A pair of weekend stakes at Gulfstream Park provided an early -- and slightly fuzzy -- picture of this year's Florida Derby prospects.
Saturday's $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes featured an upset that didn't look so much like an upset in the rear-view mirror. Saratoga Sinner, winless in two starts last year, came into the Holy Bull off a maiden-breaking effort at the same 9-furlong distance earlier in the Gulfstream meeting, yet was allowed to go off at better than 12-1.
With Julien Leparoux handling the reins, the son of 2002 Florida Derby winner Harlan's Holiday tracked the early speed of Bear's Rocket, challenged for the lead a furlong out and got by to win by 3/4 length. West Side Bernie finished third and the favorite, Danger to Society, got home seventh.
"After he broke his maiden in his last race," said winning trainer Eddie Kenneally, "Julien came back and said he's even better than he showed. He ran a little green that day. So we decided that we go ahead and step him up to this race rather than run back in an allowance race. He's had two wins over the track at 1 1/8 miles, so we'll definitely be pointing for the Florida Derby. I don't know if he'll run again before then, but he won't go back to a one-turn race again."
Trainer Reade Baker said Bear's Rocket and stablemate Bear's Prospector, continue along the Derby trail. "We're down here (from Canada) to get to the Derby and now it looks like we have two good ones," he said.
Danger to Society's trainer, Kenny McPeak, said jockey Robby Albarado reported his horse "was in there tight and he never got comfortable. That's how it goes sometimes. We'll just wait and see before deciding on our next race."
The other weekend event for Florida-based 3-year-olds, Friday's $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes, was run at 7 lengths, giving another chance for those still to show an affinity for a route of ground.
Capt. Candyman Can certainly could in the Hutcheson, coming from off the pace to win by 1 1/2 lengths over the favorite, Hello Broadway. The Kentucky-bred Candy Ride gelding relaxed down the backstretch under jockey Julien Leparoux and moved to the lead when asked. Bee Cee Cee rallied late to take third, well behind the first two. Capt. Candyman Can, third in the Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs in November, completed the 7 furlongs in 1:23.89. "All we were looking for from him today was to relax," said winning trainer Ian Wilkes. "We've been teaching him to in the mornings, but until they do it in the afternoon you don't know whether they get it. Julien was able to get him back out of there and he came on from there. The second horse ran a great race, too, and never gave up. We'll talk it over with the owners, but the Fountain of Youth Stakes would certainly be logical." The Feb. 28 Fountain of Youth is the final local stepping stone to the Florida Derby.
Russell Road pressed the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Dancing Count Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, got to the front at the head of the lane and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over Great Love. St. John's Gospel was third and Tipsy Saint completed the order of finish. Russell Road, a West Virginia-bred gelding by Wheaton, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.79 with Travis Dunkelberger riding. Winning trainer James Casey had been racing Russell Road at Charles Town, where he posted three straight wins. "Today we had an opportunity to run against horses that had run at other tracks and he ran very well," Casey said. "We are not going to rush him. We sent him to the farm for six weeks and he was only back in training for three weeks. I thought he might be a little short for this race but he met the challenge." Casey said he feels Russell Road will be best at races under a mile in length.
Saturday's $60,000 Black Gold Stakes at Fair Grounds was everything the Kentucky Derby isn't -- short and on the grass. But recent history shows the benefit of paying attention to any promising 3-year-old, including the aptly named Turfiste, who rallied three-wide through the stretch to win by a head over favorite Big Push. Unbridle's Dream was third. Turfiste, a Kentucky-bred colt by Military, ran the "about 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.58 under Jamie Theriot. It was his second win in seven lifetime starts. "When I went to shoving on him, he gave me a good kick," said Theriot. "He got a little lazy when he made the lead, but he was the best horse."
