Trainer Todd Pletcher announced Sunday Eskendereya, the dominating winner of the Fountain of Youth and the Wood Memorial, has swelling in his left front leg. He said it is too early to tell the exact nature or severity of the problem. But while the malady is diagnosed, he said, the colt will not run Saturday at Churchill Downs.
"We're extremely disappointed," said Pletcher, who is still seeking his first Kentucky Derby winner after 24 unsuccessful starts. "He is without a doubt the best horse I've ever brought to this race," he told the Louisville Courier-Journal. Despite the setback, Pletcher still has several prospects for the Derby field, which will be formally set later this week.
The favorite's role likely will be inherited by Lookin at Lucky, trainer Bob Baffert's best hope. Lookin at Lucky will come into the race off a troubled third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. After that, the field is filled with question marks.
Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia confirmed Lookin at Lucky is likely to be his morning-line pick. "I'm thinking he'll be right around 3-1 – not as solid as Eskendereya would have been but still pretty solid," Battaglia said Sunday. "Then I'll probably have (Santa Anita Derby winner) Sidney's Candy at right about 6-1 or 8-1, and then Awesome Act (winner of the Gotham and a troubled third behind Eskendereya in the Wood) at right around the same odds."
After that, Battaglia said, it's so wide-open that "the next horses could be those that work the best" in the next few days.
Baffert, expressing condolences to Eskendereya's owner, Ahmed Zayat, took his promotion to favorite status with a typical note of practical caution. "So far, so good," he said. "Every day is a different day here. Until I get that saddle on him and I hear 'My Old Kentucky Home,' I can't relax."
Perhaps the biggest uncertainty is whether Pletcher will decide to run Devil May Care against the colts and geldings, rather than in Friday's Kentucky Oaks. He said Eskendereya's departure "swings the pendulum more toward her running" in the Derby.
Pletcher's other potential Derby contenders are Mission Impazible, Rule, Super Saver, Discreetly Mine and Interactif. Interactif likely will have to show Pletcher in a Monday workout that he belongs in the Derby field. Battaglia said if Devil May Care runs in the Derby, he would rate her the lowest odds of any from Pletcher's barn.
Pletcher's announcement overshadowed the somewhat anticlimactic results of on-track weekend preps for the Run for the Roses.
Kicking off the Churchill Downs spring stakes schedule, Hurricane Ike rallied past pace-setting Eightyfiveinafifty in the stretch run of Saturday's Derby Trial and went on to win by 2 3/4 lenghts, denying last-gasp efforts by Eightyfiveinafifty and Pleasant Prince to qualify for the Derby.
Ironically, Aikenite rallied to finish second in the Derby Trial, gaining enough earnings for the big race. But his trainer – the omnipresent Pletcher -- said Aikenite is not among the dozen or so horses he will saddle for the Derby.
Pleasant Prince finished third in the Trial and Eightyfiveinafifty faded to fourth, bearing out in the stretch run after surrendering the lead.
Hurricane Ike, a son of Graeme Hall, finished in 1:36.35 on a muddy, sealed track under Calvin Borel, picking up just his second career victory.
"We were hoping he'd like the track," said winning trainer John Sadler. "We don't have that much experience with off tracks in California, especially real sloppy tracks. So we were hoping that he'd like the going, and he seemed to be traveling well early. I told Calvin, 'You know more about this place than I do.' I figured I was in good hands."
Sadler said he will consider the Preakness or the Dwyer as a next start for Hurricane Ike.
In other weekend racing:
It was, as Yogi Berra famously said, "déjà vu all over again" Sunday at Sha Tin Racecourse in Hong Kong as trainer John Moore sent out Viva Pataca to win the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup and Able One to win the Champions Mile. The same two horses, incredibly, won the same two International Group 1 races in 2007.
"To win both the big races today is amazing," Moore said after Viva Pataca's victory. "And to do it after a gap of three years is hard to describe. I'll have to check the record books to see if anything like this has happened before." He's unlikely to find precedent, even in Hong Kong, where on-track longevity takes precedence over retirement for breeding.
Viva Pataca, an 8-year-old, British-bred son of Marju, was sent closer to the lead than normal in Sunday's QEII as Moore correctly anticipated a slow pace. Roused to the lead at the top of the straight by jockey Weichong Marwing, the venerable gelding then battled to the wire before subduing Dubai World Cup runner-up Lizard's Desire by a nose. An up-and-coming Hong Kong representative, Super Satin, was only a nose farther back in third. The 2,000 meters went in 2:04.97 over good turf.
