The Kentucky Derby pot cranked up to a high simmer during the weekend as a pair of highly regarded contenders proved worthy of their notices.
Mucho Macho Man, enjoying the pre-Mardi Gras air in New Orleans, captured the $300,000, Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Saturday. And Sunday at Santa Anita, The Factor blazed his way to a popular win in the $150,000, Grade II San Vicente Stakes.
Monday's Presidents' Day card features a third potential Derby prep in the $250,000, Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. There, California import J P's Gusto is the morning-line favorite but must show he can handle a dirt surface after a disappointing performance at Churchill Downs last fall in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
In Saturday's Risen Star, Mucho Macho Man stretched back out to two turns and ran with blinkers off. The Macho Uno colt made the most of the changes, stalking the early pace, advancing around the stretch turn and finally drawing off at the end to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Santiva. Rogue Romance came from well back to take third and the highly touted Machen settled for fourth with a belated late run.
Mucho Macho Man, with Rajiv Maragh up for his injured regular rider Eibar Coa, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.98. He had been knocking on the door for trainer Kathy Ritvo, finishing fourth after leading the way in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream in his last start. In November, Mucho Macho Man was a game second behind To Honor and Serve in the Remsen at Aqueduct. The Risen Star, however, was just his second career win.
"In the post parade, he did everything right that you would ask from a horse," Maragh said. "He was giving me all the right signals. I had been on him in the morning so I am a little bit familiar with the horse. It wasn't hard to get acquainted with him."
Ritvo said she is enthusiastic about Mucho Macho Man's prospects at the classic distances. "He goes 2 miles like he's out to jog," she said. "He's just going to get better the further the distances get." Asked if her colt might return from Florida for the Louisiana Derby, she added, "We could. I'm just going to go back and see how he comes back and then we'll make our plans. But he likes the track and I like it here."
In California, The Factor, a speedball from trainer Bob Baffert's barn, stepped up to stakes company successfully with a front-running, 3/4-length victory in Sunday's San Vicente. With Martin Garcia in the irons, the Kentucky-bred son of War Front out of the Miswaki mare Greyciousness covered the 7 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:20.34, just missing the 1:19.70 record established on the new, speed-favoring track by Twirling Candy the day after Christmas. Sway Away was gaining late and finished second and Premier Pegasus finished third. The Factor finished fourth at first asking, then came back on Dec. 26 to win by 8 1/4 lengths over maidens, finishing 6 furlongs in 1:06.98. "I think the more that he runs, the better he will get," Garcia said. "I don't think any horse can keep up with him, as fast as he went." Baffert said he hasn't committed to The Factor's next race but earlier said he plans to keep him in California. He added, "He's so talented. I knew he was going to get a lot of pressure up front. I told Martin, 'You are the speed. Let's go with him and find out what he's made of.' He got a little tired at the end. That's a nice horse that ran second. Sway Away's trainer, Jeff Bonde, said his colt "is the best Derby chance I've had in many years … I'm still a believer in him."
Also along the Derby trail:
-- Tapizar, who finished fifth as the favorite in the Robert W. Lewis stakes last weekend at Santa Anita, has a bone chip in a knee and will no longer be pointed to the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Steve Asmussen said Tapizar will have surgery to correct the problem and is expected to return to training. Before his disappointing run in the Lewis, the Tapit colt won the Shame Stakes by 4 1/4 lengths on Jan. 15.
-- The mutuel field is the favorite in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which closed Sunday at 6 p.m. EST. The field, representing all Derby eligibles other than the 23 separately listed interests, closed as the 2-1 favorite. Uncle Mo, the unbeaten Breeders' Cup and Eclipse Award champion, closed at 7-2, followed by Dialed In at 8-1and To Honor and Serve at 10-1.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Kathmanblu raced in mid-pack early in Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, came wide around the turn and into the stretch and rallied to the lead in the final furlong, drawing off to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Inglorious. Gran Lioness held the early lead but faded to get home third. Kathmanblu, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Bluegrass Cat, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.13 with Julien Leparoux up for trainer Kenny McPeek. "She's all class," McPeek said. "I think she is a lot better than she ran today. We were a little conservative with her with her workouts coming into the race. There's a lot of time between now and the Kentucky Oaks and that is obviously the bigger goal." For her next race, he said, "We have a choice between the Fair Grounds Oaks, the Gulfstream Oaks, or possibly the Ashland (at Keeneland)." Kathmanblu finished third after an eventful trip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs last fall.
