A sizable portion of the likely Kentucky Derby field was on display Saturday at tracks around the country.
Close finishes in the Santa Anita Derby and the Wood Memorial probably propelled several horses toward the Run for the Roses. In the Illinois Derby, previously unheralded Done Talking earned a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate. And even the 7-furlong Bay Shore at Aqueduct may have unearthed a contender for the first leg of horse racing's Triple Crown May 5 in Louisville, Ky.
There also were several big sprint races to start setting the stage for showdowns later in the year in that division. And Australia and Japan staged major races, albeit attended purely by local steeds.
While chowing down on leftover Easter and Passover goodies, consider these results:
WOOD MEMORIAL: Gemologist came into Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct undefeated in four starts. He left it undefeated in five -- but only after turning back a brave late challenge from Alpha to win by a neck. Extreme long shot Teeth of the Dog clunked up for third. Gemologist, a Tiznow colt, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:50.96 in a race that started out fast and slowed as it went along.
The Wood started with the outside horse, The Lumber Guy, rushing to the front and into the first turn, where he finally cleared and dropped to the rail on the lead. But Gemologist was always close and when jockey Javier Castellano give him his cue, he went to the lead as the field straightened into the stretch. Alpha, who lost position when he had to check coming out of the first turn, put in a bid at mid-stretch but Gemologist found another gear and wasn't surrendering at the wire.
Both Gemologist and Alpha have enough graded stakes earnings to move along to the Kentucky Derby.
"So far, it would be hard to be unhappy with anything he's done so far his whole career," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "It was great to see. It looked like he had a little something left after the wire, so I think from a conditioning standpoint, with a good mile race and a good 1 1/8-mile race under our belt, hopefully we can have a good month of training leading up to [the Kentucky Derby]."
Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Alpha for Sheik Mohammed's Godolphin Racing, said his colt will be in Louisville, too. "He was very good in the gate, he got checked into the first turn hard, but he still ran great with a little traffic and took the dirt well," McLaughlin said. "We got beat a 'zop.' But we're going on to May 5. It was a good race and a good test. He did everything right except not win."
SANTA ANITA DERBY: I'll Have Another put his nose down on the wire to win Saturday's $750,000, Grade I Santa Anita Derby by that margin over Creative Cause after a stirring stretch duel. Lightly raced Blueskiesnrainbows led the field into the stretch and battled on gamely on the rail to finish third, another half length back. Liaison finished sixth. I'll Have Another ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.88 under Mario Gutierrez and none of the top three appeared to be running out of gas in the late going. The top two have enough graded stakes earnings to make the Kentucky Derby field. Blueskiesnrainbows needed a win to get in. The victory for I'll Have Another backed up his upset score in the Robert Lewis in February -- his last start -- and owner Paul Reddam said the colt's progression is "just kind of sinking in right now. These things don't happen too often so I just want to savor it." Reddam, who has had four previous Derby runners without much success, had many of his 400 employees in the winner's circle for a raucous celebration but said not to expect that many in Louisville. "This year I decided not to jinx us and I didn't book any [hotel] rooms, so I'm going to use that as my excuse why they all can't come," Reddam said. Trainer Mike Harrington said Creative Cause ran well in his first try without blinkers. "He was more focused. He never bobbled," Harrington said. "I thought the horse ran a hell of a race. The other horse beat us today, but will he beat us next time? I don't know." Liaison also could make the Kentucky Derby field based on earnings. But trainer Bob Baffert has a couple other prospects running this coming weekend in the Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, leaving him with options.
ILLINOIS DERBY: Done Talking rebounded from a clunker in the Gotham to win Saturday's $500,000, Grade III Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course convincingly -- and earn a trip to Louisville. With Sheldon Russell up, the Broken Vow colt started near the outside in the 14-horse field and settled well back in the field through the backstretch run. He started a steady advance through the turn and into the stretch, found room between horses and kicked clear in the late going to outfinish Morgan's Guerrilla and win by 3/4 of a length. Hakama was third and the favorite, Currency Swap, finished 11th after getting roughed up in the first turn. Done Talking, trained by Maryland-based Hamilton Smith, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:53.88. "We'll consider it," Smith said of the Derby. "You don't get too many chances at the Derby. The mile and a quarter should be no trouble for him." Done Talking finished a close fourth in the Remsen at Aqueduct to close out his 2-year-old season and was "the only one closing at the end," Smith said. "We thought he should have won that race." Then he was 10th, beaten 20 3/4 lengths, in the Gotham in his last start. "No explanation," the trainer said. "He's been training good ever since." The $300,000 winner's share should ensure a spot in the Kentucky Derby field. No other horse from the Illinois Derby is likely to have enough earnings to advance to that race. Rosie Napravnik, who rode Morgan's Guerrilla, said being forced wide on the first turn and some green running in the lane cost her mount a win. "He just needs to mature a little bit," said Napravnik, who also rode Done Talking to his maiden-breaking win last year at Delaware Park.
