The last two big prep races for the Kentucky Derby didn't settle much as one went to a 40-1 long shot and the other to an artificial-track specialist who may not tackle the Run for the Roses. Meanwhile, three of the sport's older stars -- Wise Dan, Close Hatches and Will Take Charge -- won their weekend races, the latter thanks to a permissive stewards' ruling. On the international front, Lankan Rupee ran away with the Group 1 T J Smith Stakes in Australia and Harp Star took the Oka Sho, or Japanese 1,000 Guineas. First, on the Kentucky Derby front. Dance With Fate came from California to win Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland with a sweeping move around the early leaders. Medal Count, racing on just seven days' rest after winning on opening day of the Keeneland meeting, was up for second, 1 3/4 lengths back. The pacesetter, Pablo Del Monte, held on for third and Big Bazinga finished fourth. Dance With Fate, a Florida-bred son of Two Step Salsa, finished in a modest 1:50.06 over the all-weather track with Corey Nakatani up. The colt was coming off a second-place finish behind Tamarando in the Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields and also finished second behind that rival in the Grade I Del Mar Futurity. Both of those races were on all-weather tracks. He also has run well on turf and finished second on the dirt at Santa Anita in the Grade I Front Runner Stakes in September. He now has three wins and three seconds from seven starts for trainer Peter Eurton. "They were going a little slower than I anticipated," Nakatani said. "I was worried they were going a little too slow for me. I was worried we'd get to the front too soon because he has a tendency to wait." Asked about the colt's ability to get the 1 1/4 miles of the Kentucky Derby in three weeks' time, he said, "I don't have a doubt he'll do that. He's definitely a Derby horse. It's just a matter if he'll handle the Churchill Downs surface." Eurton echoed that doubt. "It's three weeks and kind of quick back. I know he loves synthetics better. Turf. I just don't know if he likes dirt," Eurton said. "When he gets hit in the face with dirt, it changes his way of running. He doesn't like it." He added Sunday he will wait a week before deciding on the May 3 Run for the Roses. Medal Count earned enough points to crack the Kentucky Derby field and trainer Dale Romans said all things being equal, despite the colt's recent exertions, he will be there. Nakatani said in his post-race interview this year's Kentucky Derby picture is as wide-open as he's ever seen it. That assessment was proved, in spades, about an hour later when Danza rallied from a pace-stalking trip to win the $1 million, Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park by 4 3/4 lengths. The Street Boss colt, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by Joe Bravo, went to the post at odds of 41-1. But when shown an opening on the rail at mid-stretch, he shot through and was well clear of Ride On Curlin at the wire. Bayern, previously undefeated in two starts in California, led much of the way and held third, just 1/2 length farther back, and Tapiture was fourth. Danza ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.68. He started twice as a 2-year-old, finishing third in the Grade II Saratoga Special before being put away for the season. In his only previous start this year, he finished a well-beaten seventh in an optional claiming event at Gulfstream Park. "Everything unfolded like a dream," said Bravo, who was riding Danza for the first time. "That was pretty cool down the lane. It's really fun to have a special horse like that and have him run like that. I'm not a fortune teller, but hopefully, in a couple of weeks we can do that again … You've got to take your hat off to Todd Pletcher. He knows how to bring them around at the right time of the year." Tapiture already has qualified for the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Steve Asmussen said he will ship to Churchill Downs Sunday "and we'll see where we go from there."
