Kentucky Derby candidates surfaced in Florida and California this weekend and Dubai got the World Cup Carnival running with promise.
Proving it's never too early to plan for later, weekend races also found a prospect for August's Arlington Million.
The plot lines twist and turn but they are never boring. Follow closely as there will be a short quiz at the $2 window before next period:
Kentucky Derby preps
Saturday's $100,000 Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs was a pleasant experience for trainer Mark Casse as his coupled entry of Dynamic Sky and Sky Commander ran 1-2. Divine Ambition finished well back in third and O T B Bob completed the trifecta. Dynamic Sky, a Sky Mesa colt wearing blinkers for the first time, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.79 with Luis Contreras in the irons. He most recently finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, that following a second place in the Dixiana Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. Sky Commander, also by Sky Mesa, was stepping up from an eighth-place finish in the Display Stakes at Woodbine in his first start out of the maiden ranks. "It was a big race," Casse said of Dynamic Sky. "I was a little disappointed he got a little hot today, which he has to overcome if he is going to be a Derby horse. But it was hot today, so we'll give him a pass." He said he is planning on keeping Dynamic Sky on the Tampa Bay pre-Derby trail. "I hope to see you guys a bunch," he told the locals.
Zeewat caught pacesetting Wildcat Moon at mid-stretch in Saturday's $100,000 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields and won a battle to the finish by a half length over that rival. It was another 1 3/4 lengths back to Tree of Life in third. Zeewat, a Pennsylvania-bred Harlan's Holiday colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:46.50 with Russell Baze up for trainer and part-owner Jerry Hollendorfer. He now has four wins from six starts, running on both dirt and all-weather surfaces. "I thought he proved himself to be a pretty good horse today," Hollendorfer said. "He got pinched back at the start but the horse willingly ran up in between horses and then was laying fourth. And then when Russell made his run, he had to go wide. I was pleased with the way the horse handled himself." He said Zeewat likely will race next Feb. 16 in the $200,000, Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate.
Vitameta, the odds-on favorite, found all she could handle in 64-1 shot Cindys Casino in Saturday's $100,000 Gasparilla Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. After a three-way stretch battle, Vitameta finished a neck in front with Martha's Moon settling for third, just another neck back, after leading briefly in the scuffle. Vitameta, a Kentucky-bred Street Sense filly out of the Grindstone mare Emery Board, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.86 with Jose Cruz aboard. "She doesn't get into it until she gets into a dogfight," winning trainer David Fawkes said. "If you watch her last race, she didn't really get into it until the last 70 yards, after she got bumped against the rail." She now has won three of her five starts.
Lady Banks blew by pacesetter Kiss the Lady in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Ruthless Stakes and went on to win by 2 lengths over that rival. Railtown Girl finished third and the favorite, Kimono, wrapped up next-last of six. Lady Banks, a Successful Appeal filly with Eddie Castro up, ran 6 furlongs on the muddy inner track in 1:12.14. It was her second straight win but first stakes victory. "We're going to try and space her races out a little bit now," winning trainer Games Lawrence said. "I come from a steeplechase background so I'm always thinking about stretching them out. We'll definitely give her a try at that. When we picked her out, the long-term plan was the Oaks." He said the Grade II Gazelle at 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct on April 6 "is a very good option."
Tyger Teras started poorly in Saturday's $85,000 La Senora Stakes for New Mexico-bred fillies at Sunland Park, hustled into contention and got clear at the end to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Back Seat Roll. Lakehouse Fun finished third. Tyger Teras, a daughter of To Teras, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.72 with Derek Bell up.
(By RICHARD GROSS)
Barbecue Eddie spiced up the opener of the 2013 Dubai World Cup Carnival at Meydan Thursday with a third course-and-distance win this season in the featured 1,600-meter, $250,000, UAE G2 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1. 'Eddie' completed the near-mile on the all-weather Tapeta surface in 1:37.24.
The locally popular 9-year-old Stormy Atlantic gelding notched his tenth career victory, win number seven at Meydan, his fourth consecutive Dubai World Cup Carnival win and a first-ever graded stakes victory.
The favorite, Out of Bounds, with Silvestre de Sousa up in the Godolphin silks, took the lead early and held into the stretch when the 4-year-old Discreet Cat colt was overtaken 100 yards from the line to finish second, 1 1/2 lengths behind the winner and a half length in front of stablemate Fulbright.
Trainer Doug Watson confirmed he is pointing his winning charge to the Godolphin Mile on Dubai World Cup night March 30 after withdrawing him from last year's contest due to illness. "He may be 9 now, but he retains his ability and has proved this 1,600 meters to be ideal on an all-weather surface he just loves," the trainer said.
