They're still a step or two from the big time, but it's the deepest depth of winter so why not get excited about some early Kentucky Derby preps?
After all, the palm trees are waving and the sun is shining at Gulfstream Park, where Saturday's $100,000 Spectacular Bid might or might not have been a sneak peek at the Florida Derby. And while the weather was less spectacular in northern Kentucky, the $50,000 Turfway Prevue Stakes served as a potential first step along the way to the Spiral Stakes.
The fillies were in the weekend mix, too, with Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita leading the way.
What the heck? It's less than four months until Derby Day.
Determinato, a 14-1 long shot, pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park, shook free in the final furlong and got home first, 1 1/4 lengths better than the late-running Leave of Absence. Cane Garden Bay finished third while the favorite, Gangsterontherun, faded from the lead to finish fourth. Determinato, a Florida-bred Closing Argument colt out of the Jeblar mare Twilight Mirage, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.13 with Eibar Coa in the irons. "I thought our best chance was to be close to the pace," Coa said. "He seems to run better when he's into the race more. Plan A was to sit just off the speed and that's what we were able to do." Winning trainer Larry Pilotti added Determinato has been "a nice horse from the beginning. He's had a few issues along the way like a pulled muscle and a few other things. The race before last when he ran a big number (second in allowance) confirmed what we thought of him." He said to look for Determinato in the 7-furlong Hutcheson Stakes Feb. 26.
Inhisglory rallied to the lead early in the stretch run in Saturday's $50,000 Turfway Prevue Stakes, then held on to win by a nose over an onrushing Banjammer. Bluegrass Dreamer was far back in third. Inhisglory, a Kentucky-bred Pure Prize gelding out of the Pulpit mare Belle Erzulie, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.78 with Rodney Prescott riding. Winning trainer Wayne Mogge said he would like to keep Inhisglory in northern Kentucky for the races leading up to the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes. But Louisiana might be Kentucky's loss in this case. "We sold him on Wednesday and entered him (for the Prevue) on Thursday," Mogge said. "Agents are looking for 3-year-olds this time of year and I think (new owner Peter Redekop) liked his last race." Mogge said he believes the gelding is headed for the bayous. Inhisglory broke his maiden at first asking and now has three wins from four starts.
May Day Rose only faced two rivals in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita and had no trouble vanquishing them. With Rafael Bejarano at the controls for trainer Bob Baffert, May Day Rose was right on the lead, set a sensible pace and held well to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Bluegrass Chatter was second and Scarlet Starlet completed the order of finish. May Day Rose, a Florida-bred daughter of Rockport Harbor out of the Pine Bluff mare May Day Bluff, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.81. "She's got a lot of natural speed and we made the lead pretty easy," Bejarano said. "I wanted to stay quiet on her and get her to relax early, and she did." Baffert said he was unhappy May Day Rose was not on the pace in the Grade I Hollywood Starlet on Dec. 11. She finished fourth in that race after pressing the early leader. "She's got to be on the lead," Baffert said. "That's her style and I'm not going to change it."
Final Mesa kicked off the Gulfstream Park stakes season with a nice on-the-lead win in Wednesday's $100,000 Old Had Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, drawing clear at the end to win by 1 3/4 lengths over long shot Pomeroy's Pistol. Roxy Gap finished third. The favorite, Quantum Miss, got home fifth of six. Final Mesa, a New York-bred Sky Mesa filly, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.75 with Joel Rosario up. "I think she's a special filly," winning trainer Wesley Ward said. "She might not have liked the track at Del Mar the only time she got beat. I was between taking her there or Saratoga but, at the time, I thought her two races on synthetic tracks were even better than her one race on dirt. I like to give my horses six to seven weeks between races so we'll look for something here, probably two turns."
Dance Quietly tracked the pace in Saturday's $65,000 Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct, came out for running room at the quarter pole and finished best of all, winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Moonlit Malibu was second, followed 1 3/4 lengths later by Daring Reality. Dance Quietly, a Virginia-bred A.P. Indy filly out of the Quiet American mare Quiet Dance, got the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast inner track in 1:45.05 with Ramon Dominguez up. "She's very athletic," said Jonathan Thomas, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "I think she's still improving. She ran greenly, and she was still able to win a stakes. It's probably premature to decide where she will go next. She's obviously a talented horse with a bright future."
