, came three-wide around his rivals and got loose to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Snug was second and Kissimmee Kyle finished third. Ide Like a Double, a 5-year-old son of Ide, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.76 for jockey Patrick Valenzuela.