Just as the fans were sorting out their picks in the first Kentucky Derby futures bet this weekend, some of the favorites for the May 7 Run for the Roses were stubbing their toes in prep races around the country.
From coast to coast, upsets were the order of the day:
-- Fusaichi Rock Star, the longest shot in a field of four, led all the way to win Sunday's $150,000 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita. Don't Get Mad was second, Kirkendahl third and the even-money favorite, Consolidator, finished fourth. Roman Ruler was scratched because of a minor foot problem by trainer Bob Baffert, who also conditions Fusaichi Rock Star. Fusaichi Rock Star, a Florida-bred son of Wild Wonder who had been off since October for throat surgery, ran 7 furlongs on a wet-fast track in 1:22.59. Baffert acknowledged Fusaichi Rock Star might have been "a little short" for the race. But he said owner Fusao Sekiguchi told him, "If he can make the Derby route, let's give it a try." Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Consolidator apparently wasn't quite ready for the race.
-- In New York, Galloping Grocer made his first start as a 3-year-old in Saturday's $75,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct. The New York-bred son of A.P. Jet, who was second to Rockport Harbor in the Remsen in November, led into the stretch in the Whirlaway but couldn't last, finishing fourth behind Sort It Out, Naughty New Yorker and Scrappy T. Sort It Out, taking a big class jump, ran the 1 1/16 mile on the inner track in 1:43.32. Larry Paltrowitz, managing partner of the ownership of Sort It Out, said the colt probably will be supplemented to the Triple Crown. "We're so excited," he added. Galloping Grocer came out of the race with a bad cut on his left hind leg. "He'll move forward off this race," said trainer Dominick Schettino. "He was coming off a layoff and they ran fast today."
-- At Bay Meadows in California, Texcess went to the post as odds-on favorite in Saturday's $100,000 San Mateo Mile, led for a while but then gave way at mid-stretch to Stellar Magic, who went on to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Texcess, an In Excess gelding who won the Delta Jackpot back in December, was third in his last start, the San Rafael at Santa Anita. Stellar Magic, a Cal-bred son of Western Fame, ran the 1 mile in 1:35.57.
-- Harlington, an Unbridled colt out of Serena's Song, went off the favorite in Saturday's $150,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans but never got into the race, finishing sixth. Scipion came from last to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Real Dandy, with Storm Surge completing a $7,923.60 trifecta. Scipion, with Gary Stevens up for trainer Biancone, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.54. He is bred just as royally as Harlington, by A.P. Indy out of the Strawberry Road mare Strawberry Reason. Patrick Biancone brought the colt in from California for the race. "It's a horse that we think can go a mile and a half, or a mile and a quarter," said Biancone. "But you cannot rush him." Stevens said Scipion has "a lot of potential and handles himself very professionally."
-- General John B led almost all the way to win Saturday's $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby in Arizona by 6 lengths over Quiet Money. Lead for Speed did neither and finished third while the favorite, Stormin Away, got home fourth. General John B, a Florida-bred son of Sweetsouthernsaint, finished the 1 /16 mile on a muddy track in 1:45.48.
In Kentucky Oaks preps, as befits the ladies, there was a bit more decorum:
-- Sharp Lisa stalked the pace in Saturday's $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita, then came to the rail for a successful stretch bid, winning by 3/4 length over Memorette. Charming Colleen was third. Sharp Lisa, who won the Santa Ynez Breeders' Cup in her last outing, finished Saturday's 1 mile on a wet-fast track in 1:34.64 with Corey Nakatani up. "She kind of hopped at the start," said Nakatani, "so I just had to play it by ear, stay in the race and make sure she wasn't too far back." Dennis O'Neill, assistant to winning trainer Doug O'Neill, said Sharp Lisa will be aimed for the Ashland at Keeneland April 9 and then to the Kentucky Oaks.
-- Summerly went to the lead on the stretch turn in Saturday's $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and went on to win easily, by 3 1/4 length over Eyes on Eddy. Enduring Will was third. Summerly, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Summer Quall out of the Mr. Prospector mare Here I Go, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.79 with Donnie Meche in the irons. "We're very glad she's a graded stakes winner now," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "We'll try to prepare her for the Fair Grounds Oaks." She came into the race off a dominating victory in a conditioned allowance event.
-- Amazing Buy, the odds-on favorite, got a big lead in the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Wide Country Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, then just did hold on to win by a nose over Take a Check. Rutledge Ballado was third. Amazing Buy, a Kentucky-bred daughter of High Yield, ran 1 mile in 1:40.70. "She's the best filly I've ever owned," said owner Ernie Paragallo. "She's as good as any 3-year-old filly in America."
-- Merger Talk scored a minor upset in Saturday's $50,000 El Paso Times Handicap at Sunland Park in New Mexico. The New Mexico-bred daughter of Larrupin' missed the start and was rushed into contention. Securing the lead, she held off favorite Dixie Kiss to win by 1/2 length. Merger Talk ran the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18.76.
-- She Sings upset favorite Virden in Saturday's $75,000 Arizona Oaks, taking the lead early on the run down the backstretch and drawing off to win by 10 lengths. Virden was second and Mi Luna Nueva was third. She Sings, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Petionville, got the 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.85.
In other weekend racing:
Tarlow led all the way to best four rivals in Saturday's $200,000 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies. With Pat Valenzuela up, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Stormin Fever set a brisk pace and wasn't seriously challenged, winning by 2 lengths over Sweet Lips. The odds-on favorite, A.P. Adventure, made a belated move that got third-place money. Tarlow ran the 9 furlongs on a track rated wet-fast in 1:48.64. "We were really worried about her going a mile and an eighth," said winning trainer John Shirreffs. "It was kind of a surprise that she could stay out there all the way ... Luckily, she wasn't pressed. I think that made a big difference."
