Kentucky Derby candidates Destin and Danzing Candy scored minor upsets in Florida and California on Saturday as the Road to the Roses rolled through its quarterfinal round.
In other weekend racing action, Tepin continued to dominate the distaff turf ranks and is being touted for the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot and Melatonin posted a big upset in the Santa Anita Handicap.
Salutos Amigos might be headed back to Dubai for another try at the Golden Shaheen after a weekend victory at Aqueduct, and Chautauqua still might be a logical candidate for a swing in England despite a loss Saturday at home in Australia.
Let's take a swing around the ovals.
The Road to the Roses
Danzing Candy got away to a good start in Saturday's $400,000, Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita and was never seriously challenged, winning by 2 lengths over the favorite, Mor Spirit. Exaggerator was third. Smokey Image, moving up from the state-bred ranks with a sparkling record, was a disappointment, finishing fifth of six, never in the mix. Cupid was a late scratch. Danzing Candy, a Twirling Candy colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track -- a tip of the hat to the track crew after Friday's deluge! -- in 1:43.04 with Mike Smith in the irons. Danzing Candy now has won three straight races for trainer Clifford Sise Jr. after a learning experience in his first start. Smith said the plan was to go to the lead no matter what and see what happened. "We did it. I left there very aggressive and he didn't get away with anything. If you go twenty-two on this track today, you're smokin'. And for him to hold off the caliber of horses he held off, was very impressive." Size said Danzing Candy "is good now," adding he will stay home for the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 9. "He's 3-for-3 on this track. Why would we change now?" Mor Spirit's rider, Gary Stevens, said his horse gave a good account of himself considering "he was way too keen in the early part of the race." Trainer Bob Baffert said he, too, will tackle the Santa Anita Derby and Exaggerator's trainer, Keith Desormeaux, said ditto.
As February wound down, the question was, will Todd Pletcher even have a Kentucky Derby horse this year? After Saturday's $350,000, Grade II Tampa Bay Derby, it's pretty clear he'll have at least two or three. Pletcher saddled the two top finishers -- Destin and Outwork -- and those two left the rest of the field well in their wake as Destin got home in course-record time of 1:42.82. Destin won by 1 length over his stablemate, doubling down on his victory last month in the Sam F. Davis over the course and distance. Star Hill was 7 lengths behind in third. The favorite, Brody's Cause, making his first start since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was never in the mix after being bumped at the start and finished seventh. Destin, a Giant's Causeway colt, won at first asking at Belmont Park in October. Outwork, by Uncle Mo, also won his first start, at Keeneland during last year's spring meeting. He then was put away, returning to win an optional claimer at 6 furlongs at Tampa Bay a month ago. "I was very, very pleased with his performance," Pletcher said of Destin. "He seems to be getting more and more professional and is learning how to finish his races. I felt he would improve with more experience and that is proving to be true. After his first two races, he was still piecing things together, but he has gotten better with experience. We will assess him but probably he would not come back in the Florida Derby, which leaves the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby as possibilities." While Pletcher concentrated on the winner, he did not forget about the lightly raced runner-up. "For Outwork to put forth that type of performance in only his third start is quite impressive," Pletcher said. "We were hoping he would move forward and he certainly ran well enough to put himself in the next round of preps, where hopefully he will move forward again." Pletcher also has Zulu, who finished second to top Derby prospect Mohaymen in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream.
Surgical Strike circled most of the big field entering the stretch run in Saturday's $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park, blew right by his rivals and drew off to a 2 1/2-lengths victory. Florida invader Whatawonderflworld was second, 3 3/4 lengths to the good of Sawyers Mickey. Surgical Strike, a Red Giant colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.12 with Orlando Mojica in the irons. Surgical Strike finished fourth in the Grade III Dania Beach on the grass at Gulfstream Park in January, then returned to northern Kentucky to run third in the WEBN Stakes last month. "He was a little bit farther back than maybe we drew it up," said winning trainer Ben Colebrook. "But the horse has a got a big turn of foot when you cut him loose, so I was never really too worried. He's still not used to getting dirt in his face because he's run primarily on the grass until these last few starts, so that was a very good lesson for him." He said Surgical Strike likely will return in three weeks for the Grade III Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes. Long-time Turfway Park race caller Mike Battaglia hung up his binoculars after this race, named for his father. Now a feature on national television racing broadcasts, Battaglia said he will return only to call this race in future years.