"The change in instructions made all the difference," Moore said, indicating Viva Pataca likely would not have made up additional ground behind the dawdling early pace. A similar problem hampered the highly regarded Collection, who finished sixth as Moore's other representative in the race. "His position four back on the rails didn't help with the pace being so slow," said Collection's jockey, Darren Beadman.
Presvis, another successful international combatant, also was a victim of the plodding nature of the race, which saw fractions of 26.86, 52.83 and 1:18.21. A confirmed closer, Presvis "was always going to be out the back so it was going to be hard to make up the ground," said rider Ryan Moore.
Viva Pataca's victory was his 13th in Hong Kong and pushed his total purse earnings to $10,334.553 (HKD80,232,500), surpassing the old record set by Vengeance of Rain.
John Moore said he plans to bring Viva Pataca back in the Champions & Chater Cup later in the meeting, trying to win that race for the fourth time. And, he said, he expects to have him back to compete at age 9. "I don't think I've gassed him," Moore said. "There's still some horse there." Collection, he said, will go on to Singapore if he rebounds from Sunday's race well.
Able One was a surprise in the Champions Mile, taking charge in the stretch to win by 3/4 length. Fellow Hong Kong representatives Fellowship, Beauty Flash, Sight Winner, Sunny King and Egyptian Ra followed the winner under the wire before the first foreign contestant, Imbongi, got there. That continued a pattern of home-team dominance of the Champions Mile extending back many years.
Able One, a 7-year-old, New Zealand-bred Cape Cross gelding, finished in 1:33.66 with Beadman in the irons.
"This horse just makes his own luck," the winning rider said. "He put himself in the right spot and he's got such a great turn of foot." Moore added Able One's owner, Dr. Cornel Li, pointed out before the race the horse "seems to race his best at this time of year. I told him I hoped he was right."
The Champions Mile was the third leg of the Asian Mile Challenge, which has struggled to find cross-race participants in bouncing from Australia to Dubai to Hong Kong. Moore gave the series a boost by suggesting Able One will go on to the final leg, the Yasuda Kinen in Japan on June 6. The Champions Mile also is a "Win and You're In" challenge race for the Breeders' Cup Mile but Moore was not enthusiastic about the prospects of spotting Able one there.
Paul O'Sullivan, trainer of Fellowship, said his charge "ran his heart out as usual." He said he also will consider the Yasuda Kinen "or maybe even look into a trip to Royal Ascot."
Officials of the Hong Kong Jockey Club said the 10-race QEII Cup card attracted about $1.3 billion (HKD10.085 billion) in all-sources wagering. "We saw a wonderful day's racing with excellent turnover and again the performances of Viva Pataca and Able One demonstrated that we have racing of a world-class standard here in Hong Kong," said Hong Kong Jockey Club CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges.
Afleet Again waited behind a fast pace in Saturday's $150,000 Withers Stakes for 3-year-olds, circled the leaders heading for home and won off by 1 1/2 lengths despite drifting out in the stretch. Ibboyee finished second and Spangled Star was third. The favorite, D'Funnybone, faded to finish fourth after pressing the pace. Afleet Again, a Kentucky-bred son of Afleet Alex, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:34.05 with Abel Mariano riding for trainer Robert Reid Jr. It may have been another case of too little, too late for a potential Triple Crown contender. "We were concerned the race was a little too short for him," Reid said. "I believe he's a legitimate mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter horse. But, that said, he's not eligible for the Triple Crown races." Afleet Again finished last in his last start, the Gotham Stakes.
Gallant Son rallied four-wide into the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Inglewood Handicap and won off by 1 3/4 lengths despite drifting in through the final furlong. A pair of longshots, Quindici Man and Glowing Praise, finished second and third, both with late runs. Gallant Son, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Malabar Gold colt, finished the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:39.67. He now has two wins and a second from three starts on the green course. "It set up great," said winning jockey Mike Smith. "I was going to try and cut the corner, but I knew that Acclamation (who finished fourth at the favorite) always gives a good kick and I didn't want to get myself in a pickle. I felt like he was the best horse, so I just stayed clear and he did the rest. They were smoking up front."
