With less than a month to go until the Kentucky Derby, Florida Derby winner Empire Maker still looks like the one to beat - unless he stubs his hoof in next Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
Weekend action, including Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, left plenty of question marks about the Run for the Roses.
Buddy Gil won the premier West Coast prep for the Kentucky Derby, getting to the front at the top of the stretch and narrowly holding off a lightly raced newcomer from the barn of trainer Bob Baffert, Indian Express, who was making his first start around two turns. The margin at the line was a head and the 1 1/8 mile took 1:49.36.
Kafwain, the runner-up in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was 2 1/4 lengths farther back in third and the favorite, Atswhatimtalknabout, was a poor fourth.
Trainer Jeff Mullins said he is "definitely thinking Derby" for Buddy Gil, a son of Eastern Echo. But there's a problem with that. Mullins said Sunday the colt did "bleed slightly" during the Santa Anita Derby despite running on Lasix. According to California rules, Buddy Gil therefore cannot work for 14 days and needs a supervised work to be removed from the "bleeder list."
Baffert said Indian Express, a son of 1998 Santa Anita Derby winner Indian Charlie, will move along to the Kentucky Derby. He is a Utah-bred. Kafwain also will ship to Louisville, Baffert said.
And trainer Ron Ellis said Atswhatimtalknabout also is still on the Road to the Roses. "There's a lot of horses that have lost this race and gone on to win the Kentucky Derby," he said hopefully.
Ministers Wild Cat was scratched from the Santa Anita Derby with a bruised right hind foot and trainer Neil Drysdale said he may make his next start in the April 12 California Derby.
Empire Maker, meanwhile, worked 6 furlongs at Hollywood Park Sunday morning in 1:13. "Everything is good with him," said trainer Bobby Frankel. "He did it exactly the way I wanted him to." He said he planned to ship the colt to New York Monday.
In other Kentucky Derby preps during the weekend:
-- Ten Most Wanted, with Pat Day aboard, proved he's "turning into a real professional" besting a field of 10 to win aturday's $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course. Ten Most Wanted, a son of Deputy Commander, covered the 1 1/8-mile in 1:51.47. Fund of Funds was 4 lengths back in second and Foufa's Warrior finished third, another eight lengths back. Lone Star Sky was fourth. Gotham winner Alysweep struggled home ninth. Trainer Wally Dollase said it's likely Ten Most Wanted will make his next start in the Kentucky Derby. " have to talk it over with the owners -- there's a lot of them," Dollase said. He noted this was only the fourth start for the dark brown colt. "He's improved every time," Dollase said. "He's becoming a real professional. ... I know the owners will want to head to the Kentucky Derby and this horse is bred to go a mile-and-a-quarter." Last year's Illinois Derby winner, War Emblem, went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
-- Dynever came from well off the pace to win Saturday's $250,000 Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream Park, beating favored Supah Blitz by 3 1/4 lengths. Massive was far back in third. Trainer Christophe Clement said Dynever, a son of Dynaformer, "has been training great from day one. How good he is, I don't know." But Clement said he is leaning toward sending the colt to the May 10 Lone Star Derby, rather than the big show. Anyone still looking to buy a Kentucky Derby prospect, though, should call Manny Tortora about Supah Blitz, a son of Mecke. "I had some offers on him earlier in the year," Tortora said. "I'm going to see if somebody has more money than I have brains." Supah Blitz has run second in the Fountain of Youth, third in the Tropical Park Derby and fourth in the Florida Derby.
THIS WEEKEND: In addition to the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, Keeneland hosts the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and Oaklawn is the site of the Arkansas Derby.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Elloluv slowed down the pace in Saturday's $500,000 Ashland Stakes, then had plenty of gas left to win easily. Lady Tak was second, 3 3/4 lengths back, with Holiday Lady third. Ivanavinalot, who has shipped a lot and run a lot in the first quarter of the year, was seventh and last. Elloluv, shipped in from California by trainer Craig Dollase, ran the 1 1/16 mile under Robby Albarado in 1:43.58. "Robby did a great job slowing down the pace," said Dollase. "Then when he came into the stretch, he let her open up just like you want to do at Keeneland." He said Elloluv, a daughter of Gilded Time, "has more in the tank for the Oaks."