The final official Kentucky Derby prep is next weekend's Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Horse of the Year Wise Dan, the reigning, two-time U.S. Horse of the Year, got his 7-year-old career off to a successful start with a seemingly effortless victory in Friday's $300,000, Grade I Makers 46 Mile at Keeneland. With John Velazquez up, the Wiseman's Ferry gelding tracked the pace down the backstretch, came around the leaders turning for home and was in control throughout the stretch run. A 37-1 longshot, Kaigun, chased through the final sixteenth but came up 3/4 length short. Lochte was third and Za Approval, who finished second to Wise Dan in last fall's Breeders' Cup Mile, settled for fourth. Wise Dan was clocked in 1:34.91 and wasn't really asked for his best effort. "I was worried because of the winter and the (training) time we lost," said winning trainer Charles LoPresti. "I told Johnny just to give him an easy race and save him for the next one." Velazquez rode Wise Dan in four victories before the 2013 Breeders' Cup but was injured in a spill early in the card on the day of the Breeders' Cup Mile. Jose Lezcano, who had ridden Wise Dan earlier in his career, filled in and won by 3/4 length. LoPresti said he is looking toward the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at 1 1/8 miles on Kentucky Derby day at Churchill Downs as the next start for his light chestnut star. He won that race last year by 4 3/4 lengths and it was the last time he ran more than 1 mile. Owner and breeder Morton Fink, asked how it feels to have bred and own such a champion, said, "You think I have words to describe that?" Wise Dan had not raced since the Breeders' Cup, a similar schedule to the one LoPresti worked out for him last year. He won five of six races in 2013, finishing second in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, a race that came off the turf during a driving rainstorm. Classic Will Take Charge won Saturday's $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap -- but only after the stewards took a long, long look at a roughly run stretch battle. With Luis Saez up, Will Take Charge raced back of the leaders down the backstretch in the 9-furlong race and then came around the pack to vie for the lead turning into the lane. At that point, he appeared to lug in while Revolutionary was coming out. Golden Lad was pinched between the two and forced to take up. Will Take Charge went on to win, with Revolutionary second and Carve third. Both Gary Stevens, rider of Golden Lad, and Mike Smith, aboard Revolutionary, claimed foul and the stewards took more than 10 minutes to sort through the replays before letting the result stand. Will Take Charge was clocked in 1:49.55. The 4-year-old Unbridled's Song colt finished second in his first two starts of 2014, behind Lea in the Grade I Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park and Game On Dude in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap. "My horse ran really great," Smith said. He (Will Take Charge) came over a little bit. I had to wait. I would have liked to see what the outcome was (otherwise) because I only got beat a neck, and two jumps past the wire I was in front. It was a 50-50 call and I understand that. It was a judgment call and it just didn't go my way." Distaff Close Hatches had Friday's $600,000, Grade I Apple Blossom battened down from the instant the Oaklawn Park gate opened. With Joel Rosario nursing her speed, the First Defence filly led all the way and got home first by 1 1/4 lengths over On Fire Baby. Stanwyck finished third with Let Faith Arise and Rose to Gold completing the order of finish. Close Hatches got the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.75. "I was just concerned with making sure she didn't go too fast, so she'd have something left at the end and she did," Rosario said. "She's a great horse." It was her third straight win following a second-place finish behind Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff last fall. From 10 career starts, she has seven wins and two seconds. Her only bad race was a seventh-place finish in last year's Kentucky Oaks. "She's just a real professional," said winning trainer Bill Mott. "She's a real racehorse. She's got speed and she can carry it. She's well-bred and she's well mannered. She's a great shipper. She's really a pleasure." He said the Grade I Ogden Phipps on June 7 at Belmont Park is her likely next start. Joint Return rallied from last of seven to win Saturday's $65,000 Calder Oaks by 1 3/4 lengths over Florida Sun. It was a long way back to Flutterby in third. Joint Return, a daughter of Include, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:48.94 with Kendrick Carmouche in the irons. Filly & Mare Turf Hard Not to Like was a little hard to like before Saturday's $175,000, Grade I Jenny Wiley at Keeneland and