Pletcher saddled Winning Cause to a 1-length victory in the $200,000, Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, earning 20 points toward a potential start in the Kentucky Derby. But he was noncommittal about sending the Giant's Causeway colt to the Run for the Roses.
Meanwhile, Departed ran away with Saturday's $750,000, Grade III Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course -- a race that conspicuously was left off the list of qualifiers for the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Al Stall Jr. said he hopes to have a long run with the War Front gelding and is in no hurry to join the Triple Crown trail despite Departed's impressive performance.
That, of course, was not the only action of the weekend.
California thumper Game On Dude took his game on the road and came away with the winner's $1 million share of the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic in a gutsy performance. Successful Dan made a successful return after a 10-months absence. Kauai Katie continued to shine among 3-year-old fillies.
And away we go!
Departing won his first three starts before getting home third in the Grade II Louisiana Derby. After that, Stall said he wasn't interested in pressing the War Front gelding in an effort to make it to the Kentucky Derby so the $750,000 pot offered by Hawthorne for Saturday's Grade III Illinois Derby more than compensated for the lack of qualifying points. The outcome showed Churchill Downs' decision to snub the Hawthorne race might, ironically, have sent one of the year's better 3-year-olds to Illinois. Departing raced wide from the No. 13 post position, came around rivals to take the lead entering the long stretch run and extended the advantage easily to win by 3 1/4 lengths. Fordubai was a longshot second and Siete de Oros, who ran competitively in the New York Kentucky Derby preps, finished third. Departing ran the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:50.78 as a quick early pace slowed in the final furlongs. "It was our turn to have a nice trip," Stall said, referring to some unfortunate experiences in the Hawthorne Gold Cup in recent years. Asked whether Departing might move on to the Grade I Preakness at Pimlico on May 18, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, Stall said, "There's no sense talking about the Preakness. Let's wait and see what happens in the Derby. Maybe someone will jump up in that race and scare us off. We might go another direction." Hawthorne owner Tim Carey said he was "shocked" by Churchill Downs' decision last year not to include the Illinois Derby in its points system and went all out this year to show the race is worthy of participation. "We plan to go back down there and sit down with Churchill," he said. "We very much want to be part of the Road to the Derby."
Winning Cause, with Julien Leparoux in the irons, raced in mid-pack in the Lexington, swung four-wide into the lane and was along in time for the 1-length win over General Election. Pick of the Litter was a neck further back in third. Among the other well-fancied, Sunbean got home fifth and the only filly in the field, Pure Fun, finished seventh. She already is qualified for the Kentucky Oaks. Winning Cause ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:43.93. It was his third win but first in a stakes race. "We know he likes the surface and thought it was worth taking a shot," Pletcher said. He earned 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, which might be enough to get him into the Run for the Roses. Asked, Pletcher said, "I guess you can never have too many. But we never really talked about that with this colt. We'll see how he comes out of it and see. We're just happy to have this one." Pletcher already has five potential starters in the May 4 Run for the Roses, including the likely favorite, Verrazano. He also is likely to saddle four fillies in the May 3 Kentucky Oaks.
Kauai Katie, at a prohibitive price, dominated Sunday's $75,000 Road Princess Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct, leading all the way to a 3 1/4-lengths victory. Kelli Got Frosty, Secret Union and Kimono completed the order of finish. Kauai Katie, a daughter of Malibu Moon, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.32 under Javier Castellano. She now has six wins from seven starts with the only loss a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. That was the only time she was asked to go beyond 7 furlongs and her only time racing without Lasix. Sunday's race "was pretty much textbook, right there," said Michael McCarthy, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "The plan was to go ahead and let her run away from there and finish up nicely. It seemed she controlled the race from the start, set some nice fractions, didn't overdo it, got the job done." He said her next start is likely to be the $300,000, Grade I Acorn on Memorial Day at Belmont Park. That race is run as a one-turn mile.