Sunday, Miss Loren came from well back to win the $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap by a nose over Good Student. Hollywood Story, the favorite, finished third with a late effort that was thwarted by a traffic jam. Miss Loren, a 7-year-old, Argentine-bred mare, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a wet-fast track in 1:42.42 with Jose Valdivia Jr. aboard. "Everything played out well," Valdivia said. Trainer Luis Seglin said he hopes to run Miss Loren back in the $300,000 Santa Margarita on March 12.
Wandering Boy led most of the way in Saturday's $100,000 Mineshaft Handicap, upsetting Pollard's Vision by 1 3/4 lengths. Alumni Hall was third. Wandering Boy, a 4-year-old son of Seeking the Gold, ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:43.08 under Larry Melancon. "He relaxed for me," Melancon said. "When I asked him to run, he cut and ran. He's a nice horse." The Nick Zito colt came off an entry-level allowance win at Gulfstream Park last month. He did not make it to the races until last October.
Wrzeszez won a long stretch duel with Mighty Beau in Saturday's $100,000 Taylor's Special Handicap, finishing a nose in front. Chosen Chief was third. Wrzeszez, a 4-year-old Langfuhr gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.79. "When I pulled the trigger, he cut and run sooner than I thought," said Melancon, who also rode Wrzeszez. "He opened up and (Mighty Beau) kept going in there."
Snowdrops rallied nicely through the stretch to upset favorite Angela's Love by 3/4 length in Saturday's $100,000 Suwannee River Handicap for fillies and mares. High Court was third under the wire. Snowdrops, a British-bred, 5-year-old daughter of Gulch, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.40 for Edgar Prado. It was her first win since last June in the Politely Stakes at Monmouth Park. "She got lucky to get a hole and she did the rest," said Prado. "She's a really nice filly."
In Saturday's $100,000 Appleton Handicap, Mr. Light rallied from a ground-saving trip to win by 1/2 length over Host. The favorite, Millennium Dragon, came draggin' in third with a flat effort. Mr. Light, a 6-year-old, Argentine-bred son of Numerous, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:32.98. It was his second win in two tries at the meeting. "I guess he must like this track," said winning trainer Angel Penna Jr. "He's undefeated over it." He said he will aim Mr. Light for the Canadian Handicap on March 13. Mr. Light set the world record for 1 mile on Gulfstream's Opening Day card.
Absent Friend was absent from the first flight in Saturday's $100,000 Essex Handicap. But when the real running started in the stretch, the 5-year-old son of Runaway Groom was right there on the outside, easing by pace-setter Mauk Four to win by 1/2 length. Separato was well back in third. Absent Friend, a Kentucky-bred gelding, ran the 1 1/16 mile on a wet-fast track in 1:43.66.
Tampa Bay Downs
Grab Bag chased the pace through the early stages of Saturday's $60,000 Manatee Stakes. Then, after Ebony Breeze got to the front, Grab Bag put in the final bid, getting by to win by 1 length. Habiboo was a well-beaten third. Grab Bag, a 6-year-old Abaginone mare, ran 7 furlongs in 1:24.22 despite coming off a 281-day layoff. "I wasn't worried about the layoff," said winning trainer Thomas Skiffington. "My concern was the inside post and the surface." Jockey Tommy Turner agreed. "I've ridden for Tom before and they're always ready to run when he leads them over."
Night Patrol came from off the pace to win Saturday's $75,000 Turf Paradise Breeders' Cup Handicap by 2 3/4 lengths over Vigilant Site. Paladin Power was third and the odds-on favorite, True Dancer, was fourth was a late rally from the back. Night Patrol, a 9-year-old Storm Boot gelding, ran 1 1/16 mile on yielding turf in 1:44.39.
Tempus Fugit got the lead and never looked back in Saturday's $50,000 Likely Exchange Stakes for fillies and mares. At the wire, the 5-year-old daughter of Alphabet Soup was a 3 1/4-lengths winner over the favorite, Golden Marlin. Evil Eye Aly was third. Tempus Fugit ran 1 mile on a "good" track in 1:37.85. Gary Borgemenke, assistant to winning trainer Bernie Flint, said he asked jockey Orlando Mojica "to keep her up there about 2 lengths in front. That's her running style. If she gets and easy lead, she gets a big heart and keeps running. If she doesn't, she kind of gets headed and stops."
Stagelight captured Thursday's UAE 2000 Guineas at Nad Al Sheba in Dubai, rallying from the middle of the pack and holding off Gypsy Johnny in the late going. Trained by Jeremy Noseda and ridden by Eddie Ahern, Stagelight ran well throughout the race and will be pointed to the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in May. He was trained by Aiden O'Brien in England.
In Hong Kong, Scintillation scored a front-running win in Friday's Mercedes Benz Hong Kong Classic Mile, the feature event at Sha Tin Race Course for the Lunar New Year. The Australian-bred son of Danehill led throughout the race, battling with Sambuca in the late going before winning by a short head. High Intelligent was just a neck farther back in third under the wire. Despite the winning effort, trainer Danny Shum said Scintillation "is still only about 80 to 85 percent fit today" after some hard recent efforts. Scintillation is expected to stretch out to 2000 meters next month for the Mercedes Benz Hong Kong Derby.