Alphie's Bet broke slowly in Saturday's $200,000 TVG Snow Chief Stakes for California-bred 3-year-olds, worked into position down the backstretch and did his best work in the stretch, getting clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Working Capital was second and Mr Tokyo finished third. Alphie's Bet, a Tribal Rule colt, ran 1 1/8 miles on the all-weather track in 1:51.15 with Mike Smith aboard.
Fantasy Free stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Tiznow Stakes for California-breds, launched an inside rally at mid-stretch and won by 1/2 length over Bestdressed. Mobilized was third. Fantasy Free, with Omar Berrio in the irons, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather surface in 1:28.76.
Camille C bobbled at the start of Saturday's $150,000 Melair Stakes for state-bred, 3-year-old fillies, quickly rebounded to the lead and extended the advantage through the stretch to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Salty Fries and odds-on favorite La Nez completed the trifecta. Camille C, a daughter of Roman Dancer, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.57 with Rafael Bejarano up.
U R All That I Am waited patiently behind the leaders in Saturday's $150,000 B Thoughtful Stakes for California-bred distaffers, came around three rivals entering the stretch and went on to win by 1/2 length over Ruffled Feathers. Lady Alex finished third. U R All That I Am, a 4-year-old daughter of Valid Wager, ran 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:30.81 with Joel Rosario riding.
Excessive Passion kicked off the Hollywood stakes schedule with an upset, winning Wednesday's $75,000 Harry Henson Stakes by 1/2 length over fellow longshot Locksley Hall. Smiling Tiger was a nose farther back in third. Excessive Passion, making his first start since finishing last at Turf Paradise last December, also was making his first start on turf and ran the 6 furlongs in 1:08.93. Winning rider Martin Garcia said trainer Jeff Bonde "told me to forget about that last race. He said the horse call really run and has been working great." Excessive Passion, a 3-year-old Vronsky colt, now has three wins from his four starts.
Musketier capped off the Keeneland stakes schedule with a rousing, come-from-behind victory in Friday's $200,000 Fifth Third Elkhorn Stakes. After breaking a step slowly and fighting jockey John Velazquez early, the 8-year-old German-bred settled, then moved ahead turning for home and won by 1 3/4 lengths over Brass Hat. Blushing Bear was third a boxcar odds, inflating the $2 trifecta payout to $5,371.40. Musketier finished the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:30.32. Velazquez said it was a battle all the way – as much with his own mount as with the opposition. "He was kind of throwing his head up" when behind horses, Velazquez said. "When he took the lead, I went to hit him and he didn't like that at all. And I said, 'Oh buddy, you're going to have to at least keep running the way you are.'"
Lady Shakespeare overcame a slow pace to catch pace-setting Changing Skies with less than a furlong to run in Thursday's $150,000 Grey Goose Bewitch Stakes for fillies and mares and rolled on to the victory. Changing Skies held second, 2 lengths in front of Sweet and Flawless. Lady Shakespeare, a 4-year-old Theatrical filly, ran the 12 furlongs on firm turf in 2:31.42 under John Velazquez and now has six wins from 11 starts. Trainer Roger Attfield said he had trouble finding a start on firm going for Lake Shakespeare in Florida because of the weather. Once she finds the right spot, he said, "She'll win a Grade I, I promise you."
Lone Star Park
Mythical Power pressed the pace set by Euroears in Saturday's $200,000 Texas Mile, then just edged past that rival in the final yards to win by a neck. Fifteen Love finished third. Mythical Power, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Congaree colt, got the distance in 1:35.71 with Martin Garcia handling the reins for trainer Bob Baffert, a frequent Lone Star raider. "I just let him break comfortable and he settled nicely into second position early on," Garcia said. "I thought I had a lot of horse to go after the leader, and when he kicked on, my horse really dug in." Mythical Power now has three wins from nine career starts, with two of the three victories coming at Lone Star, where he is undefeated.
Bubbler tracked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Irving Distaff, rallied the to the lead heading for home and went on to post a mild upset, winning by 3/4 length over extreme longshot Slide On By. Hisse was third and the favorite, Minute Limit, finished fifth. Bubbler, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Distorted Humor filly, ran 7 furlongs on firm turf in 1:28.58 with Eddie Martin Jr. up for trainer Brett Calhoun.
Deal Breaker closed with a rush to win Saturday's $50,000 Grand Prairie Turf Challenge Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths over Precious Colony. Pace-setter Angelonmyshoulder faded to finish third. Deal Breaker, a 5-year-old, British-bred Night Shift gelding, completed the grassy 1 mile in 1:35.66 under Martin Garcia.