Abiding Star jumped right to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Private Terms Stakes at Laurel Park, opened a daylight lead and was kept to his task in the late going, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Flash McCaul. Whiskey Tree was third and the favorite, Charmed Victory, was never involved, beating only one rival. Abiding Star, the longest shot on the tote board, ran about 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.61 with Jevian Toledo in the irons. The bay colt is by Uncle Mo out of the Dynaformer mare Abiding. "He's just maturing...coming into himself," said Mary Allard, wife and assistant to winning trainer Edward Allard. "Typically, 3-year-old colts, they're not always real smart. Sometimes they need more time to get themselves together. And he's getting things together." He is not nominated to the Triple Crown but Allard said he might get a try in the Federico Tessio on April 9 -- often a prep for the Preakness.
Terra Promessa raced behind the early speed in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park, ranged up three-wide around the turn and took command in the stretch, drawing off to win by 6 1/2 lengths. The odds-on favorite, Nickname, trailed home in second, 4 1/2 lengths in front of pacesetter Evolution. Terra Promessa, a Curlin filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy, sealed track in 1:47.14 with Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons. It was her third straight win, dating back to her maiden-breaker at Churchill Downs last November. The name means Promised Land in Italian. Steve Asmussen, who trains the top two, said, "The way the races have been playing the last few days, I think her natural style played very favorably for today. I think Terra Promessa has benefited from being here ... She's come along awfully nicely. Her being a Curlin filly makes it very special for myself. Having Curlin have another graded stakes winner is very exciting." He said he hopes to run Terra Promessa back in the Grade III Fantasy Stakes April 9 at Oaklawn. Corey Nakatani, who rode Nickname, said the filly struggled with the off track.
Sophia's Song, the odds-on favorite, lived up to her notices in Saturday's $75,000 Caesar's Wish Stakes at Laurel Park, leading comfortably all the way to a 4-lengths victory. Great Soul and In the Navy Now completed the trifecta. Sophia's Song, a Bellamy Road filly trained by Todd Pletcher, got 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.40 with Victor Carrasco riding. She now has three straight wins with the first two at Woodbine last November and Gulfstream Park on Dec. 30. Owner Bill Mathis said Sophia's Song had been slotted for the Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 27. "But we didn't feel she was quite ready for that competition with Cathryn Sophia so we thought it was better to come up here and try this race and see if we can get her to win a stakes race, and that's what happened," Mathis said. "Clearly, there's a lot of options when you have a 3-year-old filly right now."
Melatonin came into Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Santa Anita Handicap -- The Big Cap -- with only three wins to his credit and those a maiden score and two optional claimers. In none of his 10 previous starts had the 5-year-old Kodiak Kowboy gelding raced on the lead. That all changed in 2:02.01. Jockey Joe Talamo shot Melatonin out of the gate, battled fellow long shot General a Rod for the lead and then opened up daylight on the field, winning by 4 1/2 lengths. Hard Aces got by the favorite, Effinex, to take second by 1/2 length. Imperative was fourth. In his first 10 starts combined, Melatonin had earned $168,552. His Big Cap paycheck was $600,000. Talamo said after Melatonin's last race, he was convinced the horse wanted to go farther and trainer David Hofmans credited the rider. "Joe was instrumental in running in this race," Hofmans said. "After his last race he said we have to run here. Joe was convinced after his last race. He said he loves this race track, he's so strong and he had so much horse left, I think he wants to run even farther. And I was convinced he was a miler." Hofmans said he's not sure what's next for his horse. Mike Smith, who rode Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up Effinex, said his mount "ran great. That was his first race in just over three months, going a mile and a quarter. I mean, that was impressive. You can't ask for much better."
