El Gato Malo emerged as the top West Coast Kentucky Derby contender with a decisive victory in Saturday's $150,000 San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita while Z Fortune won the first major race on the Louisiana path of the "Road to the Roses."
After stalking a suicidal pace, the undefeated son of El Corredor charged to the lead with a furlong to run. Under a hand ride by jockey David Flores, he drew off to win by 6 1/4 lengths over Indian Sun. The favorite, Massive Drama, led the way into the stretch, running 6 furlongs in 1:07.9, but then faded to finish third.
El Gato Malo, a Kentucky-bred gelding, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:33.37. The time was a record for Santa Anita's new Cushion Track.
"I saw there was going to be a lot of speed, but I didn't think there would be that much speed," said David Flores, who had replaced Patrick Valenzuela aboard El Gato Malo. "It was like there were three bullets in there. I was patient, and when I pushed the button, he was there for me."
Flores said he doesn't know how much more distance El Gato Malo can handle. But, he said, "He had plenty today."
Trainer Craig Dollase, who trains El Gato Malo for West Point Thoroughbreds, added, "From Day One, this horse has shown that he's got it in him." And Jeff Bloom, an official of West Point, added, "That first Saturday in May is looking pretty promising."
In Saturday's $100,000 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Z Fortune rallied from mid-pack to take the lead at mid-stretch, then drew off to win by 2 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Blackberry Road. Mad Flatter was third with an even trip.
"I had a great trip," Bridgmohan said. "When I showed him some running room turning for home, he went on about his business."
"My job is to try to figure out how to win the (Kentucky) Derby with him," said Asmussen, who also has several other early Derby contenders. "We'll try to map out a plan. He's a good horse."
Kentucky Oaks Preps
Indian Blessing, essentially unchallenged as she romped to an undefeated season last year, had all she could do to preserve her perfect record in Sunday's $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes at Santa Anita. Pushed to a quick pace on the lead over Santa Anita's new all-weather track, Indian Blessing barely held on to beat Golden Doc A by a head, finishing the 6 1/2 furlongs in a very quick 1:19.89.
"You never really know how good they are until they get tested," Indian Blessing's trainer, Bob Baffert, had said earlier in the week, "but she is a very, very good one. "It was supposed to be an easy out, but those are the hardest ones to win. But she ran her heart out today. It's exciting to have a filly like that. She keeps winning, that's all she does."
Both Baffert and jockey Garrett Gomez said they were surprised Indian Blessing had so much pace pressure. And, at the end, Gomez said, "I could feel that filly coming. At that point, I had to get after her a little bit."
Indian Blessing, a daughter of Indian Charlie, is a Hal and Patti Earnhardt homebred.
-- Game Face ran away from eight rivals in Saturday's $150,000 Old Hat Stakes at Gulfstream Park, winning by 7 lengths and finishing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.87. Melissa Jo was best of the rest with 121-1 shot Orinoquia completing the trifecta for a lucky few. Game Face, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Menifee, partnered with jockey John Velazquez. Todd Pletcher trains the filly.
-- Jolie the Cat led from gate to wire in Saturday's $100,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. With James Graham up for trainer Steve Asmussen, the Kentucky-bred Tale of the Cat filly turned back a challenge from the favorite, Tizaqueena, around the turn, then drew clear again to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Tizaqueena held second and Highest Class finished third.
-- Final Fling, a California-bred daughter of Bertrando, won Sunday's $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita by 1 1/4 lengths over Grace Anatomy. Kazamira finished 3 1/4 lengths farther back in third. With Joe Talamo up, Final Fling finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.96. The favorite, Turn Away, was eased in the stretch and vanned off and trainer Bobby Frankel reported she was "slightly off in her right hind" after the race.
-- Paint Me Red came from well off the pace to win Sunday's $75,000 Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct by a neck over La Porta. Sumptuous finished third. Paint Me Red, a Florida-bred daughter of Red Bullet, ran the 1 mile and 70 yards over the fast inner track in 1:44.06 with Ramon Dominguez up for trainer Gary Contessa.
-- Heaven On Hold held onto the lead from gate to wire in Saturday's $50,000 Tiburon Stakes at Golden Gate Fields, winning by a neck over Mini Tales, who came from last. Czechers ran evenly to finish third. Heaven On Hold, a Kentucky-bred filly by Deputy Commander out of the Phone Trick mare Abundantly Blessed, finished 6 furlongs in 1:09.93 under Russell Baze. Greg Gilchrist trains.
