The weekend's races were supposed to start putting the Kentucky Derby picture in perspective. Didn't happen.
Uncle Mo, the previously undefeated consensus favorite for the May 7 Run for the Roses, was beaten soundly in Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, casting serious doubt on his Derby chances -- although his connections quickly noted Secretariat also finished third in the Wood in 1973 -- before winning the Triple Crown.
The Illinois Derby had only a lukewarm favorite in Watch Me Go and he chugged home a well-beaten sixth.
And in California, the two top early choices for Saturday's Santa Anita Derby never even got into the starting gate.
In one of those quirks that always seem to attend racing, superstar trainers Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher each won a Derby prep on Saturday -- neither with the horse they expected to see in the winner's circle.
Uncle Mo's defeat in the $1 million, Grade I Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial was as decisive as it was shocking. After leading much of the way through a moderate but pressured pace, jockey John Velazquez sent the Breeders' Cup Juvenile champ out to a little daylight at the top of the stretch. But long shot Arthur's Tale quickly drew alongside. Toby's Corner then drove between that pair in the final sixteenth to win by a neck. Arthur's Tale finished second, a length ahead of Uncle Mo.
Toby's Corner, a Bellamy Road colt out of the Mister Frisky mare Brandon's Ride, got the 9 furlongs in 1:49.93 with Eddie Castro up. He had a bit of a rough trip, being cut off and shuffled back on the backstretch, then altering course at the eighth pole.
Coming into the race, Toby's Corner had finished third in the Gotham behind Stay Thirsty, who was trounced last week in the Florida Derby.
"No doubt he had a tough trip," winning trainer Graham Motion said. "It did cross my mind halfway through the race if he was going to win the race it's going to be an impressive effort because of what he's got to overcome."
He added Toby's Corner will go on to the Kentucky Derby "as long as he's doing fine. It looks like the mile and a quarter won't be a problem, and it's very wide open now."
Uncle Mo's trainer, Todd Pletcher, said, "I can't say I'm shocked. But I'm disappointed."
Pletcher said Uncle Mo will ship to Churchill Downs. "It goes without saying if he wins by 10 today, he's going to go in there with quite a bit different morning line than he is now," he added. "But that doesn't mean we're not going, it doesn't mean we are going to go. We're going to see how he comes out of it, make sure he's physically okay -- that's priority one -- and make sure he trains accordingly."
Pletcher had given Uncle Mo only one previous prep this year -- a minor stakes at Gulfsream Park that was run in abysmally slow time. The colt apparently didn't get much out of that effort and could be expected to benefit from Saturday's tougher go.
In California, Premier Pegasus, once-defeated runaway winner of the San Felipe, was declared out of Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Santa Anita Derby early in the week with a hairline fracture of the right front cannon bone. He is expected to be out of action for several months. That shifted the favorite's role to Jaycito, from Baffert's barn. But Jaycito then was withdrawn with a bruised foot and is likely to resurface at Keeneland.
The medical reports left the Santa Anita Derby wide open and Baffert filled the opening with Midnight Interlude -- making just his fourth career start and his first stakes appearance. The War Chant colt, out of the Green Dancer mare Midnight Kiss, stayed well off the pace until early leader Comma to the Top hit the top of the lane. Then, jockey Victor Espinoza got Midnight Interlude rolling on the outside, took a side step to avoid traffic at the eighth pole and finally caught Comma to the Top in the final jumps, winning by a head. Mr. Commons, who moved along the rail, was up for third. The favorite, Silver Medallion, finished fourth.
Midnight Interlude, owned by Arnold and Ellen Zechter, finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.66.
"Up until Midnight Interlude won, Ellen wouldn't even let me mention the Kentucky Derby," Arnold Zetcher said. "When it happened, I had to go confirm with Bob, 'Are we really going to the Kentucky Derby?' and he said, `Yes.'"
Baffert still could have three live starters in the Kentucky Derby should The Factor run well next weekend in the Arkansas Derby and Jacito bounce back with a good effort in the Coolmore Lexington at Keeneland the following weekend. "I love that," Baffert said. "I wish I had the whole field."
Comma to the Top also has enough earnings to start in the Derby if his connections decide to go.
At Hawthorne Race Course outside Chicago, Watch Me Go was the lukewarm favorite for Saturday's $300,000 TVG Illinois Derby (G III) off his victory in the Tampa Bay Derby last time out. But Watch Me Go was never in the mix over the Illinois oval, as Joe Vann tracked the pace, took over easily in the stretch run and got home first by 4 1/4 lengths over Zoebear. The Fed Eased finished third. Watch Me Go finished sixth.