Adirondack King swept to the lead on the stretch turn in Saturday's $100,000 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, then held off a late run from the early trailer, Neck 'n Neck, winning by 1/2 length from that one. Breaking Lucky was third and the favorite, Outlash, faded to finish fifth. Adirondack King, a 7-year-old Lawyer Ron gelding, got 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.15 under Javier Castellano. It was his first start since last July 18 as he struggled with foot issues. Trainer John Servis said the owners decided if the old warrior couldn't return at a suitable level, he would be retired. "He's been so good to us that if he couldn't come back at least as an allowance horse, they were going to let him be a lawn ornament instead of running him for a claiming price. Those are the kind of people you like to see do well," Servis said.
Turco Bravo outfinished Dontbetwithbruno in the late going to win Sunday's $125,000 Stymie Stakes at Aqueduct by 1 length. Madefromlucky was third. Turco Bravo, a 7-year-old, Chilean-bred gelding, ran 9 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:50.96 after being overlooked at the mutuel windows. He was dispatched at better than 20-1 odds even though he won this event last year. He had not won in eight intervening starts. "He trained real well heading into the race," said John Campo, assistant to winning trainer Gary Contessa. "We took a shot, and it all worked out. Manny rode him very well. He's won the Stymie two years in a row, so it's all good."
Filly & Mare Turf
Tepin had a lot to do as the field hit the far turn in Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. Isabella Sings, under John Velazquez, shot out of the gate and opened up a lead of some 20 lengths down the backstretch. Around the turn and into the lane, Isabella Sings still looked home free. But Tepin, the Breeders' Cup Mile winner and victor in six of her previous eight starts, was not to be denied. Put to a drive by jockey Julien Leparoux, the 5-year-old Bernstein mare reeled in the leader and won by 1 length. Isabella Sings, still game, held second by 5 lengths over 90-1 long shot Lovely Loyree. Tepin ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in a course-record 1:46.26. Winning trainer Mark Casse said before the race the distance was a bit of a question but, as things worked out, his mare needed it. "I was a little worried after the first quarter-mile, but I'm happy," Casse said. "I'm always nervous. It's funny, the distance worked in our favor today. She's quite a horse. She can do a little bit of everything. That's what makes her so amazing." The British racing establishment is boosting her stock for Royal Ascot.
Baciami Piccola, making her first U.S. start off an eight-month layoff, came flying down the outside to win a tight victory in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Florida Oaks on the Tampa Bay Downs turf. Enjoy Yourself was second and Family meeting third. The favorite, Ava's Kitten, lacked room at mid-stretch and finished fifth after finally finding room on the rail. Baciami Piccola, a British-bred filly by Equiano, raced in Italy last year with one win from three starts. Brian Lynch now trains her and Julien Leparoux steered her over 1 1/16 miles of firm turf in 1:42.20. Lynch said Baciami Piccola took some time adjusting to U.S. racing and it was not until Leparoux got on her that she started to pick up. "She is a very difficult filly to ride and can be temperamental, but they seemed to get along fantastic," Lynch said. Leparoux added, "Today she broke good, and I took her back and saved ground around the turn. I knew if I found some room in the stretch, she was going to kick nice for me. We had questions before the race because this was her first time to go that far, but she competed. She has some guts." The name means "Little Kiss" in Italian.
Mirage rallied from last of 10 to win Saturday's $75,000 China Doll Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita. Lady Valeur was just a neck farther back in second and a nose ahead of Nodiac. The favorite, Pacific Heat, showed the way but settled for fourth, just another 1/2 length in arrears. Mirage, an Irish-bred daughter of Oasis Dream, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:37.43 with Alonso Quinonez up.