--It was snowing at Woodbine on Saturday for the $125,000 Star Shoot Stakes so it's hard to understand how Winter Garden could have gone to the post at 12-1 odds. She did, and the Roy filly got the job done, dodging the flakesto win by 1/2 length over heavily favored Hour of Justice. Buffalo Jump was third. Winter Garden ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.04.
In other weekend racing:
The spa at Hot Springs hosted two of racing's handicap superstars on Saturday.
Medaglia d'Oro broke on top in the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, cruised easily around the course for jockey Jerry Bailey and finished first, a comfortable 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Slider. Kudos was third with Crafty Shaw and Gold Tango completing the order of finish. Medaglia d'Oro, a 4-year-old son of El Prado, ran 9 furlongs in 1:47.66. "Not really cranked up for this one, but I thought we could get away with it," admitted winning trainer Bobby Frankel. "The Japanese have already tried to buy him. I am happy we passed the Dubai race. Next start is the Pimlico Special." Added Bailey, "He usually wants to pull away from the rest as he comes around the final turn. But today he waited for me to ask him for his best. I think that's a real good sign." Right. Otherwise, we wouldn't need jockeys.
Reigning "Horse of the Year" Azeri, making her first start since the Breeders' Cup Distaff, broke poorly in the $500,000 Apple Blossom, raced under restraint until the final turn, then had just enough to collar Take Charge Lady and win by a head. Mandy's Gold was third. Azeri, a 5-year-old Jade Hunter mare, raced under restraint early in the race, then came four-wide to get clear for a run at the lead. She finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.00 for jockey Mike Smith. "Champions overcome obstacles," said winning trainer Laura de Seroux. "It was her first start in a while and she didn't break well....She won today off only four works, none with company or out of the gate." Smith said Azeri "went after the leader the way a champion does and about three or four strides from the wire, I was confident she was going to catch her."
On Sunday, McKinney had the best run in the stretch and got up to win the $50,000 Bayakoa Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over Majority Whip. Red n'Gold was third. McKinney, a 5-year-old daughter of El Prado, ran 1 1/16 mile over a wet/fast track in 1:44.35. "There wasn't much pace in the race and I was able to stay close without asking my filly for any kind of speed," explsined winning rider Carlos Marquez Jr.
White Cat, who is a chestnut, battled gamely with Deep Shadow through the stretch run in Friday's $100,000 Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-olds before prevailing by a head. Christmas Away was third, with the favorite, Remind, checking in fourth. White Cat, a son of Mountain Cat, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.98. Winning rider Shane Sellers, admitting to fighting back tears at his return to riding, said, "I love Keeneland. I love horse racing and I am glad to be back."
Sunday, Posse got to the lead with a furlong to go in the $100,000 Lafayette Stakes for 3-year-olds and drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Roll Hennessy Roll. Bossanova was third and Whywhywhy was fourth. Posse, a Kentucky-bred son of Silver Deputy, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.14 for Corey Lanerie.
Classic Endeavor shot right to the front in Saturday's $200,000 Excelsior Breeders' Cup and never looked back, holding Balto Star safe by 1/2 length under the wire. Tempest Fugit was third and the favorite, Snake Mountain, slithered home fourth. Classic Endeavor, a 5-year-old son of Silver Buck, ran 9 furlongs in 1:48.10 for jockey Charles Lopez. "Chuckie did just what I thought he would do - he made everyone else chase him," said winning trainer Scott Schwartz. "It was very nice to get the win today," he added, referring to Classic Endeavor's loss to Snake Mountain by a nose in the Stymie Handicap on March 16.
Western Pride took the lead on the turn for home in Saturday's $150,000 San Bernardino Handicap, then held Total Impact at bay to win by a neck. Fleetstreet Dancer was third. Western Pride, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Way West, ran 9 furlongs in 1:48.56, coming off a long layoff. "He ran great. I'm pleased," said winning trainer James Chapman, who added he hasn't picked out the horse's next race.
Also Saturday, Heat Haze rolled down the stretch to win the $100,000 Las Cienegaas Handicap by 3 lengths over Icantgoforthat. The favorite, Paga, was third. Heat Haze, a British-bred son of Green Desert, finished the 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:13.11.