the near-record crowd of 39,722 sent her to the post at odds of 13-1. But when jockey Javier Castellano spotted a hole along the rail and shot through it at mid-stretch, the gray Hard Spun mare shot right through it and went on to win by 12 length. Discreet Marq was second, just a nose in front of Abaco. The favorites, Stephanie's Kitten and Centre Court, were never in the mix. Hard Not to Like completed 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:42.38. It was her second straight win, following a victory in an optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 28. Hard Not to Like traveled behind the leaders and was blocked at mid-stretch until the rail opened at just the right moment. "I was a little concerned coming for home," Castellano said. "It was a little tight." Trainer Michael Matz said he hasn't formulated a plan for Hard Not to Like, who picked up her first Grade I win. Stormy Lucy hooked up with Miss Serendipity in the stretch run of Sunday's $150,000, Grade III Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita, finally prevailing by a neck. It was another 4 1/4 lengths back to Changethechannel in third. Stormy Lucy, a 5-year-old Stormy Atlantic mare, ran 1 1/4 miles on firm turf in 1:58.73 with Rafael Bejarano up. It was her first graded stakes win and eighth overall. "I knew how much horse I had at the three-eighths and I knew she was going to show me a big kick," Bejarano said. "I just wanted to make sure I was clear and away from any trouble." Trainer Ed Moger Jr. said he will look at the $300,000, Grade I Gamely Stakes on May 26. Sprint
Lemon Drop Dream was reserved off the pace early in Thursday's $300,000, Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, started to move around the turn and outfinished Alsvid to win by a neck. The latter dueled for the lead and finished a clear second, 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Apprehender. The favorite, Heitai, set a brisk early pace under Diego Saenz, then faded to finish last of five. Lemon Drop Dream, a 4-year-old colt by Lemon Drop Kid, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.15 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. "It was the best possible scenario," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "Heitai came in with the great form and somebody chose to tackle him. That perfectly worked out for us." Occasional View edged by a stubborn Dimension in the final sixteenth to win Saturday's $175,000, Grade III Commonwealth at Keeneland by 1 length. The favorite, Laugh Track, was in a traffic jam from the start out of the No. 1 post position, finally found running room late but settled for third. Occasional View, a 6-year-old Silver Deputy gelding, raced well off the pace but in the clear on the outside until asked for run on the turn. He quickly passed the others nad wore down Dimension late, finishing 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.77 with Alan Garcia in the irons. He won for the sixth time in 20 career starts with all but one of those victories coming on synthetic tracks. Winning trainer Ken McPeek said he had been trying to get Occasional View into an allowance race but that didn't fill. "This wasn't exactly according to plan," he said. Big Macher bid for the lead turning for home in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Potrero Grande Stakes at Santa Anita and battled to the wire before winning by a nose over the late-running Wild Dude. Cyclometer held the lead briefly, then faded to get home third. Big Macher, a 4-year-old Beau Genius gelding, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.97 with Tyler Baze riding. He finished second in the Grade II San Carlos in his last previous start. "He's a horse that's getting better and better," said winning trainer Richard Baltas. "I don't even know how to explain it." Brewing rallied to the lead at the top of the stretch in Friday's $100,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park and then held off 95-1 longshot Mister Pollard to win by 1/2 length. Da Winner Is, dispatched at 70-1 odds, finished third and the favorite, Pimpernel, got home ninth. Brewing, a Florida-bred colt by Maimonides, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.06 with Jon Court aboard. "He's gotten his act together and we think he's going to be a really good horse," said winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Dan the Tin Man was blocked at the top of the stretch in Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Jacques Cartier Stakes on the Woodbine all-weather course, finally found room and got clear to win by a neck over Victory Exchange. Really Sharp finished third and the favorite, Sharp Sensation, faded from the lead to finish next-last of seven. Dan the Tin Man, a 4-year-old Songandaprayer gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather course in 1:09.75 