At Aqueduct, high winds forced the delay of the $60,000 Busher Stakes from Saturday until Sunday but that didn't seem to bother It's Tricky, who stalked the pace, then easily drew off to win by 8 lengths. Daring Reality and Portside finished second and third, respectively. It's Tricky, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Mineshaft out of the Tale of the Cat mare Catboat, got the 1 mile and 70 yards on the fast inner track in 1:43.21 with Eddie Castro aboard. She now has three straight wins despite running greenly about the turn in her last start. "She was very professional on the first turn today," said Artie Magnuson, assistant to winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "We were in the clear, which helped, and Eddie indicated after last time that it wouldn't be a problem and he was right. It was push-button steering today. She's a nice filly, and we're happy Darley is leaving this kind up North, too, as well as down in Florida."
In other weekend racing:
(By RICHARD GROSS)
America's Calvin Borel made his first trip to Dubai a memorable one outpointing 11 rival jockeys over two nights to capture the second annual Meydan Masters crown. He won the mile-long first leg of the competition on the all-weather Thursday night, guiding Haatheq in uncharacteristic fashion down the center of the track to grab the lead in the stretch and win by a length going away. "This is a great place and the best possible start to my Meydan career," said Borel. France's Olivier Peslier finished second in the competition, matching Borel with a 2-lengths win aboard War Monger in Friday's final leg of the contest at 9 furlongs on turf, but Borel's fifth-place finish in the leg two, 13-furlong turf handicap gave him a skin-of-the-teeth, five-point edge, 86-81.
The International Racing Carnival continued alongside the Masters competition both nights. Thursday's feature was the 1-mile al-Fahidi Fort (UAE-II) captured on turf by Derbaas with Carnival regular and last year's Meydan Masters Champion Richard Hills aboard for Trainer Ali Rashid al-Raihe. The winner was one of three on the evening for al-Raihe.
Trainer Mike de Kock waltzed away with Friday's featured 9-furlong turf Balanchine (UAE-II), restricted to fillies and mares, and the evening's final 1 1/4-mile conditions race on the all-weather, both with Christophe Soumillon aboard. Soumillon settled River Jetez in the rear of the Balanchine pack and made a sweeping big run in the stretch ahead of stablemate Reem by 2 1/2 lengths.
Soumillon took the same tactic in the evening's final race as Golden Sword sliced through the course record over the same 1 1/4-mile distance as the $10 million, March 26 Dubai World Cup for a 2 3/4-lengths win. De Kock said there are no immediate plans for his evening's two winners, but the World Cup becomes an option for Golden Sword with his convincing effort.
Transcend did all he could to boost his credentials for the March 26 Dubai World Cup with a front-running victory in Sunday's JRAG1 February Stakes at Tokyo Race Course. Confiming the form he showed in winning last year's Japan Dirt Cup, Transcend brushed aside the late challengers in Sunday's race to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Furioso. Birdie Birdie lost second in the final strides. Winning jockey Shinja Fujita said Transcend was under unaccustomed pressure racing shorter than his preferred distance. He finished the 1,600 meters in 1:36.4. But Fujita said the victory shows potential for further development. Trainer Takayuki Yasuda said he would be happy to accept an invitation to the 2,000-meter, $10 million World Cup. Transcend is a 5-year-old son of Wild Rush, dead-heat winner with Silver Charm of the 1998 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park.
Ambitious Dragon, with Maxime Guyon up, outran favorite Lucky Nine in the stretch run of Sunday's HKG1 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Classic Cup, winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Third in the Classic Cup, which until this year was known as the Derby Trial, was Let Me Handle It. Xtension finished fourth. The race was run relatively slowly and Ambitious Dragon, an Australian-bred son of Pins, finished the 1,800 meters in 1:48.03. "If they'd gone faster, I think he would have won more easily, said winning trainer Tony Millard. And asked if he has concerns about the extra 200 meters of the HKG1 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby on March 20, he replied: "I've no doubt that he'll get the Derby distance. I've looked at his pedigree and there's enough stamina there." Lucky Nine's trainer, Caspar Fownes, said his charge still is being pointed for the Derby as jockey Brett Prebble "is happy with him and he ran a very good race today."