It was Uruguay, Chile and Brazil 1-2-3 at the end of Sunday's $200,000, Grade II San Luis Rey Stakes at Santa Anita and those who figured out that puzzle -- with a 71-1 shot on top -- were rewarded with a $6,197 return on a $1 trifecta ticket. See the IRS man. Generosidade, a 7-year-old, Uruguayan-bred mare, rallied from mid-pack, split rivals at the top of the lane and went on to post the shocker by 1 1/2 lengths over Chilean product Quick Casablanca. Energia Fribby, representing Brazil, was just a neck farther back in third. The favorite, Big John B, finished seventh. Generosidade, with Tiago Pereira up, finished 1 1/2 miles on good turf in 2:28.80. It was his first win in four tries in the United States. "She's a marathon horse," said winning trainer Paulo Lobo. "She loves the distance and we were looking for a mile and a half. I think the rain (a Friday deluge) helped me because she's 7 years old, she has issues, little problems, and the softer ground helped her." He said a decision will be made this week whether to breed her this season.
What a View led from the start in Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita, shook clear in the stretch and won by 3 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Bolo. Bal a Bali finished third. What a View, a 5-year-old Vronsky gelding, ran 1 mile on good turf in 1:35.57 under Kent Desormeaux. It was his third straight win and followed a pace-stalking victory in the California Cup Turf Classic at 9 furlongs on Jan. 30. "We've had some issues with his feet and I just wanted to keep him on the grass," said winning trainer Kenny Black. "There were some really tough horses in here: Bolo, Bal a Bali and Om, so we knew we were going to have to run big to win."
Dressed in Hermes got past pacesetting It's the Ice at mid-stretch in Sunday's $75,000 Pasadena Stakes for 3-year-olds at Santa Anita and edged clear, beating that rival by 3/4 length. Sorryaboutnothing was third. Dressed in Hermes, a Hat Trick gelding, finished 1 mile on good turf in 1:37.71 with Mike Smith riding. Trainer Janet Armstrong tried the gelding on the main track in the Robert Lewis, where he finished fourth, beaten nearly 8 lengths.
Kobe's Back rallied four-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $300,000, Grade II San Carlos at Santa and passed all seven rivals before getting clear to a 1 1/4-lengths victory. Coastline and Calculator also ran well late to finish second and third. Kobe's Back, a 5-year-old son of Flatter, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.20 with Gary Stevens up. He finished a closing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland last fall, then returned to California to win the Grade II Palos Verde at Santa Anita last month. Stevens said Kobe's Back has improved with age, experience and the addition of blinkers. "What I found out is that he's not only a great stretch runner but he's a good turn runner," Stevens said. "And that wasn't the case last year. With a little time off and the addition of blinkers he seems a lot more focused." Trainer Peter Eurton said Kobe's Back likely will go next in the Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day.
Salutos Amigos started last in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Tom Fool Handicap at Aqueduct and had to come around the field into the stretch to make progress. No matter as the 6-year-old Salute the Sarge gelding got the job done, sprinting past his rivals and winning by 2 1/2 lengths. Always Sunshine and Stallwalkin' Dude completed the trifecta. Salutos Amigos, with Cornelio Velasquez up, ran 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:10.17. A consistent graded stakes competitor with two recent runner-up finishes in California, Salutos Amigos also won this last year but had not visited the winner's circle since the Mr. Prospector at Monmouth Park last June. Trainer David Jacobson said the plan was to take back -- but perhaps not as far as what happened. "Taking him back and making that one run that Cornelio does so well, he's back to the way he used to be," Jacobson said. Asked whether Salutos Amigos still might be a candidate for Dubai, where he finished eighth in the Group 1 Golden Shaheen last year, Jacobson said, "That'll be a phone call I'll have to make to (part-owner) Mike Moreno. But it's in the cards, let's put it that way."