with David Garcia up. "It really wasn't the plan, but that's the way it worked out. I'm glad we got the job done," said Garcia. Filly & Mare Sprint Judy the Beauty took charge in the lane in Saturday's $300,000, Grade I Madison at Keeneland, kicking clear to score by 2 1/2 lengths over Better Lucky. Apropos was third and Heir Kitty finished fourth. Judy the Beauty, a 5-year-old daughter of Ghostzapper, finished 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.86. Jockey John Velazquez nudged her to the outside just behind the early leaders nearing the turn and she advanced relentlessly from there. "She broke really well. I had her where I wanted to be, close to the lead," Velazquez said. It was her second straight emphatic victory since she finished second, 1/2 length behind champion Groupie Doll, in last fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Despite her excellent record of six wins, seven seconds and a third in 14 previous starts, Judy the Beauty had never won a Grade I race. Owner/trainer Wesley Ward said the Madison triumph represented "vindication" for Judy the Beauty. "She's getting a lot more composed as she gets older." Street Story came from far back in Saturday's $100,000 Instant Racing for 3-year-old fillies at Oaklawn Park, then outfinished the favorite, Jojo Warrior, to win by 1/2 length. Adrianne G. finished third. Street Story, a Street Cry filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.20 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. She had won the Dixie Bell over the course in January but turned in two dull performances since that victory. Ready to Act lagged behind six rivals into the turn in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Beaumont Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland. But when she got rolling, the More Than Ready filly rolled by them all and won by 1/2 length despite repeating her tendency to lug in in the late going. Sweet Whiskey also ran well late but settled for second, 3/4 length ahead of Katie's Eyes. Ready to Act, with Javier Castellano up, ran about 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:28.08. She came into the race off a win in the Sweetest Chant Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Winning trainer Chad Brown said Castellano "did a great job once again keeping her straight. As you can see, she's a work in progress. We still have some things to work out with her, but if we do get her running straight down the lane, she's probably going to gain a few lengths." Uzziel, at 42-1, led from the early jumps in Friday's $75,000 Santa Paula Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and won 2 1/4 lenths over D'ya Knowwhatimean. Midnight Dream finished third and the favorite, Taste Like Candy, got home sixth. Uzziel, a Harlington filly, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:17.19 with Tyler Baze up. Sittin At the Bar led all the way in Friday night's $60,000 Hallowed Dreams Stakes at Evangeline Downs but then just lasted to win by 1/2 length over Afternoon Tango. Guadalupe High was third in a tough but short field. Sittin At the Bar, a 4-year-old Into Mischief filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.34 with Colby Hernandez in the irons. Sittin At the Bar has been nearly invincible while running in Louisiana but has fared less well when traveling. Turf Sprint In a parade of long shots, Marchman seized the lead early in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Shakertown at Keeneland and just held off Positive Side, who was charging up the rail. Something Extra finished third. With Robby Albarado up for trainer Bret Calhoun, Marchman finished 5 furlongs on firm turf in 1:02.36 and paid $49.60 to win. The favorite, Havelock, who had been 4-for-5 over the course, was never involved in the running and beat only a few tired rivals in his first start since finishing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last fall. "He broke exceptionally well … I went on with him and it worked out well," Albarado said. "That was Robby," Calhoun said, adding he thought the firm turf at Keeneland would help Marchman, who had spent a rather soggy winter at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Tribal Spy got the lead midway through the stretch in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Las Cienegas Stakes for fillies and mares down the hillside course at Santa Anita, then held on to win by a head over Llandudno. Sky High Gal faded from the lead to finish third. Tribal Spy, a 4-year-old Tribal Rule filly, ran about 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:12.12 with Joe Talamo in the irons. Sweet Swap led from the start in Sunday's $100,000, Grade II San Simeon down the Santa Anita hill and won by 1/2 length over Lakerville. Handsome Mike, who has had his issues over a variety of surfaces and distances, raced close