It's a time-lapse study of the vagaries of Thoroughbred racing: Saturday, last year's best 2-year-olds are crowned. Monday, one tumbles in her 3-year-old debut. Saturday, the other tries to maintain his ranking atop the 2013 Kentucky Derby lists.
And that's only the top attraction under the Big Top that is weekend racing. It's a regular three-ring circus and here are the main acts:
The road to the Derby
Shanghai Bobby -- undefeated in five starts, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and newly crowned Eclipse Award winner -- is the marquee attraction among 10 in Saturday's $400,000, Grade III Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Harlan's Holiday colt drew the rail with Rosie Napravnik named to ride for trainer Todd Pletcher. "Expectations are pretty high, so we have to make sure we've done our job properly and put him in a position where he will perform to the best of his capabilities," Pletcher said. "He's doing great. He's grown up, filling out, all the things you want to see from him going into his 3-year-old year." But this is no walkover. Frac Daddy, who finished second in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club, will line up right next to Shanghai Bobby and trainer Ken McPeek said facing the champ doesn't bother him. "I think we can run with him," McPeek said early in the week. Bern Identity won the Grade II Sanford at Saratoga last summer and has never been out of the money in six starts. Itsmyluckyday and Sr. Quisqueyano are back after finishing 1-2 in the Gulfstream Park Derby. Dewey Square was third in the KJC for Eclipse Award-winning trainer Dale Romans and worked a bullet 59.10 seconds over the course Sunday. Joshua's Comprise is making his 16th start for trainer Barry Rose and still seeking his second win.
An upset already in the books in this week's Derby preps. In Monday's $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park, long shots Will Take Charge and Texas Bling battled down the stretch before Will Take Charge did so, winning by a neck. The favorite, Always in a Tiz, was a head farther back in third. Will Take Charge, an Unbridled's Song colt out of the outstanding Dehere mare Take Charge Lady, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.64 with Jon Court aboard for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Lukas suddenly is all over the Derby trail, having won Saturday's Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds with Oxbow -- by 11 1/2 lengths, no less. "This is unbelievable," said Will Take Charge's owner, Willis D. Horton. "He had kind of a rough race. It's remarkable that he could still win. We've thought highly of him since we got him. We look forward to going forward with him, hopefully to the Derby." Will Take Charge, a half brother to last year's Florida Derby winner, Take Charge Indy, went to the post Monday at 12-1 odds.
At Aqueduct on Monday, Clawback went by pacesetting Rubies and Pearls on the turn, kicked in and drew off to score by 5 lengths as the odds-on favorite in the $75,000 Jimmy Winkfield Stakes. Winning Cause stumbled at the start, then rallied for second, and Rubies and Pearls was third. Clawback, a Florida-bred Put It Back colt, ran 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:09.75 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. He now has two wins in a row after two second-place finishes. "He did everything right," said Rusty Myers, assistant to winning trainer Rick Violette. "I think we're going to stay with the one turn for a while, but that's up to Rick and the owners. He's running great sprinting."
Distinctiv Passion led all the way in Monday's 6-furlong, $75,000 San Pedro Stakes at Santa Anita, winning by 1 1/2 lengths, ridden out. Hear the Ghost, Disarm and Really Mr Greely completed the order of finish. Distinctiv Passion, a Florida-bred With Distinction colt, got home in 1:08.50 with Edwin Maldonado up. "Our next hope is the (Feb. 17) San Vicente, which is a 7-furlong race," said winning trainer Jeff Bonde. "That will be our next chair up the ladder. But he showed no signs of quit. How far he's going to run right now is interesting to the world. But for us, he's a lot of fun."
The Oaks trail
This journey got off to a rocky start on Monday as Breeders' Cup and Eclipse Award winner Beholder came up 3/4 length short of 20-1 chance Renee's Titan in the $150,000, Grade II Santa Ynez stakes at Santa Anita. The 6 1/2-furlong event for 3-year-old fillies went in 1:16.14 as Renee's Titan charged from last of seven for the victory even though winning rider Tyler Baze lost his whip during the stretch run. Early leader Dawn's Charm finished third, just a nose behind Beholder. Renee's Titan is a Bernstein filly out of the Tiznow mare Titan Queen. Leandro Mora, assistant to winning trainer Doug O'Neill, said when he saw Beholder make the first move, he said to himself, "'OK, that's adios.' Then when she (Renee's Titan) started running like that, I knew we had a huge chance." Richard Mandella, who handles Beholder, said, "She just got a little tired." He said she Beholder return in the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes on March 2.
Saturday at Gulfstream Park, Kauai Katie, who finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup, takes on five rivals in the $200,000, Grade II Forward Gal Stakes at 7 furlongs on the main course. Kauai Katie rebounded nicely from the Santa Anita defeat, winning the Grade III Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream on New Year's Day. The Malibu Moon filly now has four wins from five starts and trainer Todd Pletcher said the Breeders' Cup loss was due to a combination of factors. "It was probably a little farther than she wants to go, at least at this point in her career," he said, "although I'm not sure she liked the track that day. She's a very good filly. We'll keep her at sprint distances for now at least."A wild card here is Fusaichiswonderful, a Fusaichi Pegasus filly who won all five of her starts last year in Puerto Rico, also trained by Pletcher now and making her first mainland start. My Happy Face comes off a win in the Grade III Tempted Stakes at Aqueduct in November. Spring Venture won all three of her starts at Woodbine before finishing 13th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Nick Zito sends out the promising Pow Wow Wow, an Indian Charlie filly.