Joe Vann, a Silver Deputy colt out of the Danzig mare Polish Flower, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.91 with Florent Geroux up.
"When I asked him at the quarter pole, he just took off," Geroux said. "The thing that helped me was that I watched a couple of his races. In one of his maiden races, at Saratoga last August, he beat Mucho Macho Man, who could be one of the top Kentucky Derby contenders."
Joe Vann also is trained by Pletcher, whose Derby hand suddenly looks a bit less imposing than it did a few weeks ago. But the Illinois Derby winner, who was making his first stakes start, is unlikely to have enough graded stakes earnings to crack the Kentucky Derby field.
The coming weekend Derby prep schedule includes the Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn -- among the last opportunities for Churchill Downs hopefuls to prove their worth.
Kentucky Oaks preps
Joyful Victory celebrated an easy victory after Sunday's $300,000, Grade II Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park. The Ontario-bred Tapit filly, out of the Wild Again mare Wild Lucy Black, stalked the early pace, then easily took charge in the lane, scooting off to win by 7 lengths. Arienza finished second. Holy Heavens and Explosive Disco completed the order of finish. Joyful Victory, with Mike Smith up for trainer Larry Jones, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.74. The win backed up Joyful Victory's triumph in the March 12 Honeybee over the same track. "She was even more impressive this time," Smith said. "She was training for it, ready for it and Mr. Jones wanted me to make sure she got something out of it and we did, without squeezing the lemon too much. We squeezed it a little today and it was good. We gotta make sure there is enough juice in there." Jones said Joyful Victory "can run all day. I don't think we've gotten to the bottom of her yet and, really, the way she's going, I hope we don't start getting there 'til Breeders' Cup time. Of course, she's liable to have to work harder next time (in the Kentucky Oaks)." Jones said he probably will ship to Louisville later in the week.
Hot Summer bided her time in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Comely Stakes at Aqueduct, found room along the rail turning for home and got by the leaders to win by 2 1/4 lengths. Her Smile finished second, 2 more lengths ahead of Ava K. Hot Summer, a Virginia-bred Malibu Moon filly out of the Quiet American mare Summer Delight, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:35.58 under Luis Saez. "I didn't think (the rail would open," winning trainer David Fawkes said. "I didn't think she would get through there. (In her last race) she stumbled a little bit and was rushed a little bit, and that isn't her. We've been working hard with her to sit off the pace, and it worked out." He said the filly likely will remain in New York. "There will be something somewhere."
In other weekend racing:
Group 1 winners from Dubai, Australia, South Africa and Hong Kong will duke it out in the April 25 Champions Mile at Sha Tin. Headlining the event is Presvis, fresh off his March 26 victory in the Dubai Duty Free. Presvis, a 7-year-old Sakhee horse, already has tasted victory in Hong Kong, winning the QE II Cup in 2009. Also among the 14 entrants chosen for the Champions Mile are Melito, an Australian Group 1 winner, and Musir, last year's UAE Derby winner and Group 1 victor in South Africa. The local Group 1 winners listed for the April 25 event are Lucky Nine and Thumbs Up. Also on the list are Red Jazz and Royal Bench, both of whom came up short at Meydan on World Cup Day. The spring fixtures for the Hong Kong Jockey Club are capped by the May 1 QE II Cup, headlined by Japan-based Victoire Pisa, winner of the Dubai World Cup.
Lilacs and Lace led virtually all the way to a stunning upset in Saturday's $400,000, Grade I Central Bank Ashland Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, beating Wyoma by a length. The favorite, Kathmanblu, settled for third, another 2 1/4 lengths in arrears. Lilacs and Lace, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Flower Alley out of the Seattle Slew mare Refinement, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.73 with Javier Castellano up for trainer John Terranova. "She broke well out of the gate," Castellano said. "We talked about it before the race that if she broke well, take it from there. Don't take anything away from the horse. It worked out great."
Air Support caught Great Mills just before the wire to win Friday's $100,000 Transylvania Stakes for 3-year-olds by a nose. Adirondack finished third. Air Support, with Rajiv Maragh up for trainer Shug McGaughey, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.99. Air Support, a Kentucky-bred Smart Strike colt, finished ninth behind Pluck in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Pluck got home seventh on Friday. "I was delighted with the way he responded," McGaughey said, indicating he is considering running Air Support back in the American Turf on Derby Day at Churchill Downs. Also, he said, "I kinda got something in the back of my mind, maybe, something like the Virginia Derby down the line. But he's going to run before that."