to the lead and held third. Sweet Swap, a 5-year-old son of Candy Ride, finished about 6 1/2 furlongs of firm turf in 1:11.59 with Talamo riding. "It didn't look like there was a lot of speed in the race today, so we let him run a little more free," said winning trainer John Sadler. "I think he's a little better coming from off the pace, but that's the way the course is playing, so we let him run on." Dirt Mile Bourbonize was just up to win Saturday's $100,000 Northern Spur for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park, winning a neck over the favorite, Knock Em Flat. Fabulous Kid finished third. Bourbonize, a Tiz Wonderful gelding, got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.09 with Ramon Vazquez up. International:
Japan Harp Star rolled from the back of the big field to win Sunday's Group 1 Oka Sho, or Japanese 1,000 Guineas, at Hanshin Racecourse by a neck over Red Reveur. Nuovo Record was third. Harp Star, a Deep Impact filly, ran 1,600 meters in stakes-record time of 1:33.3. "It's as if she knew this was a big, Grade I race," said winning rider Yuga Kawada, "because she gave it her best." Harp Star finished second to Red Reveur in the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies last December. The third finisher in that race, Forevermore, checked in eighth in Sunday's running. Australia Lankan Rupee was in front and in charge all the way in winning Saturday's Group 1 T J Smith Stakes at Randwick with ease. The 5-year-old Redoute's Choice gelding won for the fifth straight time, easing under the wire a comfortable 2 lengths to the good of Rebel Dane. Buffering was a short head farther back in third and Gordon Lord Byron was sixth. Lankan Rupee, with Craig Newitt up, ran 6 furlongs over heavy going in 1:12.14. Although Royal Ascot looms as the logical target, trainer Mick Price said travel and risk seem hardly worth it as Lankan Rupee is a gelding. Newitt said the effort confirmed Lankan Rupee's status atop the world's sprinter rankings. "He wasn't overly confident in that sort of ground," Racing Post quoted the rider. "He just flew the lids, put himself on the bunny and was quite clearly the best horse in the race." In other racing: Gulfstream Park R Free Roll rolled freely to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Hollywood Beach Stakes for fillies and mares and coasted home first by 3 lengths over Pixie Devil. Salamara finished third. R Free Roll, a 4-year-old Rockport Harbor filly, negotiated 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.45 with Paco Lopez in the irons. Sunland Park
Isn't He Clever stuck close to the lead in Sunday's $75,000 Sunland Park Handicap, took control turning for home and won off by 9 1/2 lengths. Dry Summer was the best of the rest with Ol Winedrinker Who rallying from last to take third. Isn't He Clever, a 4-year-old Smarty Jones gelding, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.95 with Enrique Gomez up. The time was just 0.41 second off the track record set last year by Govenor Charlie.
Raider Red took charge in the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Copper Top Futurity for 2-year-old, New Mexico-bred colts and gelding and won by 3 1/2 lengths. Uncle Fudge was the best of the rest, a head in front of Maries H and H. Raider Red, a Diabolical gelding, ran 4 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 52.75 seconds. Alfredo Juarez Jr. had the mount. In the companion Copper Top Futurity for state-bred juvenile fillies, Miss B R H dueled her way to the lead and then kicked clear to a 3 3/4-lengths victory over Diabolical Dame. Storming Who contested the early pace and held third. Miss B R H, a Squall filly, finished in 51.56 with Juarez completing the stakes double.
Mico Margarita not only triumphed as the odds-on favorite in Saturday night's $60,000 Oak Hall Stakes but did so in track-record time of 1:08.37 for 6 furlongs. With Diego Saenz up, the 4-year-old Run Away and Hide colt let his rivals set a blistering early pace, then surged by and drew off to win by 8 3/4 lengths. Unitas beat the others, a neck in front of Knockitdownhard.
News and notes
Up with the Birds is the 2013 Canadian Horse of the Year. The Stormy Atlantic colt easily outpointed Forte Dei Marmi in the Sovereign Award balloting, announced during the weekend. Up with the Birds, owned and bred by Sam-Son Farms, accounted for the Grade I Jamaica Handicap during his 3-year-old season, along with the Black Gold, the Marine and the Breeders' Stakes. Malcolm Pierce is the trainer.
Evangeline Downs recorded a rare triple dead-heat for the win in the fifth race on Friday night. Chessie Slew, All in the Art and Memories of Trina all hit the wire together at the end of the $15,000 maiden claimer. Track officials said the last previous triple dead heat for win was in 1997 at Hollywood Park and only six have been recorded since 1990.