The Kentucky Derby picture got a bit of a shakeup during the weekend with impressive performances at several race tracks.
Among the older set, Game On Dude was dominating Sunday at Santa Anita, a Gulfstream Park race may have turned up a Dubai candidate and the battle was joined for early supremacy in several of racing's various divisions.
It's less than two months until the Dubai World Cup and just three months until the Kentucky Derby. Here's how things looked through this weekend's fun house mirrors:
Kentucky Derby preps:
Revolutionary lived up to his promise in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. The War Pass colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, had to wait behind traffic through the early part of the stretch run before jockey Javier Castellano found a seam for him. Once daylight opened, Revolutionary kicked on willingly between rivals and was up in the final 50 yards to win by a neck over Escapefromreality. The early leader, Siete de Oros, finished third. Amerigo Vespucci settled for fourth, lacking a rally, and Shiek Mohammed took a hit as his Darley entry of Valid and Long River finished in the bottom two spots. Revolutionary ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:44.32. He took four tries last year to break his maiden, finally breaking through in a big way on Dec. 28 as he won by 8 1/2 lengths. He had been off since that race and missed a recent work because of bad weather. "The horse has a tendency to not get away cleanly and got himself a little farther back than we would have liked," Pletcher assistant Mike McCarthy said. "Things went from bad to worse from there, but Javier didn't panic and had faith in the horse. We've known all along the horse had ability. When you are pointing for the Derby, this is a huge steppingstone. That was a big, big step today against some proven horses."
Flashback, making just his second career start, looked like a lot more than a flash in the pan after Saturday's dominating win in the $200,000, Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. With Julien Leparoux up for trainer Bob Baffert, the gray Tapit colt made all the going, but was pressured into the stretch by He's Had Enough. At that point, He's Had Enough had had enough, fading from contention and another Baffert runner, Den's Legacy, rallied to snatch second 6 1/4 lengths in the wake of Flashback. The winner, a Kentucky-bred, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.95. He won at first asking, easily beating maiden rivals over the Hollywood Park all-weather surface in December and had been working steadily -- and quickly -- since then at Santa Anita. Asked if he wished the Kentucky Derby was tomorrow, Baffert quickly demurred. "No, he's not ready yet ... . We were hoping he would do something like that, but when a horse came to him, he pinned his ears a little bit. He's still pretty green." Baffert said he has not yet picked Flashback's next race, adding, "I want to thank Gary and Mary West for putting a monster like this in my lap. It makes it more fun when you have a horse like this."
Falling Sky led all the way to an upset victory in Saturday's $250,000, Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, holding on to beat Dynamic Sky by a neck. The favorite, My Name Is Michael, finished 3 lengths farther back in third and Speak Logistics completed the superfecta. Falling Sky, a Pennsylvania-bred Lion Heart colt, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.79 with Jose Espinoza riding for trainer John Terranova II. It was his third win from four starts with the only loss being in the Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay last Dec. 1 -- a race won by the promising Purple Egg. My Name Is Michael, a Bill Mott trainee, had been idle since departing Woodbine in December. Dynamic Sky, sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, won the local Pasco Stakes in his last previous start. Falling Sky was purchased for $425,000 at the OBS winter sale after his last start. "This is why we bought him," Terranova said. "We thought he would be a natural route horse." He said the Tampa Bay Derby is an option for the colt's next start. Dynamic Sky's trainer, Mark Casse, said jockey Luis Contreras had trouble getting his colt to switch leads. "When he did come running, it was just too little, too late," he added.
Honorable Dillon stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream, moved to the lead in the lane when asked by jockey Joe Rocco Jr. and held off the late-running favorite, Forty Tales, to win by a half length. Undrafted hit the lead briefly and held on for third, a nose farther in arrears. Honorable Dillon, another gray Tapit colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.53. He now has two wins, a second and a third from four starts but has never gone longer than Saturday's distance. As a long sprint, the Hutcheson is not part of the formal Churchill Downs Kentucky Derby points program. "It's a shame that these Grade II stakes aren't getting any points for the Kentucky Derby," winning trainer Eddie Kenneally said. "I think it's wrong." Kenneally said he may try longer distances with Honorable Dillon "He's bred to go farther than seven-eighths of a mile. Can he do it? We'll find out when we try," the trainer said.
