The weekend Kentucky Derby preps were kind to the favorites -- but also provided some hope for up-and-coming contenders. And there's a filly on the Derby trail now, too.
Friesan Fire drew off in the stretch to win Saturday's $200,000 Risen Star at Fair Grounds in New Orleans but three longshots followed before the favorite, Giant, Oak, crossed the wire.
Haynesfield led most of the way to an odds-on score in the $100,000 Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct in New York against obviously secondary competition.
And Pioneerof the Nile got around traffic at the top of the stretch and was just up in time to win the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes over longshot Papa Clem at Santa Anita.
The Risen Star featured two highly regarded contenders in Giant Oak and Friesan Fire. Giant Oak was eliminated by his trip -- off last, caught in traffic and finally too far back when he got free. Friesan Fire, on the other hand, stalked the pace between horses, got a clear run outside the leaders and won by 2 lengths, completing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.11 under Gabriel Saez.
The newcomer to consider here is Flying Pegasus, who rallied to the lead at the top of the lane and held on to finish third at double-digit odds under Robby Albarado. He was making his first start since finishing second in the Futurity at Belmont Park on Sept. 13, just 1 length behind Charitable Man and 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Friesan Fire.
Friesan Fire, a son of A.P. Indy, and Flying Pegasus, by Fusaichi Pegasus, are both colts to watch.
"He's getting better each time he runs," said winning trainer Larry Jones. "We had some questions with him that had to be answered and he did that today. Hopefully, it will be smooth sailing from now on. We still haven't gotten to the bottom of this horse but we're going to shoot for the Louisiana Derby next month now."
Albarado said Flying Pegasus "ran a huge race. The winner has been over the track a couple of times already."
The third-place finisher in the Risen Star, Uno Mas, now has failed to fire in the lane in two straight races. And Giant Oak, second in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall, seems to have a habit of running in trouble.
There wasn't a whole lot to the running of the Whirlaway at Aqueduct. Jockey Ramon Dominguez got Haynesfield clear early, survived some mild pace pressure and drew off at the end to win by 6 1/4 lengths, in hand. Cellar Dwellar and Mike From Queens completed the trifecta. Haynesfield finished the 1 1/16 miles on the fast inner track in 1:44.48.
Haynesfield, a New York-bred colt by Speightstown, now has won four straight races for trainer Steve Asmussen.
"It was very professional, very nice," said assistant trainer Toby Sheets. "He ran the mile and a sixteenth faster than he ran the mile and 70 last time (in winning the Count Fleet on Jan. 3). There were a bunch of hiccups before his last race. He missed training for weather -- typical New York winter stuff, not because of the horse. He's just a nice horse."
Pioneerof the Nile won the Cash Call Futurity in December by a desperate nose over I Want Revenge and turned the tables in Saturday's Robert W. Lewis. Turning for home in mid-pack, jockey Garrett Gomez found himself in a box and was forced to wait, then swing five-wide to get running room for his Empire Maker colt. When he got clear, Pioneerof the Nile got the job done, roaring by I Want Revenge in the final strides.
The longshot to consider here is Papa Clem. Coming off a maiden win, the Gary Stute-trained Smart Strike colt pressed the early pace and refused to go away, rallying in the final strides to take second, 1 length ahead of the all-done I Want Revenge.
Pioneerof the Nile finished third in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland and fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile before jumping up to win the Cash Call. He now has three wins and a third from six starts.
"We had a Kentucky Derby-type trip," Gomez said. "The first half mile was great and the second half was a nightmare … Coming to the eighth pole I was thinking I might be a bad third and all of a sudden he kicked it in. He's a big, long-striding horse and it's nice to see that he faced some adversity today and he overcame it."
Asked whether he might seek a start on the dirt for Pioneerof the Nile, rather than California's artificial surfaces, Baffert said, "I think I'm going to leave him here because he likes it here and he trains well here. If he likes the dirt, he'll like the dirt. I can't force him to like the dirt, but I think he's going to like it."
Two races earlier at Santa Anita, Stardom Bound emerged as a legitimate filly contender for Derby honors as she bounced right back from victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies to win the $300,000 Las Virgenes Stakes by 1 1/4 lengths, notching her fourth straight win.
With Mike Smith riding for trainer Bobby Frankel, the Tapit filly displayed her usual form, rallying from last to win with authority. Maka was second, following the winner around the early pace, and Saucey Evening finished a neck farther back in third. Stardom Bound ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:36.43.
Asked whether Stardom Bound might now be bound for the Santa Anita Derby, part-owner Mike Iavarone of IEAH Stables said, "I don't see why she wouldn't go on. I don't know what else she has to prove against the girls. I'll talk it over with Bobby, but I think that's what we want. I think that's what racing wants."
Frankel, typically, was a bit more cautious. I've got to think about it. I don't want to stick my neck out right now," he said.
Only three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby -- Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980 and Winning Colors in 1988.