Essence Hit Man led most of the way to a 3/4 length victory over D's Wando in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Woodstock Stakes for 3-year-olds. Essence Hit Man, an Ontario-bred Speightstown gelding, led comfortably most of the way under Chantal Sutherland and completed the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:08.66 in his seasonal debut. He now has three victories from six starts. "This horse has a huge heart and he showed it today," Sutherland said. "He tried the whole way. He was tired at the end, but he gave everything he had."
Calder Race Course
Mambo Meister won a stretch duel with Pinckney Hill in Sunday's $100,000 Miami Mile, scoring by a head. Pleasant Strike was third, 3/4 length farther back. Mambo Meister, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred King Cougat gelding, finished in 1:35.04 on firm going with Manoel Cruz in the irons. "The pace doesn't matter," Cruz said. " because whether it is fast or slow up front, he has the same strong late kick. I just waited and let him get in stride and tell me when he was ready to move."
Tornado Betty rallied from next-to-last to win Friday's $60,000 Goldfinch Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, besting Starlite Starbrite by 3/4 length after a long stretch duel. Kinsolving was up for third. Tornado Betty, a California-bred Comic Strip filly, finished the 6 furlongs on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:09.14 with Daniel Vergara in the irons.
Chicks a Flyin stalked the pace in Saturday's $60,000 Golden Circle Stakes for 3-year-olds, got to the lead and clear in the stretch and won 1 3/4 lengths over late-closing favorite Backtrack. Overthehump finished third. Chicks a Flyin, a Texas-bred Wimbledon gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:10.83 for jockey Glen Murphy.
Shadowbdancing rated off the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes, moved Stakes, moved into contention rounding the stretch turn and justified his odds-on favorite staus by drawing off easily to a 4 1/4 length victory. Reach One More stalked the pace, reached the front briefly before the winner's rally and settled for second. No Walkin' Joe rallied from last to finish third. Shadowbdancing, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Montbrook, covered the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46 1/4 with Eusibio Razo in the irons for trainer Terrel Gore.
Golden Gate Fields
Bold Chieftain wore down pace-setting Monterey Jazz in a long stretch run to win Saturday's $150,000 San Francisco Mile by 1/2 length. Red Sun pressed the pace and held on for third. Bold Chieftain, a 7-year-old, California-bred son of Chief Seattle, finished in 1:35.21 on firm turf with Russell Baze up for trainer William Morey Jr.
Saturday was Illinois Champions Day, with state-bred steeds contesting six stakes events, each worth $100,000 before Chicago-area actions shifts northwest to Arlington Park.
Souper Miss went quickly to the lead in the Peach of It Handicap for fillies and mares, turned back a challenge and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Jitterbug Blues. Super Miss, a 5-year-old, gray daughter of Alphabet Soup, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.51 with Timothy Thornton aboard.
Racing Bran led early in the Milwaukee Avenue Handicap, was headed briefly by Stonehouse and then came again to win by a head over that rival. P D Q Kiddo finished third. Racing Bran, a 5-year-old Awesome Again gelding, finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.74 with Chris Emigh in the irons.
Nicks battled to the lead in the 6-furlong Governor's Lady Handicap for fillies and mares, then held off pressure from the favorite, Ripe Tomato, to win by 3/4 length. Secret Kin was a non-threatening third. Nicks, a 6-year-old Salt Lake mare, was clocked in 1:10.44 under Lyndie Wade.
River Bear surged to the lead around the turn in the 6-furlong Robert S. Molaro Handicap, then held off High Expectations to win by a head in a battle of extreme longshots. Big Rushlet was home third and the favorite, Shrewd Operator, finished sixth. River Bear, a 5-year-old Unreal Zeal gelding, stopped the timer at 1:10.34 with Danush Sukie in the irons.
Wild Hope took complete charge in the stretch run of the Pretty Jenny Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, drawing off easily to win by 6 1/4 lengths over Skippa Sweep. Shake N Quake finished third. Wild Hope, a daughter of Quaker Ridge, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:11.05 with Tanner Riggs up.
Big Looie dueled his way to the lead in the Land of Lincoln Stakes for 3-year-olds, opened up a daylight lead in the stretch and held off Seguro to win by 3/4 length. A J's Mountain finished third. Big Looie, a Military gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.22 with Chris Emigh up.