Going into Saturday night's $1.5 million, Grade II Charles Town Classic, Game On Dude had been dominant in California but struggled when he traveled, with a record of just two wins from 10 starts on the road. That reputation may have been put to rest Saturday night in the West Virginia hills. Trainer Todd Pletcher double-teamed Bob Baffert's star, sending Percussion out to contest the lead with Game on Dude, hoping to soften up the favorite for his other starter, Caixa Eletronica. It didn't work. Percussion dropped back around the final turn but Caixa Eletronica never moved into contention. Instead, Game On Dude rolled on and held off fellow Californian, Clubhouse Ride, to win by 1/2 length. Ron the Greek was just a nose farther in arrears in third. Game On Dude, a 6-year-old Awesome Again gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:52.27 with Mike Smith up. For those interested in geographic pride, the first three finishers ran their last race at Santa Anita. The other three -- Percussion, Caixa Eletronica and Isn't He Perfect -- made their last starts at Aqueduct. The race offered $1 million of the total pot to the winner, boosting Game On Dude's earnings past $4.7 million. With a successful road trip under his belt and four straight wins to his credit, Baffert said Game On Dude will return to Southern California where he will campaign toward another try in the Breeders' Cup Classic. He finished second in that race in 2011 and seventh last year after a bad start.
The "other Dan" -- not Horse of the Year Wise Dan but his year-older half-brother, Successful Dan -- set a glacial pace in Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland and had plenty left late to win by 1 length over Boisterous. Richard's Kid was along for third. Successful Dan, a 6-year-old Successful Appeal gelding, got 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather course in 1:51.14 with Julien Leparoux taking it easy in the irons. He was making his first start since finishing second in the Grade III Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap last June 30. He now has eight wins, two seconds and a third from 12 career starts, including four graded stakes wins. "He's got a lot of talent, and his injuries here lately haven't been very bad," said winning trainer Charles LoPresti. "At Saratoga, he had some filling in his pastern. Probably I could have run him, but you want them to be 100 percent with a horse of this caliber. It wasn't that hard to get him back to this race." He said he will have to decide which of the "Dans" will run in the Grade I Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on June 15.
Fillies and mares
Disposablepleasure tracked the pace in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne Race Course, took over when asked by jockey jockey Javier Castellano and won off by 3 1/2 lengths. Brushed by a Star was second, 6 lengths better than Little Ms Protocol. Disposablepleasure, a 4-year-old daughter of 2005 Kentucky Derby winner Giocomo, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.19. "We were a little wide around the first turn," Castellano said. "But when you have the best horse, you don't want to get stuck behind other horses. I didn't think being three wide around the first turn in a small field was a big deal." The filly had tailed off in the last half of her 3-year-old season but now has won both her starts this year after a confidence-builder last month at Gulfstream Park.
Dance to Bristol waltzed home a 9-lengths winner in Saturday night's $200,000 Sugar Maple Stakes at Charles Town. After tracking the lead, jockey Xavier Perez let the 4-year-old Speightstown filly run and the race was over. Holiday Soiree was best of the rest with Bayonne third. Dance to Bristol ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.78. She now has six wins and seven seconds from just 14 career starts on the Maryland-New York-West Virginia tour.
Ice Cream Silence led early in Friday's $100,000 Hilliard Lyons Doubledogdare Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland, was headed and came again to win by a neck over Sisterhood. Artemus Kitten completed an all-longshot trifecta as the favorite, Mystical Star, finished fourth and 2011 Queen's Plate winner Inglorious never fired and finished an inglorious last -- remaining winless in eight tries since her Woodbine conquest. Ice Cream Silence, a 4-year-old Street Sense filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.66 under Rosie Napravnik. It was the first graded stakes win for Ice Cream Silence and her fourth overall. Trainer Rusty Arnold added to the recent chorus of praise for Napravnik's riding. "I told her I was confused by the race, by the speed. I said, 'You let her break, and I don't want to give you instructions.' Looks like she did a pretty good job."
On the grass
After 1 3/4 miles, Interaction got by All Squared Away in the final yards of Sunday's $150,000, Grade II San Juan Capistrano to win by a nose. Smart Ellis finished third and the favorite, Sky Kingdom, faded to finish last after setting the early pace. Interaction, a 6-year-old, Argentine-bred son of Easing Along, finished in 2:44.89 with Joe Talamo up for trainer Ron McAnally, who won the race for the third time. Charlie Whittingham won it 14 times. "We've only got 11 more to catch him," McAnally said. "We don't have that much of a chance with me being 80. But we're still here." He also won the race with the legendary John Henry in 1980 and with Amerique in 1998.