BAY SHORE: There wasn't much to the running of Saturday's $250,000, Grade III Bay Shore Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters but the outcome could have a significant impact on the Kentucky Derby field. Trinniberg went to the lead right out of the gate and never looked back. Unchallenged, he won by 3 lengths over Hardened Wildcat with How Do I Win 5 1/2 lengths farther back in third. Trinniberg, a Teuflesberg colt, ran the 7 furlongs in 1:23.46 with Willie Martinez providing only mild encouragement. Trinniberg came into the race off a 6-length win in the Grade III Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park in his previous start and now has three wins from seven starts. "You should never be too confident going into a race," Martinez said. "It's horse racing. Anything can happen. But I was overwhelmed with confidence. Once I cleared the chute, I knew it was all over." Winning owner Shivananda Parbhoo said the Preakness is the most likely target for Trinniberg, but he did not rule out the Kentucky Derby. "There's a 15 percent chance for the Kentucky Derby," Parbhoo said. "I want to go long." Trinniberg has not yet raced longer than 7 furlongs.
WHAT IT MEANS: The upshot of weekend action is that Gemologist, I'll Have Another, Alpha, Trinniberg and Done Talking all vaulted into the Top 20 in graded stakes earnings -- the measure used to decide which horses get to start in the Kentucky Derby.
Bumped out of the Top 20 were Mark Valeski, El Padrino, Reveron and Isn't He Clever. Optimizer, who was on the bubble at No. 21 a week ago, now is No. 25.
The list is headed by Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Hansen, recent UAE Derby winner Daddy Long Legs, BC Juvenile runner-up Union Rags, Creative Cause and UAE Derby third-place finisher Wrote. Wrote also won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
The Grade I preps wrap up this coming Saturday with the Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. After that, those still looking for a few more dollars in earnings could try the Grade III Lexington at Keeneland or the Grade II Jerome at Aqueduct. But those races are only two weeks out from the Kentucky Derby.
Karlovy Vary led all the way to an upset win in Saturday's $500,000, Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, finishing 3/4 of a length ahead of another long shot, Hard Not to Like. The favorite, Stephanie's Kitten, saved third but couldn't mount a challenge to the top two. Karlovy Vary, a Dynaformer filly, ran the 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.82 with James Graham in the irons. Winning trainer Rusty Arnold said he had pointed toward the all-weather start but has nothing to fear from the Churchill Downs dirt even though Karlovy Vary finished seventh in the Golden Rod last November under the twin spires. "She'll run in the Oaks if everything goes good," Arnold said. "We still think she can run on the dirt. She had her one start on the dirt, had some things go wrong. We fixed those and think we're ready now."
Broadway's Alibi easily won her fourth straight race Saturday at Aqueduct, leading from the start in the $150,000, Grade III Comely Stakes and crossing the wire first by 3 1/2 lengths. Welcome Guest put in a late run to take second, 1 1/2 lengths to the good of Millionreasonswhy. Broadway's Alibi, a daughter of Vindication, got the one-turn mile in 1:36.53 with Javier Castellano aboard. In her last previous start, she won the Grade II Forward Gal at Gulfstream Park by 16 3/4 lengths. Asked about moving forward to two-turn races, such as the Kentucky Oaks, winning trainer Todd Pletcher said, "I don't know yet. We'll take her back to Palm Meadows tomorrow and see how she trains. She was kind enough today to step up to a mile. It's encouraging, but we'll just play it by ear and see."
