First Samurai and Brother Derek finished third and fourth in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But after the first big weekend of prep races, they may be first and second on the list of Kentucky Derby hopefuls.
Brother Derek needed no help in winning Saturday's $200,000 Santa Catalina Stakes at Santa Anita. First Samurai needed a boost from the stewards to win the $300,000 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.
And don't lose track of Laity, who ran well to win Saturday's $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky, or Sharp Humor, winner of the $150,000 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream.
Each of the three races is a preliminary for its host track's big Derby prep -- the Santa Anita Derby, the Florida Derby and the Lane's End Stakes, respectively.
Brother Derek, a California-bred son of Benchmark, pressed the pace in the Baldwin, grabbed the lead on the turn for home and had no trouble holding off the late run of long shot Sacred Light to win by 1 3/4 lengths. With Alex Solis up for trainer Dan Hendricks, Brother Derek ran 1 1/16 mile in 1:41.96.
It that's not enough, Hendricks said the colt wasn't in peak form yet.
"We had him a little fresh by not doing as much work," he said. "I'd say I had him cranked about 90 percent and that's why he was a little fresh. But that's what we wanted to do and it worked out perfect."
Solis said Brother Derek "won it very easily. I wasn't using him that much. We wanted to make sure we didn't do him in before the Kentucky Derby, if we get to that point."
Since his fourth-place finish in the Juvenile, Brother Derek has made two starts, winning both the Hollywood Juvenile in December the San Rafael in January. Next stop for the bay colt will be the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 8.
First Samurai, a Kentucky-bred son of Giant's Causeway, was truly beaten in the Fountain of Youth. After leading to the top of the stretch, First Samurai gave up the lead to Corinthian, who then lugged in, impeding First Samurai's progress about at the eighth pole. Stewards took a look at the replay and dropped Corinthian to third, elevating First Samurai to the winner's circle and Flashy Bull to third. Flashy Bull finished a neck behind First Samurai.
There was little second-guessing about the stewards' call. But the way First Samurai coughed up the lead should leave some questions about his desire to go a mile and a quarter two months from now.
"He's never been two turns before," winning trainer Frankie Brothers explained. He was a one-turn horse. It was a very good race and we got him to relax." In his first start as a 3-year-old, First Samurai finished second to Keyed Entry in the 7 1/2-furlong Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream, lacking a stretch rally.
Brothers said the First Samurai's final Derby prep is "wide open -- either the Florida Derby or the Blue Grass (at Keeneland). This race doesn't get him to the first Saturday in May. But it gets him going."
At Turfway, Laity answered the starter's call for the Battaglia off a 4-month vacation. In his last start, the Kentucky-bred Pulpit colt finished a well-beaten eighth in the Iroquois at Churchill Downs. And that sad effort followed a fifth-place effort in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland's fall meet. He did win the Miller Lite Cradle Stakes at River Downs, across the Ohio River from Turfway, by more than 11 lengths last September.
Brothers, who also trains Laity, obviously found a key during the layoff because the bay colt broke sharply, retreated on the backstretch and then got the lead on the turn for home. A late rally by Pair of Kings fell 1/2 length short and New Awakening was third. The favorite, Kilimanjaro, finished seventh. Laity ran the 1 1/16 mile on the all-weather track in 1:46.88 for jockey Corey Lanerie.
"On the backside, I don't know if he lost interest but I really thought I was out of horse," Lanerie said. "About the half-mile pole, I had to pull the stick out and go to work on him and he responded to it."
At the end, he said, he felt Pair of Kings coming "and I thought he was going to run right by me. But then my horse spotted him out of the corner of his eye and he dug deep and he was good enough today."
Saturday's $150,000 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park was only 7 furlongs but it gave trainer Dale Romans some longer thoughts. Sharp Humor sat just off a quick pace in the Swale, took the lead on the turn and then battled Noonmark to the wire before winning by a neck. Court Folly was third. Sharp Humor, a New York-bred colt by Distorted Humor, ran 7 furlongs in 1:22.14 with Mark Guidry up.
"We're going to look at some bigger races down the road," said Romans, "and see if this horse can go around two turns. I don't know what those races are yet. ... There's already been one Distorted Humor New York-bred to win the Derby (Funny Cide). Let's see if we can get there."