Sunday, Century City rallied from off the pace to win the $150,000 Arcadia Handicap by a neck over pace-setting Gondolieri. Sunday Break was third. The trifecta horses were bred, in order of finish, in Ireland, Chile and Japan. Century City, with Jose Valdiva Jr. in the irons, finished the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.84. Winning trainer Beau Greely said Century City may surface next in the Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs.
Hawthorne Race Course
As long as he was in town to win the Illinois Derby, jockey Pat Day also picked up the victory in Saturday's $100,000 Lost Code Breeders' Cup Stakes for 3-year-olds going 6 furlongs. Day let Coach Jimi Lee race close behind the early pace, moved three-wide into the stretch and drew off like a favorite should to win by 5 1/4 lengths over Iceplosion. My Calabrese was third. Coach Jimi Lee, a Kentucky-bred son of Roar, finished in 1:11.18.
Lone Star Park
Aptly named Lone Star Deputy got through an opening on the inside at the top of the stretch and went on to win Saturday's $100,000 Grand Prairie Turf Challenge by a neck over Leo's Last Hurrahy. The 3-year-old son of Silver Deputy raced in mid-pack before finding room to make the winning move. He finished the 1 mile over firm turf in 1:39.70. "It was a huge effort," said winning trainer Bret Calhoun. "He got good on the grass in New Orleans."
Fencelineneighbor grabbed the lead entering the stretch in Sunday's $75,000 Via Borghese Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then held off Fortuitous to win by 1/2 length. Gal O Gal was only a neck farther back in third at the finish. Fencelineneighbor, a daughter of Wild Rush, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:50.24. Winning trainer Larry Pilotti said jockey Julio Garcia "rode her nice - nice trip in a slow pace and she went and got them."
Lindsay Jean came three-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Miss America Handicap, got the lead and then held off a late cavalry charge behind her. Crazy Ensign was second, a neck back, with Bush Triumph third by another head and Little Treasure fourth, just another nose in arrears. Lindsay Jean, a 5-year-old Saint Ballado mare, ran 1 1/16 mile on "good" turf in 1:44.67. "We'll probably look around for some races for her," said winning trainer Art Sherman. "Maybe Hollywood Park or Lone Star."
Balmy tracked the early leaders in Saturday's $75,000 Primonetta Stakes, then went on by at the top of the lane and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Darnestown. Hunka Hunka Lori Z was third. Balmy, with Ramon Dominguez up, ran 6 furlongs in 1:10.97. She is a 4-year-old daughter of Salt Lake. "My filly dug in and took off," said Dominguez. "We managed to run down the pacesetter and she drew off very willingly."
Tampa Bay Downs
Sunday's inaugural Florida Cup Day -- six $75,000 stakes for Florida-breds preferred - produced attendance and handle surpassed only by Tampa's Festival Day, which features sand Tampa Bay Derby and Florida Oaks. Don Rice led local trainers with two victories on the card and Enrique Alonso invaded from the East Coast to saddle another pair of winners. "I feel we'll see the event again next year, probably around the same time of the meet," said Peter Berube, vice president and general manager of Tampa Bay Downs. Berube credited the track's partnership with FTBOA and the track's HBPA chapter.
Hecamefromaclaim battled hammer and tongs with Rocky Gulch in Sunday's $130,000 Copper Top Futurity for NM-bred 2-year-olds before winning by a head. Glenns Connection was a distant third. Hecamefromaclaim, by In Excessive Bull, got the 4 1/2 furlongs in 51.45 seconds.
Saturday, Cielo Girl just caught Sister Girl Blues on the wire to win the $100,000 Harry W. Henson Handicap by a nose. Take Out the Trash was third. Cielo Girl, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Conquistador Cielo, ran 1 mile in 1:36.15.
Also Saturday, Night Patrol dueled Tee Cat into submission in the stretch run of the $100,000 Sunland Park Handicap, then edged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Curve Ball was third. Night Patrol, a 7-year-old, Kentucky-bred Storm Boot gelding, ran 9 furlongs in 1:48.60.
The Downs at Albuquerque
Star Smasher drew clear in the stretch and won Sunday's $50,000 Silverado Handicap by 2 lengths over B.G. Tiger. Runmore Mema was third while Urlacher finished last of six. Star Smasher, a 4-year-old son of Full Choke, ran 6 furlongs on the fast State Fairgrounds track in 1:09.43.