Kentucky Oaks preps
Frolic's Dream pressed the pace through the first few furlongs of Friday's $150,000 Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream Park, drew off to a big lead at the top of the stretch and coasted home a 2 1/2-lengths winner over Renda. Dr. Zic finished third. Frolic's Dream, a Florida-bred daughter of Smoke Glacken, finished the 7 furlongs in 1:24.15 under Jermaine Bridgmohan in 1:24.12. Frolic's Dream now is 4-for-5 and trainer Marty Wolfson said she "probably should be undefeated. If she draws an outside post rather than inside in her last race (the Old Hat Stakes, where she was beaten by a head), she probably wins it." But he said distance issues might limit the filly's aspirations for any Oaks appearances. "I think seven-eighths is her game and her limit might be a one-turn mile," Wolfson said. "We'll see."
Will O Way stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields, got to the lead with a quarter mile to run, turned back a challenge and won by a nose over Point of Reference. Oro Blanco led briefly at the furlong marker and faded to finish third. Will O Way, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Broken Vow, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:45.23 with Russell Baze up. Will O Way, trained by Vladimir Cerin, earned her second stakes victory and her third win in seven career starts. "She wasn't as fit as I would like to have had her,, said Cerin of Will O Way, who was coming off a third-place finish in the Santa Ysabel Stakes at Santa Anita on Jan. 11. "She bruised a foot after her last race and I lost a little training time. I thought it wouldn't matter but it absolutely did. She's a little better than this. She won on her determination and Russell's ride."
In Sunday's $100,000 La Habra Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita, Pasar Silbano, making just her second U.S. start after racing in Ireland, dueled for the lead before drawing clear and held on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over longshot Gold Goddess. Real Fancy Runner was third and the favorite, Miss Silver Brook, finished fourth. Pasar Silbano, an Irish-bred filly by Elnadim, ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.67 with Mike Smith riding for trainer James Cassidy. Cassidy said he will try to stretch Pasar Silbano out to a mile in her next start -- but keep her on the grass. "She's a very, very nice filly, and she's still trying to figure things out," he said.
What a Pear pressed the early pace in Sunday's $65,000 Wistful Stakes over Aqueduct's inner track, gained the lead in the stretch and held on to beat Sapphire Sky by 1 1/2 lengths. Subprime was third and the favorite, Chocolate Pop, tired to finish fifth. What a Pear, with Channing Hill aboard for trainer Joseph Parker, ran the 1 mile an 70 yards in 1:445.38. The name, by the way, is derived from her lineage -- by E Dubai out of the Pine Bluff mare Perfect Pear.
In other weekend racing:
Albertus Magnus, idle since winning Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, slugged it out down the stretch with determined longshot Finallymadeit before winning Saturday's $500,000 Donn Handicap by 1/2 length. Einstein survived a wide trip from the outside post position to finish third and the favorite, Arson Squad, was fourth. Albertus Magnus, previously raced on the artificial surfaces in California, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast dirt track in 1:50.96. Alan Garcia rode for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. The 5-year-old son of Albert the Great was purchased by Shadwell Stable after the Breeders' Cup and now seems likely headed to the Dubai World Cup in March. "He's trained great on the dirt and obviously handled it well today," McLaughlin said. "He's a very professional racehorse … It's great for us have a horse like this in the barn. We can look forward to going to Dubai now with the same team that took Invasor two years ago." Invasor won the 2007 Donn, then went on to win the Dubai World Cup for Shadwell and McLaughlin, who added, "Hopefully, Alan gets to go, too, but that's up to Sheikh Hamdan."
Kip Deville, previously a world-class miler, stretched his speed out an additional furlong in Sunday's $300,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, leading from the first turn and holding off longshot Just as Well to win by 3/4 length. The favorite, Court Vision, ran late to finish third, another 3/4 length in arrears. Kip Deville, with Cornelio Velasquez doling out the speed on the lead, set fractions of 24.22, 47.44 and 1:34.14 en route to a final time of 1:45.7. the 6-year-old, Oklahoma-bred gelding won the Breeders' Cup mile in 2007 and finished second in that event last year. He had not run since finishing up the track in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile last Dec. 14. Winning trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said Kip Deville has natural speed. He's a push-button horse. He settled in well and Cornelio did a great job." He said he will have to decide between another international trip -- to the Dubai Duty Free in March, or a defense of Kip Deville's title in the Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland. "Our main objective with him this year is to get an Eclipse Award," Dutrow said.