In other developments along the Kentucky Derby trail:
-- Parade Clown upset favored Music City in Saturday's weather-delayed $50,000 WEBN Stakes at Turfway Park in Kentucky. Parade Clown pressed the pace set by Music City through the first 3/4 mile, then went to the lead in the stretch and won by 2 3/4 lengths. Dynamite Bob finished third, 11 1/4 lengths back of Music City. Parade Clown, a Kentucky-bred colt by Distorted Humor, finished the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:40.73 under William Troilo. "It seemed like every time I asked this horse, he gave me more," Troilo said. "Even when I was galloping out, horses were coming to him and he took off again." The race originally was scheduled to run on last Saturday's card, which was canceled.
-- Square Eddie, second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, has a sore shin and his trip to Oaklawn Park was canceled. Trainer Doug O'Neill says the interruption in training will depend on how Square Eddie recovers.
Kentucky Oaks preps
-- War Echo rallied along the rail and around the turn in Saturday's $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds, got outside position in the stretch alongside Four Gifts and ran down that rival to win by 1 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Just Jenda, settled for third, far back of the leading pair. War Echo, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Tapit, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.2 with Shaun Bridgmohan riding for trainer Steve Asmussen. "She settled nicely today," said Asmussen, who saddled the Silverbulletday winner for the third time in five years. "She's Pyro's (three-quarters) sister and is gorgeous physically. She can be pretty aggressive, but today, she settled." Bridgmohan added, "She ran great. She was so composed today. When I asked her at the top of the stretch, she gave me what she had."
-- Strut the Canary surged to a big lead at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $50,000 Marshua Stakes at Laurel Park in Maryland, then held on at the end to win by a head over Huge. Our Khrysty finished third, 1 1/4 lengths farther back. Strut the Canary, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Mineshaft, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.72 under Jeremy Rose. "It was a nice performance. I have to be pleased," said winning trainer Tim Tullock. "It was the biggest test of her career. It didn't go exactly as we wanted, but she was able to do it in a fast time and proved she didn't have to be up front." He said she will point to the Grade III Cicada Stakes at Aqueduct March 14.
-- In Dubai, So Shiny led all the way to win Friday's UAE 1,000 Guineas with Mike Kinane riding for trainer Jerry Barton. "That was a nice effort and she is a nice filly," Barton said. "We will have to think about the (UAE) Oaks now."
In other weekend racing:
Cowboy Cal pressed the pace in Saturday's $250,000 Strub Stakes for 4-year-olds, took the lead with a furlong left and held off Blue Exit to win by 3/4 length. Victory Pete finished third with a belated move. Cowboy Cal, a Kentucky-bred colt by Giant's Causeway, ran the 9 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:48.22. John Velazquez rode for trainer Todd Pletcher. Cowboy Cal was ninth in last year's Kentucky Derby, then finished his sophomore year with a close second in the Hollywood Park Derby. He won the San Pasqual, a prep for the Strub, in his seasonal debut. "We came here with the idea of going through the Strub series and going to the Big 'Cap," Pletcher said, referring to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap March 7. "That will be our next step … He'd be better suited if there's a real hot pace up in front of him. We can get him to relax a little more. But it was a quality effort, a quality horse, and he shows up every time."
Well Armed made all the pace in Sunday's $200,000 San Antonio Handicap but couldn't hold off the late move of 17-1 longshot Magnum, who went by in the final sixteenth to win by 1 length. The favorite, Tiago, made a late run to finish a non-threatening third. Magnum, an 8-year-old Argentine-bred gelding, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:49.14 with Joel Rosario riding for trainer Darrell Vienna. Magnum, who had not visited the winner's circle since May 2006, had to rally into soft fractions as Well Armed had no pace pressure. "I could see the horse on the lead was going easy" said Rosario. "But my horse was comfortable, and I knew I had a lot of horse. I went after him at the five-sixteenths pole, and he ran great. He's got a long stride, and I think he'll love a mile and a quarter." Vienna said he was pleased Magnum handled the Santa Anita surface, adding, "It sure looks like he'll go on to the Big 'Cap, but you never know." Tiago, who had not raced since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Classic last Oct. 25, also is eyeing the Santa Anita Handicap while Well Armed is expected to go to the Dubai World Cup.
Matto Mondo stalked the pace in Saturday's $100,000 Thunder Road Handicap, then drew off easily in the stretch to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Global Hunter with Monba third. The favorite, Monterey Jazz, set the pace and faded to finish sixth. Matto Mondo, a 5-year-old, Chilean-bred son of Sir Cat, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:34.61 with Mike Smith aboard.
Diamond Tycoon broke near the back of the field in Saturday's $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap, took a wide trip into the stretch and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Windward Islands. Corrupt was third. Diamond Tycoon, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Johannesburg, ran the "about" 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:52.12. Julien Leparoux rode for trainer Andrew McKeever. "We changed his style from Kentucky, where he was close," McKeever said. "He likes to come from behind. It's going to be hard to leave New Orleans with this horse."