Kentucky Oaks preps
--Teammate led from start to finish in winning Sunday's $150,000 Bonnie Miss Stakes at Gulfstream Park. At the wire, the diminutive gray daughter of A.P. Indy was 6 lengths better than runner-up Wonder Lady Anne L, with Wait a While third. Teammate ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.25 under Cornelio Velasquez. Last time out, in the Davona Dale Stakes on a sloppy track, Wait a While beat Teammate by 14 lengths. "She's such a very, very small horse and she bled just a little amount (in the Davona Dale)," said trainer Allen Jerkens. As a result, he said, the filly started on Lasix on Sunday. "It looks like she'll go a distance," he added, eyeing the Acorn at Belmont Park. "It's always nice to win one and you always hope they stay sound," he said.
--Also Sunday at Gulfstream, Miraculous Miss rallied from last in a field of 10 to win the $150,000 Forward Gal/Stonerside Stakes by 1 3/4 lengths over India. Misty Rosette was third. Miraculous Gal, with Jeremy Rose aboard, had to work through some traffic problems at the quarter pole before commencing her run. She completed the 7 furlongs in 1:22.78 and trainer Steve Klesaris said he's not certain about the Mr. Greeley filly's future course. "As far as her best distance, we don't know that yet. She's picked up another furlong every race ... and she's answered the bell every time," he said.
In other weekend racing:
The field for Saturday's $1 million Santa Anita Handicap included some famous one-hit wonders -- notably Giacomo, winless since last year's Kentucky Derby and Wilco, winless since the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. While that pair continued to burn money, it was the more reliable Lava Man who stepped up to win his second straight after a disastrous visit to Japan last November (11th in the Japan Cup Dirt). After winning a three-way battle for the lead, Lava Man got clear midway through the stretch and won by 3/4 lengths over the late-closing Magnum. Wilco held on for third. Giacomo ran evenly to finish fifth. Lava Man, a 5-year-old, Cal-bred gelding by Slew City Slew, ran the 1 1/4 mile in 2:00.57 under Corey Nakatani. "Turning for home, I shook the reins at him and he just took off," Nakatani said. "I really wasn't worried about anybody else. It was just a matter of how much I was going to win by." Doug O'Neill, a very happy winning trainer, said, "He's joined an incredible list (of Big 'Cap winners) -- Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, John Henry. I can't even imagine it. But we're in the Big 'Cap books and they can't take that away from us. It's a great feeling."
A parade of long shots produced a $3,857.60 return on the $1 trifecta in Saturday's $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile. Milk It Mick, a 5-year-old, British-bred horse, came from mid-pack got a head in front at mid-stretch and held on gamely to win by a head over Aragon. Chinese Dragon was just a nose farther back in third and only a head in front of Cacique, the favorite. Milk It Mick, with Kent Desormeaux riding, finished in 1:34.49 on turf rated "good." Trainer James Cassidy said owner Paul Dixon wants to run Milk It Mick in the Breeders' Cup Mile. "But I would talk to him about running in the Arcadia (Grade II, April 8) next," he added.
Fast Parade battled for the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Baldwin Stakes for 3-year-olds, then finally shook clear in the stretch to win by 2 1/4 lengths over The Pharaoh. The favorite, Da Stoops, was third. Fast Parade, a Washington-bred gelding by Delineator, shipped in from Emerald Downs near Seattle and finished the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.11 under Garrett Gomez. "I don't care who he's by or who he's beat. He's a real runner," said winning trainer Peter Miller. Added Gomez, "He ran a really good race." Da Stoops rider, Victor Espinoza, said his mount was "just slipping around" on the track and tired from the extra effort.
Sunday, Harriett Lane rallied from near the back of the field to win the $100,000 La Habra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies down the hillside turf course. Coming five-wide across the dirt at the top of the lane, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Giant's Causeway caught Bettarun Fast and edged clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Dance Daily was third. Harriett Lane ran the 6 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:13.97 for jockey Kent Desormeaux. "I just kept her between the fences," Desormeaux said.