Out west, six 3-year-old fillies are entered for Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Santa Ysabel at 1 1/16 miles. None has particularly distinguished herself and several were also-rans in the Blue Norther Stakes at 1 mile on the Santa Anita turf on New Year's Day, including Scarlet Strike, who was beaten only a nose that day. The "name of the week" is in this race -- Fiftyshadesofhay, a Pulpit filly who finished eighth in the Blue Norther.
Sam Houston Race Park
Saturday is the big night in Houston with the $400,000 Ladies Classic at 1 1/16 miles and the $200,000, Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup at 9 furlongs on the lawn.
In the Ladies Classic, Joyful Victory has been a money-making machine for trainer Larry Jones even though the 5-year-old Tapit mare has won only a single race in almost two years' time. Despite the lack of photo ops, Joyful Victory has been in the money consistently in top company from Fair Grounds to Santa Anita and back to Churchill Downs. Rosie Napravnik is named and will have to catch a quick flight across the Gulf of Mexico after riding Shanghai Bobby in the afternoon at Gulfstream. Brushed by a Star and Summer Applause show records similar to Joyful Victory's. She's All In has two straight wins in lesser heats.
The Connally finds rivals from all points of the compass, many with interesting paths to this race. Wilcox Inn is a multiple graded stakes winner and got home second in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland last fall. But he then finished ninth in the Breeders' Cup Mile, admittedly behind some much rougher foes than the nine he will face Saturday night. King David jumped up from the claiming ranks to win the Grade I Jamaica Handicap last October at Belmont Park, then finished second in the Grade III Commonwealth Turf at Churchill Downs. He was fourth in a very tough race on the Gulfstream Park turf last time out. Some of the other horses here show running lines from top races at top tracks as far afield as France. A few others are stalwarts on the Oklahoma-Texas circuit.
Saturday's card is jam-packed, with two graded stakes, including the aforementioned Santa Ysabel, and four stakes for state-breds, including two rich California Breeders' Champion Stakes events.
The $250,000, Grade II Santa Monica Stakes picked up nine fillies and mares to try 7 furlongs on the main track. Bob Baffert saddles two -- Distracting, who comes off a second-place showing in the Paseana Handicap two weeks ago, and Pink Lollipops. Sugarinthemorning, second in this race last year, is back. Teddy's Promise won the Kalookan Queen Stakes last time out. Belle of the Hall is running for the first time since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Byrama has never finished worse than fourth and gets Gary Stevens in the irons. Kindle appears to be improving, finishing second in the Grade II Monrovia Stakes in her last outing.
The California Breeders' Champion Stakes events for 3-year-olds, each worth $300,000, proved popular. The filly version and the open race each drew 11 entrants.
Two turf races postponed from last weekend -- the Grade III Col. E.R. Bradley and the Marie Krantz Memorial -- will be run on Saturday. The Bradley, at the "about" 1 1/16 miles distance, drew a field of nine and Lukas's veteran campaigner, Optimizer, is a lukewarm favorite with James Street, Strike Impact and Trend also to consider. The Krantz, at a similar distance for fillies and mares, has six set to face the starter. The overwhelming early choice, Daisy Devine, drew the rail. Since she likes to go right to the lead, that should be no problem. She seeks her third straight win.
The Saturday program also includes a sprint for older horses and a turf sprint for 3-year-olds.
The first leg of the Hong Kong Speed Series, the Kent & Curwen Centenary Sprint Cup, goes Sunday at Sha Tin. Fourteen are set to go the 1,000 meters down the straight, including Joy and Fun, Eagle Regiment and Lucky Nine.
Already on the books:
It was an international night Thursday at Meydan in the third week of the Dubai World Cup Carnival. While Godolphin captured the featured UAE G2 Cape Verdi with Sajjhaa, it was Elderly Paradise, winner of the Macau Derby, who put the invaders on the board. "He has got used to the track after his first start when he finished second and now everything depends on how he comes out of this race," said Elderly Paradise's trainer, Man Chau Tam. The winner is a 5-year-old, Australian-bred gelding by Danewin.
Broad Rule stalked the pace in Monday's $75,000 Fire Plug Stakes, then was just up with a three-wide move to win by a neck over Harbor Kid. Pacesetting longshot Flattering Andy faded to finish third and the even-money favorite, Immortal Eyes, was fourth. Broad Rule, a 5-year-old son of Dixie Union, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.60 with Forest Boyce up.
Private Tale started last of nine in the $75,000 Native Dancer Stakes advanced through the turn and into the stretch and was up to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, Javerre. Adirondack King finished third. Private Tale, a 5-year-old Tale of the Cat gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.85 with Sheldon Russell riding.