In other opening Carnival races, lead Godolphin Trainer Saeed bin Suroor scored a double with Ireland's Sharestan besting France's So Beautiful by 4 lengths on the turf in the $125,000 Al Rashidiya Trial over 1800 meters and Royal Empire was 1 1/2 lengths better than Germany's Kassiano in the 1,900-meter, all-weather Prima Luna. Two-time British champion jockey Paul Hanagan guided Sheik Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum's Fityaan to a 1 1/4-length win over Temple Meads in the $120,000 Dolce Vita on the turf. Ireland's Lily Angel captured the 1,400-meter Saint Imier over Ariete Arrollador on the all-weather. And Le Drakkar was 3/4 of a length better than Tamaathul in the $120,000 Moon Phases on the turf.
This year's Dubai World Cup Carnival season at Meydan features 11 race dates and four other racing days, including the 18th running of the Dubai World Cup and undercard races Saturday, March 30. "Super Saturday," the final local preps for the Dubai World Cup races, is March 9.
Carnival purses total $37.3 million. The Dubai World Cup is the world's richest race day with purses this year totaling more than $27 million.
Bob Baffert, after a tough 2012, was happy to see one of his previously under-performing steeds step up early in 2013 as Fed Biz led all the way to win Saturday's $150,000, Grade II San Fernando Stakes for 4-year-olds by a head over Tritap. And another Baffert runner, Guilt Trip, made a nice late run to finish third. Fed Biz, a Giant's Causeway colt, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.34 with Mike Smith in the irons. Fed Biz was, briefly, a "hot" horse on last year's Kentucky Derby trail after winning his first start at Santa Anita. He then went to the sidelines, however, and did not resurface until August. After a quick win in the El Cajon Stakes, he was disappointing in three starts to wind up the year. "I expect so much from this horse, when he loses, it's very disappointing," Baffert said. "He's a very talented horse and he was good today going to the gate and he ran well." Baffert said Fed Biz suffered from coming back too soon after the El Cajon last year and vowed not to repeat that pattern. With that in mind, he said, the Grade II Strub Stakes on Feb. 2 could come up too quickly and the March 2, Grade I Santa Anita Handicap is more likely to be Fed Biz's next start.
Geranimo rallied from last of seven to win Sunday's $150,000, Grade II San Gabriel Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths. Temple's Door was the best of the rest with early leader Chosen Miracle hanging on for third. The favorite, Slim Shadey, finished sixth. Geranimo, a 7-year-old son of Congaree, negotiated the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.50 under Rafael Bejarano. He finished second in this race last year, won the Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park in June and finished sixth in the contentious Breeders' Cup Mile in November. Most recently, he was second in the Grade II Citation Handicap at Hollywood. His late energy in Sunday's race had trainer Michael Pender thinking longer distances. "We have always had hopes of running in the Arlington Million," Pender said. "We think this horse can go a mile and a quarter if he gets his trip and gets the right pace in front of him. As he gets older, we are going to try and turn him into a marathoner. He might surprise a few people." The Grade I Arlington Million in August is run at 1 1/4 miles on the lush Arlington Park grass course.
Snow Fall went by pacesetting favorite Distracting like a blizzard in January in the stretch run of Sunday's $75,000 Paseana Handicap for fillies and mares and went on to win by 3 1/4 lengths over that rival Curvy Cat took third. Snow Fall, a 5-year-old War Front mare, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.66 with Tyler Baze riding.
Mucho Mas Macho ran by most of the field in the stretch run to post a big upset win in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Ft. Lauderdale Stakes. With jockey Juan Leyva timing the move perfectly, the 4-year-old Macho Uno gelding got home a neck better than runner-up Tiz Sardonic Joe. Big Blue Kitten finished third and the favorite, Nikki's Sandcastle, was fourth with a belated bid. Hollinger and Fifty Proof finished next-last and last, respectively. The 1 1/16 miles on firm turf went in 1:40.39. Mucho Mas Macho went to the post at odds of 41-1 despite having finished second in the Grade II W.L. McKnight Handicap at Calder Race Course in his last previous start. "He's getting better, like many of the Macho Unos when they turn of age," winning trainer Henry Collazo said. "Ever since he was a 2-year-old, I've been saying, 'More distance and a little bit more maturity, the sky's the limit.' Ever since he went on the grass and I saw his stride on grass, I told the owner that we got to stay on the grass, and the further the better." He said he will point Mucho Mas Macho to the $150,000, Grade II Mac Diarmida on Feb. 16 and the $150,000, Grade III Pan American on March 23.