Harlington, talented but lightly raced, put it all together to win Saturday's $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap. The 4-year-old son of Unbridled was an early Kentucky Derby candidate last year but after finishing third in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds, he sat out until December, returned with an allowance win and then won again in an optional claimer at Gulfstream last month -- light credentials for a tough race. After breaking in mid-pack, jockey John Velazquez got Harlington to relax on the rail, took him to the leaders on the turn and held off the late charge of Contante to win by a diminishing neck. It's No Joke was third. The venerable Funny Cide finished seventh. Harlington ran 1 3/16 mile in 1:55.18. "He's come a long way, but he's still not battle-tested," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "This was my concern going against horses that had been in the Triple Crown. But a race like this should help."
In Saturday's $200,000 Richter Scale Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship, Silver Train was making his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint last fall at Belmont Park. The train, however, derailed and Silver Train never threatened. Instead, it was Mister Fotis, who went to the lead turning for home and then held on to win by a neck over Sir Greeley. Universal Form was third. Mister Fotis, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred son of Diligence, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:21.73 for Rafael Bejarano. Silver Train's trainer, Richard Dutrow, said he was "concerned that he wouldn't run on this track. It looks like that's what it was." Jockey Edgar Prado agreed that Silver Train "just didn't handle the track."
Wend led most of the way to a 1-length victory over Brunilda in Saturday's $100,000 Honey Fox Handicap for fillies and mares, with Honey Ryder finishing third. Wend, a 5-year-old daughter of Pulpit, got the 1 1/16 mile on firm turf in 1:38.31 under Edgar Prado. "She could go either way, running on the lead or taking back," Prado said. "Billy (Mott, trainer) said just to play it by ear and when she broke good, I just let her take off. She was in control of the race from the beginning."
In the $100,000 The Very One Handicap for fillies and mares, Dynamite Lass rallied from far back under a well-timed ride by Bejarano to win by 3/4 length over Olaya. Noble Stella was third. Dynamite Lass, a 4-year-old Dynaformer filly, ran 1 7/16 mile on firm turf in 2:18.81. "I thought we'd be more forwardly placed than that," said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "Rafael rode a perfect race. She's a very nice filly."
Hello Pretty turned in a pretty performance in Saturday's Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby Trial, taking charge at the top of the stretch and winning easily, by 1 3/4 lengths, over Sunny Sing. Very Fit was third. All three receive automatic entry in to the Hong Kong Derby on March 26. "He has won very well," trainer Francis Lui Kin-wai said. "But he is still not 100 percent. He was only about 80 percent right today. Everybody could see today that he is a Derby horse. The 2000 meters will really suit him, as well." The early favorite for the Derby is Viva Pataca, who did not contest the Trial.
Manchurian was the candidate for long shot players in Saturday's $65,000 Stymie Handicap, leaving the gate at odds of 6-1 and winning by 1/2 length over Liquor Cabinet. The favorite, Evening Attire, was home third. Manchurian, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Deputy Minister, ran the 9 furlongs on the inner track in 1:50.87 with Mike Luzzi riding.
More Moonlight saved ground into the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Spring Fever Stakes for fillies and mares, then stayed right on the rail and went on to win by 3/4 length over Platinum Princess. True Tails finished third. More Moonlight, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by More Than Ready, got the 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.24 with Luis Quinonez in the irons. The favorite, Unbridled Sidney, finished last of seven after pressing the early pace.
Ah Day found running room between horses with a furlong to run in Saturday's $50,000 Horatius Stakes for 3-year-olds, went on through and won by 1 length over Eagle Head. Great Seneca was third and the favorite, Rainbow Inthestorm, finished fourth. Ah Day, a Maryland-bred gelding by Malibu Moon, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.26 for jockey Ryan Folgelsonger. "We knew there was plenty of speed in here and it worked out perfectly," Folgelsonger said.
Tampa Bay Downs
Tasha Sangue sat off the early pace in Saturday's $60,000 Wayward Lass Stakes, went by pace-setting Preach It after 5 furlongs and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over that rival. Pitanga was third. Tasha Sangue, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred mare by Slew Sangue, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:45.61 under Carlos Montalvo. "She has always run well here and seems to like Tampa," said winning owner George Elso. "This is her distance and she had been training well."
Boots Are Walking had his hooves flying though the stretch run in Saturday's $50,000 Bill Thomas Memorial Handicap. After tracking the pace, the 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred Storm Boot gelding split rivals about the sixteenth pole and got up in time to win by a neck over Bang. Full Moon Madness was third, just a nose farther back. Boots Are Walking, with Brian Peck riding, got the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:16.16.