The grueling 1 1/2 miles of the Belmont Stakes -- the final jewel in the Crown -- still lies four weeks in the future. But while that race is a true, demanding test of champions, the two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes represent a tricky test of a trainer's ability to judge his horse.
Graham Motion, conditioner of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, is halfway through that fleeting period and said Sunday he's feeling good about things. So good, in fact, that he doesn't plan a timed workout for Animal Kingdom between the Derby and Saturday's Preakness.
Motion has been watching over his star pupil at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., and doesn't plan to ship over to Pimlico until the day before the race.
"He basically had a pretty normal gallop today," Motion said Sunday. "We'll just start doing a little more with him this week. Today, he had the most spirited gallop that he's had and that's probably going to be what's going to happen during the course of the week.
"He just seems in really good form," Motion added. "He certainly hasn't missed a meal and has barely missed any feed since he ran. He seems very content. He was strong in his gallop today. He looks well. Knock on wood. I couldn't be happier with how everything is."
Animal Kingdom is expected to face a full field of 13 rivals in the Preakness. Nehro, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby, is still on the fence with a decision expected early in the week. But the third-place horse in the Run for the Roses, Mucho Macho Man, is slated to go in the Preakness.
Nehro's owner, Ahmad Zayat, underlined the timing and conditioning demands of the Triple Crown Sunday at Belmont Park.
"Right now I am 70-30 to run in the Belmont and 50-50 to run in the Preakness," he said. "(Nehro) has had three good races in six weeks. If he goes in the Preakness, it will be four races in eight weeks."
Other prospective Preakness starters include: the talented but lightly raced Astrology; Arkansas Derby third-place finisher Dance City; Kentucky Derby eighth-place finisher Dialed In, whose connections would collect a $5.5 million bonus if he wins the Preakness; Kentucky Derby pacesetter Shackleford, who is eligible for $550,000 in bonus money; Flashpoint, who was fourth in the Florida Derby; Blue Grass third-place horse Kid Congie; Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude, who finished 16th at Churchill Downs; Norman Asbjornson, who comes off a pair of troubled stakes starts at Aqueduct; Sway Away, fourth in the Kentucky Derby and the first horse excluded from the Run for the Roses because of the field size; and Mr. Commons, who was third at a long price in the Santa Anita Derby.
There have been many "near misses" in the Triple Crown during the past decade and a half, illustrating the difficulty of the accomplishment. Among them is the three-year stretch from 1997 through 1999 when first Silver Charm, then Real Quiet, then Charismatic, won both the Derby and the Preakness, only to miss in the Belmont, finishing second, second and third, respectively.
The same fate befell War Emblem in 2002, Funny Cide in 2003 and Smarty Jones in 2004. In 2008, Big Brown was eased in the Belmont after winning the Derby and Preakness. Farther back, the Belmont derailed the Triple Crown hopes of such superstars as Sunday Silence, Alysheba, Spectacular Bid and Northern Dancer.
Racing action in the weekend between the Derby and the Preakness:
Alternation caught the favorite, Adios Charlie, in deep stretch to win Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Peter Pan Stakes for 3-year-olds by a head. Prime Cut finished third. Alternation, a Kentucky-bred Distorted Humor colt out of the Seattle Slew mare Alternate, ran 1 1/8 mile on a fast track in 1:49.53 with Ramon Dominguez up. The Donnie Von Hemel trainee had finished fifth in the Arkansas Derby after three straight wins and worked in preparation for the Peter Pan at Arlington Park. He now has four wins from six starts. "We'll probably go back to Arlington," Von Hemel said when asked about a possible start for Alternation in the Belmont Stakes. "But we'll certainly keep all of our options open." The Peter Pan was Von Hemel's first start at Belmont Park since Mariah's Storm finished ninth in the 1995 Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Drosselmeyer, last year's Belmont Stakes winner, returned to the winner's circle with a hard-fought victory in Sunday's $60,000 One Count Stakes, defeating Bird Run with a gutsy stretch effort. The favorite, Inherit the Gold, settled for third. Drosselmeyer, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Distorted Humor colt, got the 10 furlongs on a fast track in 2:06.07 with Jose Lezcano aboard. Drosselmeyer did not race again in 2010 after winning the Belmont and was 0-for-2 this year before returning to the New York environs.