Golden Gate Fields
Kinsale King, who has struggled since winning the Dubai Golden Shaheen last year, returned to action for the first time since the Breeders' Cup Sprint with a handy allowance victory Thursday at Golden Gate Fields. With Mike Smith up for trainer Carl O'Callaghan, the 6-year-old Yankee Victor gelding showed the way to four rivals, opened a daylight advantage in the stretch and held off Shudacudawudya by 3/4 of a length in a hand ride. He covered the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.57. "That was perfect," O'Callaghan said. "Mike worked with him at home and everything worked out great. He should get a lot out of this race. This puts us in a good spot. We'll go home (to Hollywood Park) and get ready for Dubai." After his 2010 victory in Dubai over the Tapeta surface at Meydan, Kinsale King tried twice on the grass, finishing a close third in the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Ascot in June and a well-beaten 12th in the July Cup at Newmarket in July -- both times behind Starspangledbanner. He then tossed in a seventh-place showing in the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on the main track.
Demarcation chased the field into the stretch turn in Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Mineshaft Handicap, then passed them all in the lane, winning by a head over Mission Impazible. Apart was third and the early leader, Z Humor, finished fourth. Demarcation, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred Gulch gelding, finished the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.45 for jockey Rosie Napravnik. "He is such a consistent horse," said winning trainer Paul McGee. "Every time he fires he runs his race every time. He ran really big in the Clark Handicap against a stellar field. Just freshened him up a bit and he showed up again today." McGee said the New Orleans Handicap is the next target.
Expansion stayed close to the leaders in Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap, dueled through the stretch and got home first by a head over favorite Sleepless Knight. Dubious Miss was third and the pacesetter, Workin for Hops, finished fourth while making his first start in five months. Expansion, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Maria's Mon, ran the "about" 9 furlongs on "good" turf in 1:54.94 with Gerard Melancon in the irons. "I knew I was closer than I needed to be," Melancon said, "and that told me right there that they were going absolutely too slow. But he was within himself and I had a really good, clean trip."
Due Date raced wide throughout Saturday's $60,000 Colonel Power Stakes, advanced to the leaders entering the turn and won with a prolonged stretch drive, beating Strike Impact by a head. Sweetsouthernmoon finished third. Due Date, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of El Prado, ran the "about" 5 1/2 lengths on "good" turf in 1:05.74 under Tony Farina.
Beautician came from last of seven to win Saturday's $60,000 Pan Zaretta Stakes for fillies and mares by a length over pacesetter Smoky Belle. Simplify finished third. With Julien Leparoux up, Beautician, a 4-year-old Dehere filly, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.76.
Prince Will I Am was all out to beat Rahy's Attorney to the wire in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Mac Diarmida Stakes, prevailing by 3/4 length. Musketier was third. Prince Will I Am, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Victory Gallop gelding, finished the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:13.04 with John Velazquez up. He was making his first start on turf since capturing the Grade I Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park last fall. "It worked out perfectly," Velazquez said. "We held our position into the first turn and I was right where I wanted to be at the half-mile pole. Turning for home I asked him and he responded."
Awesome Maria pressed the pace in Saturday's $125,000, Grade III Sabin Stakes for fillies and mares, took the lead around the turn and drew off impressively to win by 4 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Amen Hallelujah. Catch a Thief finished third. Awesome Maria, 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Maria's Mon filly, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:36.36 with Velazquez up. "The race developed just the way I thought it would and she was able to sit just off the pace," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "She trained like she was going to run a big one off the layoff. She trained good at Saratoga last summer and then at Belmont, but hit another level since we got into Palm Meadows."
Keertana stalked a slow pace in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III The Very One Stakes, got by early leader Belle Waiting turning for home and held off Zapparation at the end to win by a half length. Musical Rain closed for third and Belle Waiting faded to finish fourth. Keertana, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Johar mare, got the 1 3/8 miles on firm turf in 2:19.33. "I was a little worried that we were going so slow," said Jose Lezcano, who rode Keertana, third-place finisher in last fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. "I didn't really know how good the horse on the lead was." Belle Waiting had won her last 10 races in Chile before making her U.S. debut in Sunday's race. Trainer Tom Proctor asid Keertana, who picked up her ninth win in 23 career starts, likely will run in the $150,000, Grade III Orchid (G3) at Gulfstream on March 20. "I don't think this race took a whole lot out of her," he added.
Champ Pegasus was reserved off the early pace in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II San Luis Obispo Handicap, engaged Bourbon Bay in a tight stretch duel and prevailed in the final jump by a nose. It was 3 1/4 lengths back to Haimish Hy in third. Champ Pegasus, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Fusaichi Pegasus, ran the "about" 1 1/2 miles on "good" turf in 2:31.55. "They are both very good horses," Joel Rosario, the winning rider, said. "You saw how the race came out. I only beat him by this much," he added, holding his thumb and forefinger less than an inch apart. "I thought I got in front of him a couple of times but he came back again." Champ Pegasus had been idle for nearly 2 1/2 months following his second-place finish behind Dangerous Midge in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs.