Honest Man rallied to the lead entering the stretch in Saturday's $125,000 Mineshaft Handicap and dug in, winning off by 4 1/4 lengths over Good and Lucky. Brothers Nicholas finished third. Honest Man, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Unbridled's Song, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast main track in 1:44.16 with Gabriel Saez up.
Chamberlain Bridge was quickly on the lead under Jamie Theriot in Saturday's $75,000 Colonel Power Stakes and maintained the advantage to the wire, winning by 3 lengths over Grand Traverse. Storm Treasure and Rouse the Cat dead-heated for third and fourth. Chamberlain Bridge, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred gelding by War Chant, ran the "about" 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.33.
Precious Kiss came from last of just four starters to win Saturday's $75,000 Pan Zareta Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Classify. P.S.U. Grad and Shilla completed the order of finish. Precious Kiss, a 5-year-old, Florida-bred mare by Kissin Kris, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.14 under John Jacinto.
Star Guitar won the marquee event of Friday's Louisiana Premier Night for state-breds, the $200,000 Championship, by 7 lengths over Lee's Spirit. Snug was third. Star Guitar, with Robby Albarado riding for trainer Al Stall Jr., surged to the lead around the turn and easily ran away from nine rivals. The 4-year-old Quiet American colt completed the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.2.
Superior Storm led from gate to wire in the $150,000 Distaff, never seriously threatened and winning by 1 3/4 lengths over Sammie Sam. Zarb's Ballerina finished third. Superior Storm, a 4-year-old daughter of Stormy Atlantic, finished the 1 mile in 1:39.97. John Jacinto rode for trainer Richard Jackson.
Warrior Maid tracked the leaders in the $125,000 Starlet for 3-year-old fillies, then went on to win by 1 length over Lightlightlight, with Wanna Cuddle third. Warrior Maid, a daughter of Holy Bull, finished 7 furlongs in 1:27.59 under Terry Thompson. In the $125,000 Prince for 3-year-olds, Two Nickel Bud led most of the way to post a 37-1 upset, beating Shockin Blow by a head with Leestown Gift third and the favorite, Break Up, fourth. Two Nickel Bud, a Fast Play gelding, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:27.03 with Colby Hernandez in the irons.
John Charles battled Ceasers March for the lead in the $100,000 Sprint, took command and went on to win by 2 lengths. Ceasers March held second with Bandido third. John Charles, a 5-year-old Belek gelding, finished the 5 furlongs in 58.53 seconds under Gerard Melancon. In the $100,000 Matron, Sax Appeal outfinished the favorite, Coach Mike, winning by 1 1/2 lengths with Kellys Special third. Sax Appeal, a 4-year-old daughter of Successful Appeal, got the 5 furlongs in 58.57 seconds with Shaun Bridgmohan in the irons.
Prom Shoes raced well back early in Saturday's $100,000 Essex Handicap, swung four-wide late in the second turn and took charge, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over the favorite, Golden Yank. Que Paso was third. Prom Shoes, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Include, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.21 under Christopher Emigh. William Fires trains the horse.
Tampa Bay Downs
Hypocrite rallied to the lead four-wide at the top of the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Super Stakes and won by 3 1/4 lengths over Paradise Dancer. Let It Rock rolled home third. Hypocrite, a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Outofthebox, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.84 with Michael Cruz in the irons.
Vanquisher rallied from last of nine to win Saturday's $75,000 Tallahassee Stakes for Florida-breds by 1/2 length over Smooth Air. Ruff and Ready was third. Vanquisher, a 5-year-old Gulch gelding, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.12 under Alan Garcia.
In Sunday's $75,000 Marion County Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, Scolara had to come from last of eight, reached the leaders in deep stretch and drew clear to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Pay Wright was second and Quiet Meadow finished third. Scolara, a 4-year-old Quiet American Mare, ran the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:34.42 with Kent Desormeaux up.
Unspoken Word got to the front in Saturday's $50,000 Likely Exchange Stakes for fillies and mares and drew off easily to win by 5 lengths. Wellofaprize was second, a neck in front of Solarana. Unspoken Word, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred mare by Catienus, ran the 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:39.87 with Victor Lebron riding for trainer Michael Maker.
Rapper S S led all the way to a 3 1/4-lengths victory in Saturday's $50,000 Budweiser Handicap. Loves Bonus was second, a neck in front of the odds-on favorite, Wind Water. Rapper S S, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred colt by Monarchos, ran the 5 furlongs on a fast track in 56.37 seconds with Alejandro Medellin riding.
Godolphin's My Indy captured Thursday's second round of the al-Maktoum Challenge, fighting off challenges from Happy Boy and Asiatic Boy to get home first over the 1,800-meter distance. My Indy also won the first round of the Thoroughbred series. Winning trainer Saeed bin Suroor said: "That was a very pleasing effort and this horse has really improved over the winter. We have no rush to decide his future targets and will sit down and discuss it sometime soon."