In Sunday's $125,000 Suwannee River Stakes for fillies and mares, Lady Carlock rallied from last of eight to win by a head over Mushka. Drop a Line was third and the favorite, Callwood Dancer, settled for fifth. The stewards disallowed a claim of foul against Lady Carlock for alleged interference during the stretch run. Lady Carlock, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Chester House, got the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.65 with Jeramaine Bridgmohan up for trainer Carl Nafzger. "I was concerned that the pace might not be fast enough up front, but she got there," Nafzger said. "She's good and sound and will go on and race this year."
Ventura rallied to the lead three-wide at mid-stretch in Saturday's $300,000 Santa Monica Handicap and held off stablemate Jibboom to win by 1 length. She's Cheeky pressed the pace and held on for third. Ventura, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Chester House who won last fall's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:21.61 with Garrett Gomez in the irons. Bobby Frankel trains the top two for Juddmonte Farms. Noting that Ventura went off at odds of 3-10, Frankel said, "I was nervous at that price, and she hadn't been out in a while. But I was satisfied with the way it turned out. It worked out perfect. I didn't really train her that hard, and you're always a little nervous being away three months. If she's 10-1, I wouldn't have been so nervous." He said he is considering the Vinery Madison at Keeneland as Ventura's next start, with a reprise in the Filly & Mare Sprint back at Santa Anita in the fall as a longer-range goal.
Dawn After Dawn came from mid-pack to upset Saturday's $70,000 Wishing Well II Handicap for fillies and mares down the hillside turf course. Despite drifting out in the late going, the 5-year-old, Florida-bred daughter of Successful Appeal got home first, 1/2 length ahead of Christiana's Heat. Shermeen was third. Dawn After Dawn ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:12.46 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons.
Distorted Passion broke last in Saturday's $65,000 Correction Handicap for fillies and mares, saved ground down the backstretch and then came out for room in the stretch, drawing clear to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Blowing Kisses was second with a late run and Intentional Fever raced evenly to finish third. The favorite, A Rose for You, was fourth under the wire. Distorted Passion, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Distorted Humor, ran the 6 furlongs on the fast inner track in 1:11.94 with Rajiv Maragh in the irons. I know she's got a good stretch run," Maragh said. "Last time, she had significant trouble in the stretch and had a good run when she was clear. She did the same thing today with a cleaner trip and proved it was no fluke."
Native Ruler dueled through most of Saturday's $50,000 King Cotton Stakes with Semaphore Man, then edged clear in the final furlong to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Silver Edition finished third. Native Ruler, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Elusive Quality, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.66 with Eusebio Razo Jr. up. "He runs hard every time," said winning trainer Chris Richard. "He has won every race on conventional dirt since I've had him except one, when he was second in the Prairie Meadows Sprint last August."
Tampa Bay Downs
Rising Fever found room on the rail to gain the lead on the backstretch in Saturday's $65,000 Manatee Stakes for fillies and mares and cruised home first by 1 1/4 lengths. Star Operator finished second with Dee's Rose third. Rising Fever, a 5-year-old, Brazilian-bred mare by Put It Back, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.22 with Daniel Centeno riding for trainer Christophe Clement.
Inspiration was up in the final yards to win Sunday's Centenary Sprint Cup at Sha Tin in Hong Kong by 1/2 length over Yellow Diamond. Enthused finished third. Inspiration, a gelded son of Flying Spur, finished the 1,000 meters in 56.91 seconds with jockey Gerald Mosse riding for injured regular Darren Beadman. The race was the first in Hong Kong's Speed Series and trainer John Moore said he expects to send Inspiration on to the second leg on Feb. 22, at an additional 200 meters. Then, he said, it will be on to Dubai for the Golden Shaheen on March 28 at Nad al-Sheba. With Sunday's win backing up a huge upset victory in last December's Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint, Inspiration has become an international sprint star. "I would never have believed that could happen," Moore said. "But it just shows how well the stable has been going."