Darrin's Dilemma was quickly in front in Wednesday's $100,000 New York Stallion Stakes for 3-year-olds, treated himself to a big lead and coasted home first, 2 1/4 lengths better than Freud's Honor. Warrior Up was third. Darrin's Dilemma, a Freud colt, was the heavy, odds-on favorite. With Ramon Dominguez up, he covered the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.55.
Trappe Shot, making his first start since finishing ninth in last summer's Travers, rallied by pacesetting D'Funnybone late in Wednesday's $60,000 Waldoboro Stakes, getting home first by 1/2 length. D'Funnybone held second with Rule By Night and Deputy Delaney completing the order of finish. Trappe Shot, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred Tapit colt, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.03 for jockey John Velazquez. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Trappe Shot probably will stick to sprints for the near future.
Arch Traveler traveled past early leader Glickman in the stretch run of Thursday's $60,000 Ziggy's Boy Stakes for 3-year-olds, then drew off to win by 3 lengths over that rival. Rocking Out finished third. Arch Traveler, a Kentucky-bred Sky Mesa colt, accomplished the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.87 with Jose Lezcano in the irons.
Right One came from last of six to win Thursday's $60,000 Island Sun Stakes at the mile on the grass. Beau Choice followed the winner from the rear of the pack but settled for second, 2 lengths in arrears. Zifzaf was third. Right One, a 5-year-old, French-bred Anabaa gelding, was clocked in 1:33.41 over firm going with Rajiv Maragh riding.
Much Rejoicing stalked the pace in Friday's $50,000 Glia Stakes for fillies and mares before asserting herself late to take a 1 1/4-length victory over Strike the Bell. Sea Road came from last to finish third. Much Rejoicing, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Distorted Humor colt, ran 6 furlongs on the firm inner turf course in 1:08.44 under Alan Garcia.
Acclamation let longshot All Saint take a big lead in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Jim Murray Memorial Handicap, drew alongside near the quarter pole and quickly drew clear, winning off by 7 lengths. Falcon Rock finished second, followed in order by Hamish Hy, Buenos Dias and a weary All Saint. Acclamation, a 5-year-old, California-bred son of Unusual Heat, finished the 1 1/2 miles on firm turf in 2:25.63 with Joel Rosario aboard. He won the same race a year ago by 7 1/2 lengths but came into Saturday's edition riding a four-race losing streak. "He was nice and relaxed all the way, just galloping," Rosario said. "When I asked him to go, he just took off. He was much the best today. I knew that other horse always goes to the lead, but if he didn't, I was prepared to go." Trainer Donald Warren said Acclamation likely will point to the June 11 Charles Whittingham Memorial on June 11.
Bench Points rallied from last of five in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Lazaro S. Barrera Memorial Stakes for 3-year-olds and outfinished Runflatout by a nose. Ain't No Other was 2 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Bench Points, a California-bred Benchmark gelding, got the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.50 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. Bench Points was turning back in distance after two route efforts at Santa Anita. "Now we're back where he's best," winning trainer Tim Yakteen said. "We'll keep him sprinting. We have no plans right now."
Embur's Song stuck close to the pace in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Hendrie Stakes for fillies and mares, moved to the lead with a furlong left to go and drew clear to win by 3 1/2 lengths. Ariana D was second and the early leader, Wildcat Marie, settled for third. Embur's Song, a 4-year-old, Ontario-bred filly by Unbridled's Song, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:15.01 with Patrick Husbands up for trainer Todd Pletcher. "Looking at the Daily Racing Form, she showed that she's actually a speed horse," Husbands said. "This morning, when I spoke with Todd, I asked if she had to be on the lead. He said, 'I don't think so. Just play it by ear.' As we left the gate, the first three strides, she relaxed."