Mac the Man made it two straight wins in Turfway Park's Derby prep series with a front-running, 2-length win in Saturday's $50,000 96ROCKS Stakes. With Norberto Arroyo Jr. in the irons, the El Corredor colt started quickly but eventually slowed things down to finish the mile on the all-weather track in 1:40.52. Bye Bye Bernie ran second all the way and Takin the Sloroad was a long shot third. "This is the first time he's gone two turns and I didn't want him to be surprised by anything," Arroyo said. "So I tapped him a couple times. But he didn't really need it. He's a racehorse." Mac the Man won the Turfway Prevue Stakes last month and is on track for the ultimate northern Kentucky prep for the Run for the Roses, the Spiral Stakes on March 23. He has yet to race on a dirt surface.
In Saturday's fifth race at Gulfstream Park, Verrazano, also trained by Pletcher, ran away and hid, winning by 16 1/4 lengths while finishing the mile in 1:34.80. The 3-year-old son of More Than Ready has now won his only two starts by a combined 24 lengths. "He's going to win from Brooklyn to Staten Island," track announcer Larry Collmus said in calling the stretch run.
Early nominations to this year's Triple Crown -- the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes -- closed with 369 3-year-olds eligible, down slightly from last year's list. Trainer Todd Pletcher handles 29 of the nominees, including Shanghai Bobby, last year's champion 2-year-old colt and winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Bob Baffert trains 23 of the early nominees, Ken McPeek and Nick Zito handle 13 each and Mark Casse and D. Wayne Lukas each train 11. Nine foreign-based horses are nominated, including four trained by Dermott Weld and two by Aidan O'Brien There are seven filly nominees, including 2012 champion and Breeders' Cup winner Beholder. Early nominations cost $600 each. The late nomination period runs through March 23 but procrastinators pay 10 times the early fee.
Princess of Sylmar rocketed off in the stretch run to win Saturday's $100,000 Busher Stakes at Aqueduct by 7 lengths in a hand ride. Kelli Got Frosty was the best of the rest with Let Me Entertain U bringing a smile to show bettors' lips. Princess of Sylmar, a Pennsylvania-bred Majestic Warrior filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:45.52 with Javier Castellano up. "It was a very pedestrian half-mile and he had to put her into the race a little earlier than we would have liked," said Mike McCarthy, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "But she was much the best and able to overcome that today." McCarthy said the plan is to give Princess of Sylmar a short break while awaiting the $250,000, Grade II Gazelle at 9 furlongs on April 6.
Walkwithapurpose ran with one in Saturday's $75,000 Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, recovering from a stumbling start to score a 4 3/4-length victory. Power Lady was best of the rest with Dear to All third. Walkwithapurpose, a Maryland-bred Candy Ride filly out of the Broad Brush mare Lightning Lydia, ran 7 furlongs in 1:27.04 with Jeremy Rose up. She now has won four straight under Rose. "Nothing went her way today," Rose said. "She never even got her correct lead until after the finish line, when she took off. Nearly going on her head at the break, running on the wrong lead and not being where we wanted to be and she still dominated the field. She is a nice horse." Trainer Ignacio Correas said he is pointing Walkwithapurpose to the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on May 17 at Pimlico.
Tapicat was the favorite in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, made all the going and got home first by 2 3/4 lengths over Kitten's Dumplings. Wave Theory finished third and Cindy's Casino struggled home seventh when her saddle slipped after she was taken up twice during an inside trip. Tapicat, a Tapit filly trained by Bill Mott, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.89 with Joel Rosario riding. She now has won three straight races in Florida, all on the grass. "She has a tremendous amount of early speed and a nice stride," Mott said. "And she seems to be able to carry her speed, so that's a dangerous combination ... . I suppose we will have to consider if we want to take a chance on the synthetic in the Ashland at Keeneland."
Allanah drew off smartly in the stretch run to win Saturday's $50,000 Cincinnati Trophy Stakes at Turfway Park by 5 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Our Jenny B. Julmae finished third. Allanah, a Kentucky-bred Scat Daddy filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:20.89 with Norberto Arroyo Jr. up. Trainer Kellyn Gorder said blinkers were added to Allanah's equipment after she had trouble on the turn earlier and showed extreme immaturity in training. "It seemed like the light bulb went on today," the trainer said, adding he will point her to Turfway's two remaining races that serve as preps for the Kentucky Oaks.