Morning Line rallied three-wide down the stretch and was up in time to win Saturday's $250,000, Grade I Carter Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths over Apriority. Yawanna Twist finished third. Morning Line, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Tiznow colt, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.46 under John Velazquez. Morning Line, who came into the race off a second to Giant Oak in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream, now has four wins from 10 lifetime starts. "I'm very happy for the horse," winning trainer Nick Zito said. "He's lost some tough ones -- the Breeders' Cup Mile [second] was a heartbreaker. The Donn was a heartbreaker. He's such a well-deserving Grade 1 horse. He beat a top horse in [Apriority]. It was a great run race. He did what a professional horse is supposed to do. He's just a very versatile horse. He'll probably run any distance."
J J's Lucky Train survived some early traffic problems, then rallied five-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $200,000, Grade III Bay Shore Stakes for 3-year-olds and beat Vengeful Wildcat by a neck. Justin Philip finished third. J J's Lucky Train, with Jose Ferrer up, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.54. The Kentucky-bred Silver Train colt now has five wins and two second from eight starts. "It looked like he was hanging a little in midstretch," said winning trainer William Anderson, "and I didn't think we'd get there. We know he always tries. I think at seven-eighths to a mile it'd take a heck of a horse to outrun him, and that's where we'll probably stay with him."
Bold Deed led all the way in Sunday's $60,000 Packets Landing Stakes for 3-year-old New York-breds, holding on gamely in the final strides to beat Tap Attack by a neck. Dr. Disco was third. Bold Deed, an Anasheed gelding, ran the mile on a fast track in 1:35.76 with Channing Hill in the irons.
Win Willy rallied from last of six to win Saturday's $350,000, Grade II Oaklawn Handicap by a length over the odds-on favorite and California invader Misremembered. Winslow Homer was well back in third. Win Willy, a 5-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Monarchos, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:48.82 with Cliff Berry in the irons. "There's definitely a fall and a next year with him," winning trainer Mac Robertson said. "If he runs well when we bring him back, we will look at the Breeders' Cup and some kind of race. I know I want to get him back to Oaklawn for next year and then send him to stud." Berry added, "He showed up today. Mac has changed up on how he works and he was back there, very relaxed and that was key. When I asked him around the three-eighths pole, I knew he was going to be tough to beat."
Surrey Star stalked the pace in Sunday's $100,000 La Puente Stakes for 3-year-olds, got the first run at the leaders in the lane and got home first, holding off favorite Major Art by a half length. Pacesetter Jakesam settled for third. Surrey Star, an Irish-bred Dubawi colt, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:48.70 with Joe Talamo up. "It was a great ride, a very nice ride," said winning trainer James Cassidy. "He had a lot of horse the whole trip, he settled nice, there was no problem. He got a nice trip through on the inside and he kept on going." With perhaps a wistful eye on the Kentucky Derby, he added, "This colt will run a mile and a quarter. We're not going back to the dirt. It's not that he didn't handle it. It's just not his thing."
Separate Forest got the jump on the field in Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Las Cienegas Handicap for fillies and mares and held off the odds-on favorite, Unzip Me, by a neck under the wire. La Nez finished third. Separate Forest, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred Forestry filly, ran the "about" 6 1/2 furlongs down the hillside turf course in 1:12.64 with Patrick Valenzuela in the irons. "This filly loves this hillside course," Valenzuela said. "I knew she (Unzip Me) was right behind me and I had to get away from her before we crossed the dirt. I had enough filly under me to get that done."
Liberian Freighter led all the way to an upset victory in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Arcadia Stakes, holding off Blue Chagal at the end by a half length. Jeranimo was a neck farther back in third and the favorite, Caracortado, was fifth with a dull effort. Liberian Freighter, a 6-year-old, California-bred Bertrando gelding, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:34.4. "We were the only speed in the race today," winning rider Martin Garcia said. "So when I broke, I let him run out of there on his own and let him settle into stride. When I asked him to run, he took off. I thought he beat a really good field today."
Cambina rallied from the back of the pack in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Providencia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, split rivals with a sixteenth to run and got home first by 3/4 of a length over Whisper Louise. So Belle finished third. Cambina, an Irish-bred Hawk Wing filly, ran the 1 1/8 miles on firm turf in 1:47.28 with Garrett Gomez riding. "She has done everything I asked her to do," the jockey said. "She's so small, I thought today's distance would hamper her a little bit, but it didn't. She wants to settle in and kick home. The farther he (trainer Jeff Bonde) sends her, the better she travels."
Portside broke in the air and spotted the field a couple lengths in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Star Shoot Stakes for 3-year-old fillies but rallied five-wide around her rivals into the lane and was up to win by a neck over the pace-setting favorite, Nina Fever. Miss Inclined finished third. Portside, a Florida-bred Congrats filly, finished the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:10.09 with Emma-Jayne Wilson in the irons.
