The Southwest was the centerpiece of a limited but high-quality Presidents Day stakes program at U.S. racetracks.
Super Ninety Nine, another in the loaded Bob Baffert 3-year-old contingent, went quickly to the lead over a sloppy track at the Hot Springs oval and showed the way into the stretch turn. At that point, with little urging by jockey Rafael Bejarano, the Pulpit colt quickly began to put daylight between himself and nine rivals, winning off by 11 1/4 lengths. He got the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.48. Fear the Kitten came from far back to finish best of the rest -- his second good showing behind a runaway leader. Heaven's Runway was a long shot third. "Rafael called me before the race and I just told him to let him get away from there and do his thing," said Baffert, via phone from a vacation spot in Mexico. "Turning for home, I could see he had plenty of horse. It's exciting. This is the time of year when these 3-year-olds start getting exciting." Baffert would not commit to Super Ninety Nine returning for the $600,000, Grade II Rebel on March 23 or the $1 million, Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 13. "I don't like to plan ahead and with these young horses," he said. "You just never know." But, he added, "We'll have something for the Rebel."
Javerre stalked the pace set by Il Villano in Monday's $250,000, Grade III General George Stakes, took over in the stretch run and won by 1 1/4 lengths. Brigand came late to finish second but was set down to fifth for a bumping incident that occurred leaving the chute early in the race. That elevated Il Villano to second and Broad Rule to third. Javerre, a 4-year-old Outflanker gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.81. Winning jockey J.D. Acosta said he was concerned with IL Villano took the lead "because I knew that horse could run and knew I'd have a really big challenge down the lane. But I knew I had the horse to make it work and so he did." Javerre has never been out of the money in nine career starts but the General George was his first graded stakes win.
Mizdirection was pointed the right way from the start in Monday's $150,000, Grade II Buena Vista Handicap for fillies and mares. Away quickly, the 5-year-old Mizzen Mast mare made all the going and won by 2 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite. In the Stars finished second and Byrama completed the trifecta. Mizdirection, with Mike Smith riding, finished the mile on firm turf in 1:33.50. She now has nine wins, four seconds and one third from 14 career starts and has won seven of her last eight races, including the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last fall. "I felt OK with her on the lead," winning trainer Mike Puype said. "She was very good, nice and relaxed and very professional. We've got a lot of options right now."
Saginaw caught pacesetting Readytodefer after a stretch-long pursuit in Monday's $75,000 Hollie Hughes Stakes for New York-breds, winning by a head. It was a length farther back to Be Bullish in third. Saginaw, a 7-year-old Peruvian gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:10.51 with Junior Alvarado in the irons. Saginaw was claimed for $30,000 by trainer David Jacobson last March and has won 10 of 13 starts since then, including seven stakes. He finished 2012 in a three-way tie for the most wins in North America with 10. "He still has it and, I think, hopefully, this is the beginning of a long campaign for 2013," Jacobson said.
Golden Gate Fields
Gallant Son worked his way through the leaders on the turn and into the stretch run of Monday's $50,000 Albany Stakes and got home first, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Moonshine Bay. Shrug finished third and the favorite, Bailoutheminister, was next-last of nine in a dull effort. Gallant Son, a 7-year-old son of Malabar Gold, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.18 with Julien Coulton up.