Summer Front overhauled pacesetting El Commodore in the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Miami Mile at Calder Race Course and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths over that one. Empire Builder finished third. Summer Front, a 4-year-old War Front colt, got home in 1:35.31 over good turf with Joe Bravo in the irons. "The entire time, I was scoping things out and watching the horses around us," Bravo said of his pace-stalking trip. "And all the time, my horse was in full control." He now has won six of 12 career starts.
Ladies on the lawn
Lady of Shamrock, the odds-on favorite, got home second in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita but then was awarded the win when the stewards ruled first-finisher Viva Carina interfered with the favorite in deep stretch. Caelis finished third. Lady of Shamrock, a 4-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy, was ridden by Rafael Bejarano whilst Viva Carina was partnered by Victor Espinoza. The race went in 2:00.91 over firm going. Bejarano said he came through an opening on the inside and Espinoza didn't know he was there. "It wasn't his fault," Bejarano said. "His filly just kept coming in. I tried to sneak through there, it wasn't his fault. I always make sure I have plenty of room, but sometimes the horses on the lead come in or change direction. That's part of the game."
Sprinting on the lawn
Chips All In caught pacesetting favorite Obviously in deep stretch to win Saturday's $100,000, Grade III San Simeon Stakes by 1/2 length. Chosen Miracle finished third. Chips All In, a 4-year-old North Light colt, ran the 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:11.28 with Tyler Baze in the irons. He now has six wins, four seconds and a third from 13 career starts against tough competition. Ral Ayers, assistant to winning trainer Jeff Mullins, said Obviously may have needed the race. "We'll take what we can get," he allowed.
Elsewhere around the ovals:
Saturday night was for pacesetters and favorites.
Free World, the even-money favorite, quickly freed his backers from any worries in the $85,000 Robert Hilton Memorial for 3-year-olds, shaking clear early and winning off by 6 1/2 lengths over Honour the Vow. Yougothatgoinforu finished third. Free World, a Stormy Atlantic colt ridden by Jose Lezcano, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.95.
Lucy's Bob Boy was a prohibitive favorite in the $50,000 Confucius Say Stakes for state-breds and ran like it. At the wire, the 4-year-old Flatter gelding was out front by 5 lengths with Rummy's Command best of the rest. Fred High finished third. Lucy's Bob Boy, with Gustavo Larrosa up, finished 7 furlongs in 1:25.05. Raced exclusively at Charles Town, Lucy's Bob Boy now has 11 wins and three seconds from 14 starts.
Yet another heavy favorite, Down Town Allen, used the speed-favoring surface to her advantage in the $50,000 Original Gold Stakes for state-bred distaffers. Down Town Allen, with Matthew McGowan in the irons, led from the start and won by 3 1/2 lengths over Autumn Affair. Runaway Babe got show money. The 7 furlongs went in 1:26.52.
The only losing favorite in any of the stakes on Saturday night's card was Immortal Eyes, who put in a late run from the back in the $50,000 Webb Snyder Charles Town Dash but could get no closer than 3 lengths to the pacesetter and winner, Fearsome. Yukon Wildcat finished third. The 4 1/2 furlongs took 50.67 seconds.
Dan the Tin Man was quickly on the lead in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Woodstock Stakes for 3-year-olds, opened a daylight lead and held on to win by 1/2 length over Five Iron. Power Phil finished third. Dan the Tin Man, a Florida-bred colt by Songandaprayer, got 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:10.21. Winning rider Patrick Husbands said he noted Dan the Tin Man had broken his maiden at Woodbine last summer, adding, "I told myself to try and steal it. I thought if he could run back to that (performance), he'd win this race."
Rootham Triple E's got first run to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 (Canadian) Star Shoot Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and held off the favorite, Leinan, to win by 1/2 length. Fun in D' Sun finished third. Rootham Triple E's, an Ontario-bred Weather Warning filly, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.87 with Justin Stein up. "She's a pretty serious horse, attitude-wise, in the morning," Stein said. "She trains hard. Every time I've been on her, she just has her mind on her business. When that horse came to her, she wouldn't let her go by."