It's Never To Late pressed the pace in Saturday's $60,000 Sunshine State Stakes for Florida-breds, then won a three-way charge to the wire by a nose over Coffee Boy. The early leader, Our Edge, was another head back at the end. It's Never To Late, a 6-year-old Repent gelding, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:21.85 with Josue Arce up.
Golddigger's Boy got past pacesetting favorite Movin' Out in the late going to win Saturday's $75,000 Lyman Handicap for Pennsylvania-breds by 1 3/4 lengths. Movin' Out held second with Whistle Pig a distant third. Golddigger's Boy, a 4-year-old Jump Start colt, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:21.24 with Stewart Elliott riding.
Jemilyn pressed the pace in Saturday's $75,000 Foxy J.G. Stakes for state-bred distaffers, took over in the lane and won by 1 1/4 lengths over late-running Diva's Gold. Bright Abyss finished third. Jemilyn, a 6-year-old Good and Tough mare, got the 7 furlongs in 1:22.29 with Angel Arroyo in the irons.
Ben's Cat rallied five-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 Mister Diz Stakes for Maryland-breds and went on to a 1 1/4-length victory over Sandbagin' Lover. The favorite, Digger, led but faded to finish third. Ben's Cat, a 5-year-old Parker's Storm Cat gelding, finished the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.82 seconds under Jeremy Rose.
Hayley's Halo bided her time just off the pace in Saturday's $50,000 Czaria Handicap for fillies and mares, took over when asked by jockey Alejandro Medellin and drew off to win by 7 1/2 lengths. She'smylitteman was best of the rest with Dixie Unioness third. Hayley's Halo, a 4-year-old, California-bred Sea of Secrets filly, finished 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.37.
Tampa Bay Downs
It was Florida Cup Day, with six races for state-breds, each worth $75,000.
Manicero captured the Ocala Breeders' Sales Sophomore Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths over Turbo Compressor. Jaggermonster was far back in third. Manicero, a Mass Media colt, got the 7 furlongs on a fast track in track-record time of 1:22.13 for jockey Paco Lopez.
Trip for A.J. stalked the pace in the L and D Farm Turf Distaff, took the lead when asked by Lopez and went on to win by 1 length. Wild Mia ran well late to finish second and pacesetter Ruling Class held third. Trip for A.J., a 4-year-old Trippi filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:44.04.
My Sunshine Gal dominated in the lane in the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, drawing clear to win by 5 3/4 lengths over odds-on favorite Devilish Lady. White Merlot finished third. My Sunshine Gal, a West Acre filly, ran 7 furlongs on the main track in 1:22.75 under Ronald Allen Jr.
Extensive rallied to the lead first in the Dayton Andrews Dodge Sophomore Turf and held off the favorite, Master Dunker, by a half length. Dan's My Man was third under the wire. Extensive, a Purge gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.81 with Leandro Goncalves up.
Sneaking Uponyou snuck away from seven rivals in the Hilton Garden Inn Sprint Stakes, drawing well clear in the lane and crossing the wire 7 lengths better than runner-up Tommy's Memory. On the Vineyard finished third. Sneaking Uponyou, a 5-year-old Snuck In gelding, got the 6 furlongs on a fast track in track-record time of 1:08.69 with Huber Villa-Gomez in the irons.
Slew's Answer broke near the back of the field in the Vinery Turf Classic, swept around the leaders four-wide turning into the stretch and got home first, a length better than Blazen. Vanquisher was third. Slew's Answer, a 4-year-old Ghostzapper colt out of the Seattle Slew mare Slew's Final Answer, got the "about" 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:50.16 with Goncalves riding.
Always There battled to the lead in Friday's $50,000 Hallowed Dreams Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, then held off the late move of Freeze Cat to win by a neck. Tina Lena Too finished third. Always There, a Louisiana-bred Friends Lake filly, finished the 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:05.27 with Rex Stokes III riding.
Sotogenic dueled his way to the lead in Saturday's $40,000 Camellia Stakes for 3-year-olds, then drew off to win by 6 lengths over All Things Gold. Royal Rullah finished third. Sotogenic, an Alabama-bred Soto filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.55 with Kerwin Clark up.
News and notes:
Two-time leading North American sire A.P. Indy has been pensioned at Lane's End Farm near Versailles, Ky., after failing to get any of his mares into foal this season. A.P. Indy, a 22-year-old son of Seattle Slew, was Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old male in 1993 with victories in the Santa Anita Derby, Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic. He has sired more than 135 stakes winners.