Chautauqua was giving up weight to all rivals, got going a little late from the outside post position in Saturday's Group 1 Lexus Newmarket Handicap at Flemington and had to settle for third, behind long shots The Quarterback and Black Heart Bart. The Quarterback, trained by Robbie Griffins and ridden by Craig Newitt, prevailed by a neck with Chautauqua about another 1/2 length back. The 1,200 meters down the straight took 1:09.23. The 5-year-old Street Boss gelding was coming off a sixth-place showing in the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate at Caulfield two weeks earlier. Chautauqua, who passed up the Group 1 Longines Hong Kong Sprint last December, now is a candidate for Royal Ascot. The race has been a steppingstone to Ascot glory for the likes of Black Caviar.
Awesome Rock just held off Preferment in the final strides of Saturday's Group 1 Australian Cup at Flemington but came out into that rival in the late going badly enough that the stewards reversed the order of finish, handing the win to Preferment. "It's not the ideal way but it's a pretty good feeling all the same," said Preferment's trainer, Chris Waller. Preferment had tracked Awesome Rock through most of the 2,000 meters, closed the gap on the outside in the stretch run and appeared to get a bit sideways just inside the 300 meters as Awesome Rock drifted out. Preferment, a 4-year-old son of Zabeel, was making his first start of the season and scored his first win since the Group 1 Turnbull last October.
At Rosehill Gardens on Saturday, Peeping upset the Group 1 Coolmore Classic, dispatching Azkadellia by 1/2 length with the favorite, Solicit another 1/2 length in arrears in third. Peeping, a 4-year-old daughter of Redoute's Choice, ran 1,500 meters in 1:27.53 with Sam Clipperton in the irons.
Also at Rosehill Gardens, Hattori Hanzo got the best of a mad scramble to the wire in the Group 2 Cellarbrations Phar Lap Stakes for 3-year-olds, followed in a tight photo across the track by Man of Choice, Believe and the favorite, Old North. The latter was short of running room midway down the stretch and gaining at the end. Hattori Hanzo, a Seabring gelding with Noel Callow up, scored his third straight win while stepping up in class.
Lunar Gaze came running late in Friday night's $75,000, restricted Gold Coast Stakes for fillies and mares and edged front-running Steel Cut by a head. Tough Jeans was another 2 lengths in arrears in third but a head in front of the favorite, Forest Lake. Lunar Gaze, a 4-year-old Malibu Moon filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.21 with Gerard Melancon up.
Great Minds rallied outside the early leaders in the stretch run in Saturday's $75,000 restricted Borgata Stakes and got clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Fear the Cowboy was second and Teniente Coronel, the odds-on favorite, salvaged show money after leading much of the way. Great Minds, a 5-year-old Stroll gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.77 with C.J. McMahon up.
Believeinsomething believed in getting right down to business in Saturday's $60,000 Red Camelia Stakes for Louisiana-bred distaffers, leading from the first jumps and winning by 3 lengths over Another Pinot. Safari Calamari was third and the favorite, Discreetly Grand, faded to get home fourth. Believeinsomething, a 4-year-old filly by Etbauer, ran the off-the-turf mile in 1:39.04 on the fast main track under Mitchell Murrell.
Strawberry Baby showed the way in Saturday's $60,000 Big Easy Stakes for fillies and mares, turned back a challenge from Lindisfarne and went on to win by 1 length over that foe. Anusara was third. The 5 1/2-furlongs sprint also came off the turf and Strawberry Baby, a 4-year-old Warrior's Reward filly, finished the same distance on the fast main track in 1:05.34 with Colby Hernandez in the irons.
Power Alert dueled to the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Silks Run Stakes, opened a daylight lead and held on to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, Amelia's Wild Ride. Do the Roar was third. Power Alert, a 6-year-old, Australian-bred gelding by the Argentine-bred sire Alert, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 54.83 seconds with Luis Saez at the controls.
Miss Matzoball was along late to upset Saturday's $75,000 Captiva Island Handicap for fillies and mares, winning by 1/2 length over Katie's Kiss. The favorite, Jewel of a Cat, settled for show money, 1 1/2 lengths farther back. Miss Matzoball, a 4-year-old daughter of Smoke Glacken, finished 5 furlongs on the green course in 54.62 seconds with Edgard Zayas in the irons.