Pyro, second to War Pass in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall, showed he will be a force on the road to the Kentucky Derby with an impressive, stretch-running victory in Saturday's $300,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
After dawdling near the back of a big field, the Kentucky-bred son of Pulpit kicked in the afterburners at the top of the stretch and accelerated past most of the field to win by 2 lengths over stablemate Z Fortune. Visionaire finished third. Pyro finished the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.68 and his final quarter mile was clocked in 22 3/5 seconds.
"I just did what I was told to do," said winning jockey Shaun Bridgmohan. "It worked out very well for me."
"He's a tremendous horse," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen, who has worked Pyro with another of his barn denizens, Horse of the Year Curlin. "How good is he? He's good enough to do what we just watched. He accelerated home. Guess his workmate did the job, huh?"
The win establishes Pyro as a firm favorite for the Louisiana Derby and a top contender for the Kentucky Derby.
-- On the West Coast, only a quartet of three-year-olds faced the starter in Sunday's $150,000 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita and Georgie Boy was clearly the best of the bunch. After breaking last, the California-bred son of Tribal Rule circled his rivals turning for home and crossed the wire 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Into Mischief. Massive Drama, the favorite, led but faded to finish third. Red Hot Flame was well up the track in last place. Georgie Boy, with Rafael Bejarano riding for trainer Kathy Walsh, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:20.01. Georgie Boy had been idle since winning the Del Mar Futurity more than five months ago and Walsh said she is not eager to commit the colt to the Kentucky Derby trail just yet. "We're going to try and point somewhere towards the (Kentucky) Derby," she said, adding that Georgie Boy is nominated to the Rebel at Oaklawn next month. "We'll kind of play it by ear. We'll get him out of this race and make sure he's in good shape and it didn't take too much out of him."
-- And at Turf Paradise in Arizona, Nikki'sgoldensteed sat just behind the early pace in Saturday's $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby, then took charge in the stretch to win by 5 3/4 lengths over the favorite, Ez Dreamer. Meer Kat finished third. Nikki'sgoldensteed, a California-bred colt by Formal Gold, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:42.81 under Jon Court. Robert Hess Jr. trains the colt, who took five tries to break his maiden last year on the Southern California circuit.
Kentucky Oaks preps:
-- Indian Blessing, the 2007 Breeders' Cup and Eclipse Award champion, remained undefeated with a 1-length victory over Proud Spell in Saturday's $200,000 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. After taking the lead midway down the backstretch, Indian Blessing shrugged off the endless length of the Fair Grounds stretch to hold her rival safe, finishing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.75. Garrett Gomez rode for trainer Bob Baffert. "She handled a lot today," said Baffert, who also trained Silverbulletday. "She showed she can get the distance. I think she likes two turns better." Proud Spell, also second to Indian Blessing in the Breeders' Cup, put in a "nice effort," trainer Larry Jones said. "Our eye is on the big prize, with the Kentucky Oaks and even the Fair Grounds Oaks," he said. "She got a little tired but it was a good effort." Baffert said he will wait before committing to Indian Blessing's next start.
-- Golden Doc A rallied from last of six to take Saturday's $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita by 1 length over pace-setter Lovely Isle. Tasha's Miracle challenged for the early lead and hung around for show money. Golden Doc A, a California-bred daughter of Unusual Heat, got the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:35.86 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons for trainer Barry Abrams. Golden Doc A now has three wins from 10 starts. The victory was her first in a graded stakes. Abrams said "it looks like" Golden Doc A will go on to the Santa Anita Oaks on March 8. "Why go somewhere else? It's a Grade I race here, too."
-- In Saturday's $150,000 Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Bsharpsonata rallied to challenge pace-setting Keep the Peace at the top of the stretch. The two then dueled to the wire, with Bsharpsonata beating the favorite by a nose at the wire. Melissa Jo finished third. Bsharpsonata, a Florida-bred daughter of Pulpit, ran 7 furlongs in 1:23.09 with Eric Camacho up for trainer Timothy Salzman. "With a 3-year-old at this time of year, you have to think about the (Kentucky Oaks,)" Salzman said. "Now we just have to look at how to get there."
-- Throbbin' Heart stalked the early pace in Saturday's $50,000 Marshua Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, moved to pace-setting Kosmo's Buddy at the top of the stretch and drew clear, winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Kosmo's Buddy held second and Hartigan finished third. Throbbin' Heart, the odds-on favorite in the field of six, ran 6 furlongs in 1:11.09 under Jeremy Rose. The Steve Asmussen-trained filly is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Smoke Glacken.
-- Briecat set a pressured pace in Saturday's $75,000 Arizona Oaks at Turf Paradise, then kicked clear in the stretch to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, La Mina. Kylie's Way finished third. Briecat, a Florida-bred filly by Adcat, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.19. Jon Court rode for trainer Vladimir Cerin.
-- And in Saturday's $55,000 Princess Stakes at Bay Meadows in northern California, High Resolve was quickly in front and never challenged, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Tail Spin Topper. Mini Tales finished third. High Resolve, the heavy odds-on favorite, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.92 with Russell Baze riding for trainer Greg Gilchrist.
In other weekend racing:
Reigning U.S. Horse of the Year Curlin travels to Dubai this week and trainer Steve Asmussen says his charge will have a trial run over the Nad al-Sheba track before tackling the March 29 Dubai World Cup. If all goes well, Asmussen said last week, Curlin will start in a 2,000-meter handicap Feb. 28. "I love the month between races," he said, citing that interval between Curlin's starts in last year's Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Breeders' Cup Classic. "The quarantine stuff will be out of the way and he'll have a month to get ready for the big race." He also said he is ready to challenge the world's best horses. "We want exactly what the race stands for," Asmussen said. "That's how I hope others will feel about him -- that he's the best horse in the world. I want others to feel about him the same way I do." Curlin already has earned more then $5 million and the $3.6 million winner's share of the Dubai purse would put him within striking distance of Cigar's record earnings of just shy of $10 million.