Inglorious raced well back through the early furlongs of Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) La Lorgnette Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, bid for the lead at the top of the lane and drew clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Anne's Beauty was second and Miss Inclined finished third. Inglorious, an Ontario-bred Hennessey filly, finished the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.19 with Luis Contreras riding. The victory marks her as a favorite for the upcoming Woodbine Oaks. She was 2-for-2 as a juvenile, then finished second to Kathmanblu in the Rachel Alexandra at Fair Ground in February, sparking thoughts of the Kentucky Oaks. But after she got home fourth in the Fair Grounds Oaks, trainer Josie Carroll reset the aspiration meter to north of the border.
Lone Star Park
Princess Turandot stalked the pace in the $100,000 3-year-old filly division of Saturday's Texas Stallion Stakes, took over in the lane and won off by 5 lengths. Triksta was along to finish second, a neck in front of Patty's Pride. Princess Turandot, a Texas-bred Gold Legend filly, got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47.26. "We had a good trip," said winning rider Luis Quinonez. "She relaxed nicely for me, and when we got to the top of the stretch, I just let her go and she took off."
In the $100,000 colts and geldings division, Haliflax Flyer stalked the pace, swung wide into the stretch to the lead and held on by a half length over Tamtastic. Sassy Maverick was home third. Haliflax Flyer, an Early Flyer gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.84 with Lindey Wade up. "He got a little tired late," Wade said. "But he wasn't giving up the lead."
This Ones for Phil stalked the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Decathlon Stakes, came out to take a big lead at the top of the lane and won by 1 1/4 length over Wildcat Brief. Awesome Son finished third. This Ones for Phil, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred Untuttable gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.69 under Joe Bravo.
C C's Pal led all the way in Sunday's $75,000 Monmouth Beach Stakes but then barely withstood the late charges of Sweet N Sour Nina and Successful Song, who finished second and third by a pair of noses. C C's Pal, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred filly by Alex's Pal, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.77 with Kendrick Carmouche up.
Sakakawea, the odds-on favorite, had little trouble dispatching a quintet of rivals in Friday's $70,000 Mamie Eisenhower Stakes for Iowa-bred distaffers. Leading from the start, Sakakawea cruised home first by 1 1/4 lengths despite drifting out a bit in the late going. Samara Street and Go Milan Go filled out the winning trifecta. Sakakawea, a 5-year-old Rossini mare, covered the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.84 with Alex Birzer up. Ray Tracey Jr. saddled the exacta.
Mutti Blues led them all the way around in Saturday's $70,000 John Wayne Stakes for state-breds, then finished strongly to win by 4 3/4 lengths. West Albany was best of the rest with Cainam third. The favorite, wings of war, finished fifth with no stretch kick. Mutti Blues, a 5-year-old Mutakddim gelding, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.92 with Terry Thompson up.
Calder Race Course
Besso Grande kissed off pacesetter White Merlot in the late going of Saturday's $75,000 French Village Stakes for 3-year-old fillies to post a half-length win over that rival. The favorite, Without Love, settled for third. Besso Grande, a Florida-bred Mass Media filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.57 with Luis Jurado riding.
Manicero rallied from a stalking trip to catch Dual Exhauzt in the final sixteenth and win Saturday's $50,000 In Summation Stakes for 3-year-olds by a half length. Ribo Bobo finished third. Manicero, a Florida-bred Mass Media colt, was clocked in 1:12.54 under Paco Lopez.
Little Nick, the odds-on favorite, had 'em all the way in Saturday's $55,000 Champali Stakes, skimming the hedge to finished 3 1/2 lengths in front of runner-up Uno Caliente. Sir Edgar reported home third. Little Nick, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred Tiger Ridge gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 55.07 seconds with Lopez in the irons.
Golden Gate Fields
Gig Harbor set a pressured pace in Saturday's $75,000 Alcatraz Stakes for 3-year-old, dispatched his early challenger and then held off the late run of Duke of Doom to win by a half length. Cody Peak was third. Gig Harbor, a Kentucky-bred City Zip colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.17 with Frank Alvarado handling the reins.