(By RICHARD GROSS)
Trainer Mike De Kock's Dubai World Cup Carnival express kicked into high speed as the South African trainer saddled three of the six winners at Meydan Thursday.
The highlight was his record fifth win in the Group 2 Al Rashidiya with South African raider The Apache spearing victory from Godolphin runner City Style over 1,800 meters on turf. De Kock-trained Musir also denied City Style in last year's contest.
The 6-year-old son of Mogok tracked Do It All and took the lead 300 meters from the finish, gaining the win after a yearlong layoff. Jockey Christophe Soumillon exercised the victor during the week and liked what he rode.
"I was hopeful of a big run," the winning rider said. "He can build on this," said De Kock, without stating future plans.
Two winners of the Al Rashidiya have gone on to win the 1,800-meter turf Dubai Duty Free on Dubai World Cup day: De Kock's Right Approach in a 2004 dead-heat and Great Britain runner Presvis in 2011.
De Kock enjoyed two other big runs on an evening sponsored by Dubal when Mushreq opened the card with a win over Royal Empire in the Billet Trophy with Paul Hanagan up over 2,000 meters on turf. De Kock and Soumillon won their first of two together on the night when Rerouted overtook Van Ellis in the final 50 meters for the win in the 1,400-meter Casthouse Trophy, run on the all-weather Tapeta.
Kassiano ran for Germany to win the 1,900-meter, all-weather Potlines Trophy by a head over Con Artist; Medicean Man excelled by 3/4 of a length over Russian Soul, winning the Excellence Trophy; and Time Prisoner stopped the watch a 3/4-length winner over Dux Scholar to win the Dubal Trophy in the evening's final match.
World Cup day was very much on the minds of all connections as nominees for the 18th Dubai World Cup were announced this week for the world's richest racing day March 30.
Nominations for the big night at the plush Meydan facility total 272 runners from 15 countries. Among world stars expected in the gate are last year's UAE winner, Monterosso, runner-up stablemate Capponi, and South Africa's Igugu, owner of 10 wins in 12 starts with two places and 2011 Horse of the Year honors in her home country.
The United States is well represented with 27 nominees. U.S. Eclipse Award and Breeders' Cup champion Royal Delta is expected to return to the gate for the world's richest race after last year's disappointing seventh-place finish. Animal Kingdom, 2011 Kentucky Derby winner and runner up to U.S. Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the 2012 Breeders' Cup Mile, is expected to make the trip after being withdrawn from last year's World Cup with an injury.
Other U.S. nominees expected to run include 2012 Breeders' Cup Turf winner Little Mike and Pacific Classic victor Dullahan, both conditioned by Dale Romans. Both his charges are expected to arrive in Dubai early and run on the March 9 card to prepare.
Trainer Shug McGaughey is considering entering Point of Entry in the $5 million Sheema Classic, run at 1 1/2 miles on turf, a possible rematch with Little Mike after a fast-closing, half-length loss in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Some drama is added. John Velazquez is the regular rider of Point of Entry, but will ride Little Mike in his 2013 debut March 9 in Dubai. If both enter the Sheema Classic, Velazquez reportedly plans to stay aboard Point of Entry and Romans will have to find a rider for Little Mike.
The UAE led Dubai World Cup nominations with 184, followed by the U.S. contingent, 18 from South Africa, 11 from Japan, seven from Great Britain, four from Hong Kong and two from Singapore.
Many of the 272 horses received multiple nominations for the nine-race card, with connections facing a choice between the Dubai World Cup and the Dubai Duty Free or Sheema Classic.
There were 2,043 nominations for the nine races on the card, including multiple nominees. The UAE led with 1,390, followed by the U.S. with 122 and South Africa with 117. Trailing the leaders were Japan with 86 and Ireland with 65.
Purses for this year's Dubai World Cup races total $27.25 million, including a $10 million jackpot for the featured Dubai World Cup.