Smiling Tiger bobbled at the start of Saturday's $150,000 San Carlos Handicap, then rallied down the lane to win by a head over Captain Cherokee. Mythical Power ran evenly to finish third. Smiling Tiger, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Hold That Tiger colt, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:20.30, also under Rosario. Rosario said after the race his ride was not according to instruction. He said trainer Jeff Bonde "told me to send him. But he stumbled leaving the gate, so I let him settle and relax. He's a nice horse, a classy horse. He showed today that he can relax and that he can run from off the pace."
Harissa rallied smartly through the stretch to pick up the winner's share of Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Barbara Fritchie Handicap for fillies and mares, beating pacesetting Aspenglow by 2 3/4 lengths. Fascinatin' Rhythm was third. Harissa, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Afleet Alex filly, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.65 with Ramon Dominguez in the irons. "I made a decision to move a little early but she was well within herself and seemed comfortable with where I placed her," Dominguez said. "She advanced very nicely when I asked and after going by the leader drew off very nicely." "She's a very quality filly," said assistant trainer Graham Wolfram. "She's run at a lot of different racetracks in her career but she always performs at that high level."
Alma d'Oro opened a big lead in the stretch run of Saturday's $50,000 John W. Campbell Handicap, then easily held off Fonda Rhonda Won to score by 4 1/4 lengths. Auctoritas finished third. Alma d'Oro, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Medaglia d'Oro, ran the ran the 9 furlongs in 1:53.18 with Cornelio Velasquez up.
Absinthe Minded was quickly on the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes for fillies and mares, set a fair pace and held well to win by 4 lengths over Satans Quick Chick. Tiz Miz Sue finished third. Absinthe Minded, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Quiet American filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.62 under Terry Thompson. "I told Terry, 'Just leave her alone,'" said winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "Where ever that puts you, that's fine. Just leave her alone. If it puts you first, or second or fourth, don't bother her, and that's what he did." That worked out fine for Thompson. "I didn't have to work as hard to get her to settle," he said. "When I came around the turn, I had a lot of horse and when I asked her I, she gave me a great punch."
Salty Wave jumped to a big start at the top of the lane in Sunday's $60,000 Spring Fever Stakes for fillies and mares and held on to post a big upset, beating the favorite, Stephanie Got Even, by 1 1/4 lengths. Honey Bunch finished third. Salty Wave, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred Salty Sea mare, ran the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.75 with Ricardo Santana Jr. handling the reins.
Quiet Giant easily bested a trio of rivals in Sunday's $65,000 Rare Treat Handicap, getting away from the compact field in the stretch to win by 9 lengths. Mined Over Matter was best of the rest, with Opus A and Dolce Pentimento completing the order of finish. Quiet Giant, a 4-year-old, Virginia-bred Giant's Causeway filly, ran 9 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:53.22 with Ramon Dominguez up.
La Sorpresa broke near the back of the field in Saturday's $100,000 Sydney Valentini Handicap for New Mexico-bred fillies and mares, advanced steadily and drew off at the end, winning by 3 3/4 lengths over Desert Tap. Cali Baby finished third. La Sorpresa, 6-year-old Valet Man mare, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:37.51 with Alejandro Medellin aboard.
Tampa Bay Downs
Bridgetown took the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Turf Dash, rolled along at a good clip and held on at the end to win by a neck over Great Attack. Quite a Dude pumped up the trifecta with a late run that fell another neck short. The favorite, Silver Timber, was fourth, lacking the needed rally. Bridgetown, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Speightstown colt, finished the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.28 seconds with Willie Martinez aboard. He was making his first start since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint Nov. 6.
Wiredfortwotwenty turned in an electrifying performance in Saturday's $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup, leading the way and easily pulling clear late to win by 5 1/4 lengths over Pinkarella. Point Attended finished third. Wiredfortwotwenty, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred Greatness gelding, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.06 with Scott Stevens aboard.
Max Silverhammer tracked the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Dust Commander Stakes, surged to a big lead early in the stretch run and prevailed by 3/4 of a length over Wealth to Me. Baryshnikov finished third. Max Silverhammer, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Wild and Wicked gelding, ran the mile on the all-weather track in 1:40.09 with John McKee in the irons.