Little Polka Dot led early and eased clear in the lane to win Saturday's $63,000 Unbridled Sidney Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 3/4 lengths over Jocata. Speedacious, the favorite, finished third. Little Polka Dot, a 5-year-old, Louisiana-bred Orientate mare, ran 5 furlongs on a sloppy track in 57.34 seconds with Shaun Bridgmohan up. The race originally was carded for the grass.
Tiz Miz Sue rallied past pacesetting Sarah's Song a furlong out in Saturday's $50,000 Winter Melody Stakes for fillies and mares and got home first, 1 1/4 lengths in front of that rival. Bahama Bound was far back in third. Tiz Miz Sue, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Tiznow filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.44 with Joe Rocco Jr. up.
Muir Woods raced off the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Tomboy Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-old fillies, came five-wide into the stretch under Mario Madrid and quickly swept to the lead. At the wire, the Forest Camp filly was an easy 3 3/4 lengths in front with Willa Wando second and School Lass third. Muir Woods got the 1 1/16 miles on a muddy track in 1:48.49.
You Me and Ema Be pressed the pace early in Sunday's $50,000 Hastings Handicap for fillies and mares, took charge and then held off the late charge of Sweet Nellie Brown to win by a neck. Kimmyv finished third. You Me and Ema Be, a 4-year-old, Washington-bred You and I filly, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:10.35 with Deborah Hoonan-Trujillo in the irons.
On the international front:
Tough international fields are shaping up for the May 22 Singapore Airlines International Cup and KrisFlyer International Sprint. The fields include the top four finishers from the Dubai Duty Free in March for the Cup as well as the likes of French-based Chinchon, Godolphin Racing's Calvados Blues and up-and-coming Hong Kong stars Irian and California Memory. On tap for the Sprint are such stalwarts as Rocket Man, also a winner on World Cup night at Meydan, Sacred Kingdom and Green Birdie.
Carlton House, owned by Her Majesty the Queen and trained by Sir Michael Stoute, kept British royalty on a roll with a victory in Thursday's Group 2 Totesport Dante Stakes at York -- a prep for the Epsom Derby. The bay colt, by Street Cry, rolled home 5 1/2 lengths better than German-bred Seville. Pisco Sour was well back in third. World Domination, the hoped-for replacement for distance-limited Frankel in the Derby, was an also-ran.
Canford Cliffs got rolling on a season that could be memorable for milers as he rallied by Italian invader Worthadd in the final furlong to win Saturday's Group 2 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury by 1 1/4 lengths. The victory sets up potential matches with the likes of Goldikova in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascotd, scintillating 3-year-old Frankel down the road and no shortage of others hoping to crack the top ranks. "You can run but you can't hide," said winning trainer Richard Hannon. "As far as I'm concerned, he's going to be there to take on all comers."
Midday, winner of the 2009 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf and second last year, got her 2011 campaign off to a successful start with a victory in Thursday's Middleton Stakes at York. Last year, the Oasis Dream mare was second in the same race. This time around, the Henry Cecil trainee scored by 2 lengths over Godolphin Racing's Sajjhaa. Timepiece, Midday's stablemate, finished third.
Duncan led from the start in Friday's Yorkshire Cup and was never caught, winning by a half length over outsider Blue Bajan. Another long shot, Manighar, took third. Duncan, ridden by William Buick for trainer John Gosden, finished the 14 furlongs in 2:58.33 and the 6-year-old now is a candidate for the Ascot Gold Cup.
Speaking of Royal Ascot, look out, England! Todd Pletcher is expanding his empire your way. Belmont Park officials said Sunday Pletcher has confirmed plans to compete at Royal Ascot for the first time, with Melnyk Racing turf sprinters Stratford Hill and Bridgetown under consideration for the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes and the Group 1 Golden Jubilee, Bobby Flay's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner More Than Real possible for the Group 1 Coronation for 3-year-old fillies, and Let's Go Stable's recent debut winner More Than Minted a candidate for the Group 2 Queen Mary for 2-year-old fillies. Pletcher will join international pioneer Wesley Ward, who became the first American trainer to win a Royal Ascot race two years ago when his Strike the Tiger won the Windsor Castle Stakes and Jealous Again won the Queen Mary Stakes. Ward also is adding to his European string this spring with Royal Ascot in his sights.