Sunday's $200,000, Grade II San Antonio Stakes was little more than a well-paid workout for Game On Dude. With Mike Smith up, the 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding dueled for the lead with Basmati, then shook clear and went on to win by 6 1/2 lengths with only minimal urging. The early effort cooked Basmati, who finished last of four behind Clubhouse Ride and Make Music for Me. Chosen Miracle was a late scratch. Game On Dude ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.53. Since his disastrous trip to last year's Dubai World Cup, Game On Dude has five wins and a second from seven starts, along with his seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic after a bad start. "I knew that other horse (Basmati) was probably going to try him a ways," said winning trainer Bob Baffert. "They're trying to win ... . But Game On Dude, he likes that. He's competitive." Smith said he tries to find a balance between Game On Dude's high cruising speed and too much early effort. "I let him do his thing today and he ran brilliant to be honest," the rider said. "He stood up over on the turn, took one breath and turned around like it was nothing." Baffert said he expects to run Game On Dude back in the $750,000, Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on March 2.
Guilt Trip came four-wide to the lead in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Stephanoatsee. Fed Biz finished third and Handsome Mike was fourth as the 9 furlongs on a fast track went in 1:48.97. Guilt Trip, a Pulpit Colt trained by Baffert, scored his first stakes win after running third in the Grade II San Fernando and fifth in the Grade I Malibu earlier in the Santa Anita meet. Baffert also trains Fed Biz. "He trained forwardly," Baffert said of Guilt Trip. "Stretching him out was really important for him. The longer distance will really help him. He can sit and wait. Today the pace was pretty fast, so it was a big difference." He said the Santa Anita Handicap is a potential target.
Suggestive Boy finally delivered on the promise of his South American record, winning Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Arcadia Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths over Wilkinson with a late run. Silentio finished third as a lukewarm favorite. Suggestive Boy, a 5-year-old, Argentine-bred son of Easing Along, got the mile on firm turf in 1:32.73 with Joe Talamo up. Suggestive Boy arrived on the California scene last June and finished second in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile fresh off the plane. He then won the Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar but had not had his picture taken after three intervening starts, including a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile. "The post position today, I was a little worried about," said winning trainer Ron McAnally, referring to the No. 13 gate in a 14-horse field. "But he managed to get him over before the turn. That was all I was concerned about. Once he got him over, I was comfortable. He's a good horse."
Tampa Bay Downs
Old Tune played music to the ears of her backers in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares, rallying from a pace-stalking trip to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Appealing Cat. Last Full Measure was along for third while the favorite, Dealbata, dead-heated for ninth and 10th with a dull effort. Old Tune, a 5-year-old, Brazilian-bred mare by Wild Event, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.48 for jockey Joel Rosario. The time was revised from the originally posted course record that was posted on the tote board. "When she broke on top so easily, I knew I was riding something special," said Rosario, who was up for the first time. "I didn't know what she had left so I didn't wrap her up and she really turned it on going to the wire with me just sitting there. She might be a very special mare."
Cluster of Stars battled gamely down the stretch with odds-on favorite Nicole H in Saturday's $100,000, Correction Stakes for fillies and mares before prevailing by a head. It was 8 lengths more to Singlet in third and Crespano completed the order of finish. Cluster of Stars, a 4-year-old Greeley's Galaxy filly, ran 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:09.66 for jockey Javier Castellano. "It was impressive," said Toby Sheets, assistant to winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "Nicole H is an awesome filly and our filly is very unseasoned. This is her third career start. We've thought she was special all along."
Head Heart Hoof got the lead early in the stretch run in Saturday's $150,000 Correction Handicap and had enough left at the end to prevail by a half length over the favorite, Johannesburg Smile. Sinai finished third. Head Heart Hoof, a 7-year-old Intidab gelding, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.86 with Cornelio Velasquez riding. "He loves the inner track," said winning trainer Rudy Rodriguez, "so I think that's why he's running this good right now. We're not doing too much to him. He's sound, he's whole, he's game. Right now I think he's peaking, so hopefully he'll keep doing that."
Believe You Can had plenty of believers before Saturday's $100,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes, going to the post as the prohibitive favorite against only three rivals. She made good on the promise, too, winning off by 10 1/4 lengths without exerting herself too much in the late going. Imposing Grade, Myriad and Cheerleader completed the order of finish. Believe You Can, last year's Kentucky Oaks winner, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track under Rosie Napravnik in 1:44.68 while making her first start since finishing third in the Mother Goose at Belmont Park last June. She now is a lucky 7-for-11. "She was getting herself ready a lot quicker than we anticipated," winning trainer Larry Jones said. "So we had to really stretch her works apart. Instead of five days, she'd be working every 14, 16 days. She was ready to go in early January and we just had to wait for this race."