It was a quick early pace in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III Hal's Hope Stakes but, at the end, it was four closers battling it out. The favorite, Csaba, found the wire first, a neck in front of Pool Play. It was another neck to Pants On Fire and a head to Soldat in fourth. Csaba, a 4-year-old Kitten's Joy colt, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:35.69 with Luis Saez in the irons. It was his fourth straight stakes win since returning to South Florida in October. "I tried to put my horse second or third," Saez said. "When we came to the three-eighths ([pole], I didn't think we'd win. But coming down the stretch I saw a little hole on the inside and we went for it. When I asked him, he gave me everything." Winning trainer Phil Gleaves said Csaba likely will resurface in the $500,000, Grade I Donn Handicap (G1) at Gulfstream Feb. 9. Pool Play also is a candidate for that event.
A deluge washed out part of the track -- and weekend racing -- at the Hot Springs oval. Saturday's $60,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies going 6 furlongs was rescheduled for next weekend.
Donoharm did plenty of harm to the chalk players in Friday's $75,000 Fifth Season Stakes, rallying from a pace-stalking position to post the 13-1, Opening Day upset win. Skyring was along for second and Win Willy came from last of nine to complete a juicy trifecta. The favorite, Endorsement, was in the mix early but faded to finish eighth. Donoharm, a 4-year-old Lemon Drop Kid gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a good track in 1:49.07 with Cliff Berry in the irons. Despite the long odds, it was the fourth straight win for Donoharm, following victories at Monmouth, Delaware and Delta. "He kept trying," Berry said. "I thought at every pole he was going to get tired, but he kept running. He won with determination. The track is a little tiring today, but he was determined."
My My My Maria rallied around the leaders on the turn in Saturday's $75,000 Pan Zaretta Stakes for fillies and mares and scooted on home, winning by 1 3/4 lengths over pacesetter Monono. Elusive One finished third and the favorite, Starlite Starbrite, got home last of nine and was vanned off after the race. The event was moved from the turf onto the fast main track, where My My My Maria got 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05.22 with Brian Hernandez Jr. riding. She is a 5-year-old Cuvee mare. It was her fourth straight win since being claimed by trainer Tim Glyshaw for $7,500 last Nov. 1 at Churchill Downs. "When we claimed her, we didn't have any intention of running in these kinds of races," Glyshaw said. "But she's just turned out to be a really nice horse for us." As Daily Racing Form's Marty McGee has been heard to say, "It's an easy game."
Head Heart Hoof had 'em all the way in Wednesday's $75,000 True and Blue Stakes and coasted home first by 2 1/4 lengths over odds-on favorite Royal Currier. Saturday's Charm and Be Bullish completed the order of finish. Head Heart Hoof, a 7-year-old Intidab gelding, got 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:09.10 with Cornelio Velasquez riding.
Ea dueled for the lead early in Saturday's $75,000 Coyote Lakes Stakes, kicked clear with a quarter mile to run and won off easily. At the wire, Ea was first by 6 1/2 lengths with Charlie's Quest and Wayward Sailor completing the trifecta. Ea, a 9-year-old Dynaformer gelding, got 1 1/2 miles on the muddy inner track in 2:33.67 with Ramon Dominguez up.
Mischief Maker drew off in the stetch to beat both of her rivals in Sunday's undersubscribed, $75,000 Swirlaway Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares. At the wire, Mischief Maker was 7 1/4 lengths better than early leader Opus a, with Shesabronxbomber third and last, another 4 3/4 length in arrears. Mischief Maker, a 4-year-old Cape Town filly, ran the mile on the muddy inner track in 1:38.90 with Velasquez up.
Bold Affair was reluctant to load but then didn't want to wait around after the gate opened in Saturday's $75,000 What A Summer Stakes for fillies and mares. After tracking the pace, the 5-year-old Two Punch mare moved boldly to the lead rounding the turn and kicked clear to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Dance to Bristol was second and Enchante got show money. Bold Affair, with Abel Castellano Jr. up, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.61. "She has a little attitude at times," Castellano said. "As soon as we started rolling, I knew she would be OK." Bold Affair won five stakes on the Maryland circuit last year and trainer Howard Wolfendale said bigger things are on her horizon, including the $250,000, Grade II Barbara Fritchie Handicap of Feb. 16.
Tiz Gianni collared frontrunning favorite Green Secret in the final strides of Saturday's $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile, winning by a neck in a well-timed ride by jockey Jake Barton. Why Frank was far back in third. Tiz Gianni, a 5-year-old son of Giacomo, rallied from far back and finished the mile on firm turf in 1:36.85.