While Canford Cliffs was staking out his ground among English milers, Apapane and Buena Vista were battling for similar honors Sunday in the Victoria Mile at Tokyo Racecourse. There, 2010 fillies Triple Crown winner Apapane emerged victorious, holding off Buena Vista by a neck under the wire. Lady Alba Rosa finished third. Buena Vista won the same race last year en route to the Japanese "Horse of the Year" title but came into the race of a disappointing performance in the Dubai World Cup. Apapane is a 4-year-old daughter of King Kamehameha. She finished fourth in the Grade 2 Yomiuri Milers Cup at Hanshin last month.
Tin Horse took advantage of an unfavorable draw for previously undefeated Wootton Bassett and handily overtook that rival in the late going to win Sunday's French 2,000 Guineas or Poule d'Essai des Poulains at Longchamp. Wootton Bassett quickly crossed the field and made the early going but clearly had little left at the end after the early effort. Tin Horse was the beneficiary, with Havane Smoker third. Tin Horse, a son of Sahkee, now likely will head for the St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot -- and a potential showdown the Frankel.
Golden Lilac remains undefeated after taking Sunday's French 1,000 Guineas, or Poule d'Essai des Pouliches, at Longchamp. Golden Lilac, the favorite, pulled throughout the race and jockey Olivier Peslier finally let her run. Glorious Sight was first early and held on for second and Wild Wind finished third. Winning owner Dietrich von Boetticher called his filly "brilliant" and said she is headed for the Prix de Diane.
Sooner or later, Black Caviar may be exported from Australia and, if so, she may leave an unpleasant taste in the mouths of some international rivals. Black Caviar, after her 2-length victory Saturday in the BTC Cup at Doomben, now remains unbeaten in 13 career starts. Hay List was second behind Black Caviar for the third time and it was a long way back to the next finisher. Black Caviar was dominating, drawing even with Hay List with some 600 meters to run, then drawing off without apparent effort. Her winning streak has sparked a national furor in the island continent. The 4-year-old drew more than 20,000 fans to Doomben Saturday. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted a track official as saying, "I have been working here for 30 years and can't remember anything like this. It's amazing what a good horse does, hey?" Travel rumors for Black Caviar center on Royal Ascot in 2012, with Hong Kong's December races also a potential target.
News and notes:
-- The racing fraternity and fans at Churchill Downs, Arlington Park and other venues held memorials during the weekend for jockey Michael Baze, whose body was found in his car in the Churchill Downs stable area Tuesday. Baze was 24. Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Jim Wesley said an autopsy found "no anatomical cause of death" and that toxicology reports will not be available for about three weeks. Baze began riding in 2003 and had won 918 races in a career that included riding titles at Del Mar, Hollywood Park and Arlington Park.
-- Jockey Suraj Narredu, a native of India who reached the 1,000-career win milestone faster than any other rider in that nation's Thoroughbred history, has joined the jockey colony at Arlington Park and could make his first start next week. Narredu, 26, began his career at the BARI riding school in Bangalore as a 12-year-old, and has been riding professionally for eight years. "I came to the United States because I want to continue to develop a reputation as a truly international jockey," he said during a visit to Arlington press box. Arlington is not without previous connections to Indian racing. Owner Harresh Mehth and trainer "Paddy" Padmanabhan, for whom Narredu rode in his native land, brought the Indian-bred Holding Court to Chicago to run in Arlington's 2007 Rossi Gold Stakes. And, if memory serves, an Indian Triple Crown winner raced once at Arlington in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
-- The new class of inductees into the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame will include trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and the fillies Open Mind, Safely Kept and Sky Beauty. Induction will take place during the Saratoga race meeting in August. The Hall's Historic Review Committee will announce additional selections in June.