In other weekend racing:
Soaring Empire pressed the pace set by the favorite, Morning Line, in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Hal's Hope Stakes, moved to the lead turning for home and was all-out to get home first by 1 1/4 lengths. Rule was along for second, a half length better than the fading pacesetter. Soaring Empire, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Empire Maker colt, finished the mile on a fast track in 1:35.99 for jockey Jose Lescano. "There were only five (other) horses in the race so I didn't want to drop too far back," Lezcano said. "I saw they weren't going that fast so I decided to take a chance and stay up close to the lead. I really didn't have to ask him until the last quarter and from there he ran on well." Trainer Cam Gambolati said Soaring Empire now is a candidate for the Grade II Gulfstream Park Handicap in March.
Little Mike upset Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Fort Lauderdale Stakes, leading all the way and holding on at the end to beat Blues Street by a nose. Smart Bid was third and the favorite, Battle of Hastings, finished sixth after being badly blocked and checked in the stretch run. Little Mike, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Spanish Steps gelding out of the Wavering Monarch mare Hay Jude, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:40.52 with Joe Bravo up. The stewards disallowed a claim of foul by Julien Leparoux, aboard Battle of Hastings. "If they were going to outrun us, they were going to have to outrun us," Bravo said. "It looks like Little Mike is becoming a Big Mike." After failing in his first four races, all on the main track, Little Mike won in his first turf tray, at Monmouth, then ran off three wins in his next four races coming into Sunday's event.
Justaroundmidnight rallied from next-last of 12 to post a big upset victory in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Marshua's River Stakes for fillies and mares. Bravo, completing a stakes double aboard double-digit long shots, got Justaroundmidnight up in the final yards to win by a half length over pacesetting long shot Persuading. Never Retreat finished third and the favorite,
C.S. Silk, got home 10th. Justaroundmidnight, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred Danehill Dancer filly, finished 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:40.27. "She was going to run Thursday, but she didn't get in, so we ran her in here," trainer Patrick Biancone said. "She's a very, very talented filly, but needs to stay covered up and sometimes they get into trouble with that style."
Aggie Engineer took charge in the stretch run in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II San Pasqual Stakes, winning off by 3 1/4 lengths over Spurrier. Quindici Man finished third. Dakota Phone was fifth after bobbling at the start. Aggie Engineer, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred E Dubai gelding, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:40.94 with Joe Talamo in the irons. "The tactics today were great," Talamo said. "Two horses went to the lead and he laid right off. He's such a professional horse in the way he relaxes and does things so easy. It was just a great race."
Mother Ruth led the way in Friday's $75,000 Kalookan Queen Handicap for fillies and mares and held off Gilded Gem in the final yards to win by a half length. Quisisana finished third. Mother Ruth, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Speightstown mare, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.61 with Mike Smith riding. Bob Baffert, who is off to a hot start at the Santa Anita meeting, trained the exacta. "She ran great," Smith said of Mother Ruth. "From the first jump, she broke extremely well and I took advantage of it. I was able to give her a long breather before we got to the far turn and, when she switched to her left lead, she ran around the turn pretty impressively. She got another breather just before the quarter-pole and went again."
Wildrally lived up to his name in Saturday' $60,000 Dixie Poker Ace Stakes for Louisiana-breds, coming from off the pace to score by a length over the odds-on favorite, Kissimmee Kyle, who took the lead in the stretch run but couldn't hang on. Hallway was another neck back in third. Wildrally, a 7-year-old Wild Event gelding, finished the "about" 1 mile on soft turf in 1:40.05 with Rosie Napravnik in the irons. Napravnik said winning trainer Eddie Johnston "said to let him settle and just close. He loves the turf course here."
Tampa Bay Downs
See I A led a parade of upsetters under the wire in Saturday's $60,000 Pelican Stakes. After tracking the pace, the 5-year-old, Florida-bred Safe in the U S A gelding got by Gary D in the late going to win by 1 3/4 lengths. Good Lord was third. See I A, with Huber Villa-Gomez aboard, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.18. "Every once and a while a race plays out just the way you had it planned. This one did," said Villa-Gomez.
Black Hills used a late, wide move to upset Saturday's $50,000 Winsham Lad Handicap, scoring by a half length over Red Lead. Imco Spirit held the lead but could do no better than third under the wire. Black Hills, a 7-year-old, Florida-bred Judge T C gelding, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:40.00 with Miguel Hernandez up.