Jewel of a Cat pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Stormy Blues Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, got by on the outside of the leader and shot clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Ek Haseena followed the winner and finished second and Sense of Reality was third. Jewel of a Cat, a daughter of Wildcat Heir, ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 59.09 with Christopher DeCarlo up. The race originally was carded for the turf.
Bold Affair, the odds-on favorite, engaged pacesetter Irish Exchange in the stretch run of Saturday's $75,000 Primonetta Stakes for fillies and mares and won a battle to the wire by 1/2 lengths. Srumdiddlyumptious got home third. Bold Affair, a 5-year-old Two Punch mare, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.19 with Abel Castellano Jr. aboard.
Eighttofasttocatch lived right up to his name in Saturday's off-the turf, $75,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes, leading all the way to a 5-lengths win. Lubango was second and Concealed Identity finished third. Eighttofasttocatch, a 7-year-old Not For Love gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:43.91 under Forest Boyce.
Procurement rallied through the stretch to win Sunday's $70,000 La Puente Stakes for 3-year-olds by 3 1/2 lengths. Little Jerry finished second and Counting Days was third. Procurement, a Milwaukee Brew colt, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.33 under Garrett Gomez.
Calder Race Course
Starship Truffles, this edition's "name of the week," took charge late in Saturday's $55,000 Musical Romance Stakes for fillies and mares and went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Bahia Beach finished second and Centrique was third. Starship Truffles, a 4-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:19.99 with Jesus Rios up.
Jossy Do It upset Saturday night's $50,000 Hallowed Dreams Stakes for 3-year-old fillies in a big way. Leading from the start from the inside gate, the Proud Accolade filly kicked clear late to win by 5 3/4 lengths at 12-1 odds. Ada Mae was second and the favorite, My Lady Lauren, settled for third. Jossy Do It, with Eddie Martin Jr. in the irons, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:03.92.
Lattin Devil kicked clear in the lane in Thursday's $50,000 Inaugural Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, winning off by 7 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Hardrock Eleven. Successful Story's minor success was taking show money. Lattin Devil, a daughter of Latent Heat, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in track-record time of 1:08.63 with Donnie Meche providing only the most minor encouragement.
The Iowa oval kicked off its stakes schedule in exciting fashion with a nip-and-tuck stretch battle in Saturday night's $50,000 Golden Circle Stakes for 3-year-olds. Vannistelrooy Star got to the front and battled gamely to the wire with the favorite, King Henry, before prevailing by a nose. Favorite Uncle was third, 2 1/2 lengths farther back. Vannistelrooy Star, a gelded son of Van Nistelrooy, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.00 under David Mello.
Candy Bites was up late to win Saturday's $50,000 Howard B. Noonan Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-olds by 1/2 length over Plain of Willard. Blazing Bling finished third. Candy Bites, a Candy Ride colt, finished 6 furlongs on a good track in 1:12.90 under Yuri Yaranga.
Devon's Spirit rallied from last of eight to win Saturday's $50,000 Russell and Helen Foutz Distaff Handicap for New Mexico-breds by 1 1/4 lengths over Gossip Dome. Iplaytricks finished third. Devon's Spirit, a 6-year-old Premeditation mare, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:18.62 with Duane Sterling up.
News and Notes
The Sovereign Awards, honoring the best in Canadian Thoroughbred racing, were announced this week by the Jockey Club of Canada. Horse of the Year is Uncaptured, who won five of his six starts in 2012, including the Grade III Iroquois and Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club, both at Churchill Downs. He also was named champion 2-year-old male. Others: Jockey, Luis Contreras; apprentice jockey, Scott Williams; trainer, Mark Casse; owner, John Oxley; breeder, William Graham; broodmare, Misty Mission; 2-year-old filly, Spring in the Air; 3-year-old filly, Irish Mission; 3-year-old male, Strait of Dover; older female, Roxy Gap; older male, Hunters Bay; female sprinter, Roxy Gap; male sprinter, Essence Hit Man; female turf horse, Irish Mission; male turf horse, Riding the River; photograph, Michael Burns; digital audio/visual and broadcast, Horse Racing Alberta and Whiteiron Prod; writing, Denise Ryan. Congratulations to all.