In other weekend racing:
Air Commander, at odds of 52-1 caught pace-setting Johnny Eyes at the wire to win Saturday's $200,000 San Fernando Stakes for 4-year-olds by a nose. The favorite, Tiago, last year's Santa Anita Derby winner, rallied to take third, 1 1/4 lengths farther back. Air Commander, a Kentucky-bred son of Point Given, covered the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:40.16 under Aaron Gryder. Bob Baffert trains the colt for Three Chimneys Farm owner Robert N. Clay and Faisal Salmon. Sidelined from last March until November, Air Commander was fourth in two earlier races. "He needed a couple of outs," Baffert said. "It was a big jump up in class, but he showed last year he was a good horse. This horse showed gameness today."
In Saturday's third stakes event, the $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap, Zappa sat behind pace-setting favorite Well Armed until inside the furlong marker, then went on to win by 1 length. Well Armed held second and Heatseeker finished third. Zappa, a 6-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Afternoon Deelites, ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:39.56 under Joel Rosario.
Zenyatta remained undefeated with an off-the-pace victory in Sunday's $150,000 El Encino Stakes for 4-year-old fillies. After trailing much of the way, the daughter of Street Cry rallied under David Flores to win by 1 3/4 lengths over Tough Tiz's Sis. Romance is Diana was 1 length farther back in third. Zenyatta ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.81. Winning trainer John Shirreffs and owner Jerry Moss said they are hoping for big things from their filly. "She still hasn't uncorked her big stride," Shirreffs said. "So we're still waiting for that."
Danceroftherealm came from well off the pace to win Saturday's $100,000 Dr. A.B. Leggio Memorial Stakes for fillies and mares by a 1/2 length over Flying Circle. Kindling finished third. Danceroftherealm, a 5-year-old, British-bred mare by King of Kings, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:04.59 under Miguel Mena.
Silver Lord stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Louisiana Handicap, then went on to win by 2 lengths over Prom Shoes, with Real Dandy completing an all-double-digit trifecta worth $6,561.40 for a $2 investment. The favorite, Crossword, finished fifth. Silver Lord, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Unbridled's Song, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.61. Corey Lanerie was up for trainer Steve Asmussen, who had three winners on the stakes card.
French Beret took charge in the stretch and went on to win Saturday's $100,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths over Major Rhythm. The favorite, Sterwins, checked in third. French Beret, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred gelding by Broad Brush, ran the "about" 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:45.83 with James Graham up.
Euroears rallied through the stretch to win Saturday's $100,000 F.W. Gaudin Memorial Stakes by 3/4 length over Stormin Baghdad. Semaphore Man finished third. Euroears, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Langfuhr, finished the 6 furlongs on the fast main track in 1:09.43 with Ramsey Zimmerman riding.
Sugar Swirl rallied from well back to win Sunday's $100,000 First Lady Handicap for fillies and mares by 2 1/2 lengths over Rgirldoesn'tbluff. Bereba finished third. Sugar Swirl, a 5-year-old, Ontario-bred daughter of Touch Gold, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.06 under Javier Castellano.
Stage Luck saved ground early in Saturday's $75,000 Affectionately Handicap for fillies and mares, swung outside pace-setter Aliysa entering the stretch run, then won the duel to the wire by a neck. Baby Bird was third, another neck back. Stage Luck, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred filly by Unbridled's Song, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:44.73. Stewart Elliot rode the Darley Stable filly for trainer Tom Albertrani.
Tampa Bay Downs
Lookinforthesecret set a brisk pace in Saturday's $65,000 Pelican Stakes, turned back a challenge from He's So Chic and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths over that rival. Its His Time had a rough start, then ran third all the way. Lookinforthesecret, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred son of Cimarron Secret, ran 6 furlongs in 1:09.3 with Daniel Centeno in the irons for trainer Jamie Ness.
Smooth Bid squeezed between horses on the stretch turn in Saturday's $50,000 Winsham Lad Handicap, then took charge when he got to the front, winning off by 2 1/4 lengths. Rollicking Caller was second as the favorite and Plug Me In finished third. Smooth Bid, a 6-year-old, Maryland-bred son of Rubiano, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.7. Casey Lambert rode for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Lady Belsara rallied down the stretch to win Saturday's $50,000 Wishing Well Stakes for fillies and mares by 3 lengths over Just for Keeps. Initforthekandy finished third with a late run. Lady Belsara, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Boundary, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.23 with William Troilo.
Silmaril started at the back of the pack in Saturday's $80,000 What a Summer Stakes for fillies and mares, came wide around the turn and closed with a rush to win going away, by 2 lengths over All Giving. La Chica Rica was third and the odds-on favorite, Your Flame In Me, burned out after setting a brisk pace, finishing last of six. Silmaril, an 8-year-old, Maryland-bred daughter of Diamond, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.54 with Jeremy Rose in the irons.