Napravnik won the other end of a stakes double in the $75,000 Battle of New Orleans Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, guiding Cor Cor to a 4 1/4-length victory over 5 1/2 furlongs of yielding turf. Gator Zone was second and My Princess Dawn finished third. Cor Cor, a Smoke Glacken filly, finished in 1:04.86 in her first start on the grass. She now has three wins from four starts with a second in the Grade III Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park. "She won, so I'm happy," said trainer Joan Scott. "I felt it was the right spot for her to come over here for this race. Now I can go out and celebrate in New Orleans tonight before I head back to Florida tomorrow morning."
Varsity led the way in Saturday's $75,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint and held well in the stretch, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Something Extra. Great Attack finished third. Varsity, a 6-year-old Indian Charlie gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 54.17 seconds with Joe Bravo in the irons. It was his sixth win from 11 starts. "He likes it here and he likes five-eighths on firm turf," winning trainer Christophe Clement said. "He's always been a nice horse, just a little unlucky at times. This was a good field he beat today. There are opportunities ahead" in turf sprints. Bravo was even more pumped. "I think with an effort like that this horse deserves to run in Dubai," he said, referring to the $1 million Al Quoz Turf Sprint at 5 furlongs on the turf on World Cup night, March 30. "He's a rocket."
Donoharm powered by odds-on favorite San Pablo in deep stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 Essex Handicap by 3/4 of a length over that rival. Win Willy came from last of five to take third. Donoharm, a 4-year-old Lemon Drop Kid gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.71 with Cliff Berry up, picking up his fifth straight win. "He ran great," trainer Bret Calhoun said by phone from New Orleans. "At no point in the race was I confident that he was going to get there until the end ... . He ran a great race last time, but that was a different track that day and not a lot of horses liked it. Today, he came back on a fast track and beat a good horse in San Pablo." Calhoun said the $150,000, Grade III Razorback Handicap on March 9 may be next for his star.
Solar Charge won a three-horse battle to the wire in Saturday night's $50,000 Bucharest Stakes for Texas-breds, scoring by 3/4 length over Cowgirl N Up. Ishararuler was a neck further back in third. Solar Charge, a 6-year-old Authenticate gelding, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.33 seconds under Roman Chapa.
Saturday night was Louisiana Premier Night for Super Bowl fans seeking a diversion, with a card full of races for horses bred in the Sportsman's Paradise.
Heavy On Themister overhauled pacesetting favorite Lovely Vin in the stretch run of the $200,000 Championship and quickly kicked clear, winning by 5 1/2 lengths over that rival. Populist Politics finished third. Heavy On Themister, a 5-year-old Lion Tamer gelding, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.37 with Rosie Napravnik up.
Little Ms Protocol was just up in time to win the $100,000 Distaff by 1/2 length over Esther Carl with Sunday's Child finishing third. Little Ms Protocol, a 4-year-old El Corredor filly, ran the mile in 1:38.81 with Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons.
Wire Me Bessie led all the way to a 5-length win over Say Somethin Good in the $100,000 Matron, with Warrior Maid finishing third and the odds-on favorite, Harlie's Dreams, settling for fourth. Wire Me Bessie, a 4-year-old Wire Me Collect filly, ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 57.82 seconds for jockey Kerwin Clark.
Su Casa G Casa outfinished longshot Top Cat Boogie to win the $100,000 Sprint by 3/4 length. Amanecer de Oro was third. Su Casa G Casa, a 5-year-old gelding by During, ran 5 furlongs on in 57.44 with Kerwin Clark aboard.
Hero Force wore down early leader Heitai in the $100,000 Prince for 3-year-olds and went on to win by 3/4 of a length over that rival. Indian Road got home third. Hero Force, a Political Force colt, negotiated 7 furlongs in 1:25.52 for Napravnik.
Guadalupe High crossed over to the lead early in the $125,000 Starlet for 3-year-old fillies and led the rest of the way, winning by 6 1/4 lengths over odds-on favorite Sittin At the Bar. Tensas Harbor finished third. Guadalupe High, a daughter of Cuvee, ran 7 furlongs in 1:25.52 with Gerard Melancon up.