On Thursday, Lucky Find and South African trainer Mike De Kock captured the featured Maktoum Challenge Round 2, over last year's winner, Kandidate. "He's improved tremendously from his first run, so we were very confident," De Kock said. "We'll go for the third round of the Maktoum Challenge next and hopefully he could be a Dubai World Cup horse."
And on Friday, the Saeed Bin Suroor-trained Cocoa Beach, formerly champion filly in her native Chile, won the UAE 1,000 Guineas by more than 5 lengths, defeating stablemate Fiesta Lady, who had beaten her in their last start. The duo is expected to renew the competition in the UAE Oaks later in the month.
Well Armed led from gate to wire in upsetting Saturday's $250,000 San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita, holding on at the end by a head over Heatseeker. The favorite, Awesome Gem, put in a belated rally to take third. Well Armed, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Tiznow, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:47.73. Aaron Gryder had the mount for trainer Eoin Harty. Harty said he will consider the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 1 and would move on from there to the Dubai World Cup if all is well with Well Armed. On Saturday, he said, "The last part of the race, my voice was getting a little sore. But I had total confidence in him."
Double Trouble came from last of just four starters to win Saturday's $250,000 Santa Maria Handicap for fillies and mares by 4 1/2 lengths. The odds-on favorite, Tough Tiz's Sis, had the lead briefly and then held on for second. Somethinaboutlaura and Zardana completed the order of finish. Double Trouble, a 5-year-old, Brazilian-bred mare by Wild Event, finished the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.46 under Rafael Bejarano. Bobby Frankel trains the mare. "I was able to sit and save some ground around the far turn," Bejarano said, "and when we got out there at the top of the stretch, she won pretty easy."
Dawn After Dawn, the even-money favorite, led from the start in Sunday's $250,000 La Canada Stakes for 4-year-old fillies, was never seriously challenged while relaxing on the pace, and cruised home first, 1 length to the good of Say You Will under a Garrett Gomez hand ride. Caressive was third. Dawn After Dawn, a Florida-bred Successful Appeal filly, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:50.37. John Sadler trains her for Dawn and Ike Thrash.
Also Sunday, Ingrid the Gambler exchanged some bumps with Rockella in the stretch run of the $75,000 Wishing Well Handicap for fillies and mares but got home first by 1 length -- then survived a stewards' inquiry before the result was posted official. Foxysox was third in the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course. Ingrid the Gambler, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Johannesburg, was clocked in 1:12.66 with Joseph Talamo up.
Graeme Six pressed the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Pan Zareta Stakes for fillies and mares, then got clear on the lead and won by 2 1/2 lengths over Sutra. Tres Dream finished third. Graeme Six, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred filly by Graeme Hall, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.93 under Julien Leparoux. Tom Amoss trains.
Euroears stalked the pace in the $100,000 Colonel Power Stakes, bid for the lead on the turn and rallied to win by 1 length over Stormin Baghdad. Natural Speed led for a while and held on to finish third. Euroears, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Langfuhr, got the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:03.22 over firm turf.
Grasshopper rallied to the lead in the stretch run in the $150,000 Mineshaft Handicap, then ran off to win by 2 1/2 lengths over Silver Lord with Magna Graduate a head farther back in third. Better Than Bonds was only a nose farther behind in fourth. Grasshopper, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Dixie Union out of the Mr. Prospector mare Grass Skirt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:43.46.
Daytona led from gate to wire in Saturday's $150,000 Fair Grounds Handicap, crossing the wire 2 1/2 lengths ahead of the runner-up, Jazz Quest. Sterwins was third. Daytona, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred gelding by Indian Ridge, ran the "about" 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1: 50.09. Mike Smith rode for trainer Dan Hendricks.
Spotsgone surged out to a comfortable lead in Saturday's $100,000 Essex Handicap, set an equally comfortable pace and held on to win by 1 length over the favorite, Jonesboro, who was attempting to become the first-ever back-to-back repeat winner of the Essex. Gouldings Green was third with a belated rally. Spotsgone, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Bright Launch, covered the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:43.72. Joe Johnson rode for trainer William Fires.
Tampa Bay Downs
Lookinforthesecret blazed out to a fast lead in Saturday's $75,000 Super Stakes, then coasted home an easy, 3 1/2-lengths winner over I'vegottabeme. The odds-on favorite, Paradise Dancer, couldn't make up any ground on the winner in the stretch and settled for third. Lookinforthesecret, a 6-year-old, Florida-bred son of Cimarron Secret, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.18 with Daniel Centeno aboard for trainer Jamie Ness.
Beau Dare led from gate to wire in Saturday's $75,000 Correction Handicap for fillies and mares, holding on at the end to win by 1/2 length over Rite Moment. Charlotte's Di was another head back in third and the favorite, Muligatawny, finished fourth. Beau Dare, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Military, ran the 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:10.96 under Charles Lopez.
La Perouse rallied from last of 11 to win Saturday's $50,000 Likely Exchange Stakes for fillies and mares by a head over Fun Logic. Our Dancing Babe was another head back in third. La Perouse, at odds of 13-1, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:39.16 under Victor Lebron.
Absolutely True rallied through the final sixteenth to win Saturday's $50,000 Budweiser Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths over Garbu's Tab, with Frankenbean third. Absolutely True, an 8-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by Is It True, ran the 5 furlongs on a fast track in 55.87 seconds with Travis Wales up. The favorite, Yonegwa, faded to finish fourth.