Lady of Shamrock trailed the field though the early furlongs in Saturday's $150,000, Grade III Providencia Stakes at Santa Anita, surged to the lead in the stretch and quickly got clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths. Byrama also rallied to take second and Killer Graces was third. Charm the Maker and Ms Pianist completed the order of finish. Lady of Shamrock, a Scat Daddy filly trained by John Sadler, ran the 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:46.80. "Very happy," Sadler said, giving no indication Lady of Shamrock might detour off the turf. "We thought we were running the best horse. She's obviously good on this course. What we'll try to do is have a nice campaign with her this summer and be back in the fall."
While most Aqueduct eyes were focused on the aftermath of the Wood Memorial, some of the nation's best sprinters lined up one race later in the $400,000, Grade 1 Carter Handicap. Even after the scratch of Calibrachoa with a quarter crack issue, the remaining six starters all had credentials. Last year's Preakness winner, Shackleford, showed the way until the top of the stretch when Jackson Bend showed up. Jackson Bend, third in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, took a short lead and was all out to survive by a nose over the late surge of the favorite, Caleb's Posse. Shackleford held on for third. Jackson Bend, a 5-year-old son of Hear No Evil, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:22.32 with Corey Nakatani in the irons. "That was some thrill, I'll tell you," winning trainer Nick Zito said. "It's amazing, this business. You know, as a groom, I grew up around here, and I watched [the Carter] from right over there, where I used to watch it when I rubbed horses. I put my foot under a lucky spot from when I used to rub horses. It's just a great feeling." The trainers of the top three all said they're ready for a rematch in the $750,000, Grade I Met Mile at Belmont Park.
Breeders' Cup champ Amazombie proved he's still fighting fit at age 6 with a pace-stalking victory over early leader Roman Threat in Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Potrero Grande Stakes at Santa Anita. With Mike Smith up for his 5,000th win, Amazombie came alongside Roman Threat at mid-stretch and edged clear late with mild encouragement. The Northern Afleet gelding finished the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.16. The victory followed a defeat in Amazombie's first outing of the season, a third behind The Factor in the Grade II San Carlos Stakes on Feb. 25. "He's back," winning trainer Bill Spawr said. "He only let him run a quarter mile. That's all he did … . Amazombie is stronger this year … . He's got more muscle, better color, and probably weighs 60, 70 pounds more, and it's all muscle. I feel this year our goal is the Breeders' Cup if we're fortunate enough to get there, and this is our first step."
Essence Hit Man surged quickly to the lead in Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian) Jacques Cartier Stakes at Woodbine, set a respectable pace and held well, winning by 2 3/4 lengths over Big Band Sound. Paso Doble finished third. Essence Hit Man, a 5-year-old El Prado gelding who also won this race last year, got the 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.26 with Jesse Campbell in the irons. "We didn't know what was going to happen today, there was so much speed," owner Audre Cappuccitti said. "I said to Jesse, 'Just ride your race and if we can just get him to not have a 43 [half-mile] -- and he didn't, which was perfect."
Pierro got through inside pacesetting Snitzerland in Saturday's Aus-Group 1 Golden Slipper and nipped that one by a long neck in the race billed as the world's richest juvenile race. The favorite, super filly Samaready, settled for third, 1 1/2 lengths farther back, ending her undefeated streak at three. Winning owner Gai Waterhouse, who predicted Saturday's result six months ago when Pierro won the Breeders' Plate, said she might opt to run her star back in a week's time in the Aus-Group 1 ATC Sires Produce Stakes at Randwick. "We'll let the dust settle. Enjoy this moment," she said. Pierro remains undefeated in three starts.
Gentildonna survived a three-way battle to the wire to win Sunday's $2.3 million, Jpn-Group 1 Oka Sho, or Japanese One Thousand Guineas, at Hanshin Race Course. The Deep Impact filly scored by a half length over Verxina with I'm Yours another half length back in third. The favorite, Joie de Vivre, checked in sixth. With Yasunari Iwata up, Gentildonna picked up her third win from five starts, covering the 1,600 meters on good going in 1:34.6.
The mothership of American racing kicked off its spring season Friday as Silver Max led all the way to a 5 1/2-length victory in the $100,000, Grade III Transylvania Stakes for grass-loving 3-year-olds. With Robby Albarado in the irons, the Badge of Silver colt was never challenged and finished the 1 1/16 miles on firm going in 1:41.81. Travel Advisory was the best of the rest and State of Play finished third. Silver Max now has three wins and five seconds from nine starts. "Quick fractions, but he did it within himself," Albarado said. "He didn't overdo it. He sprinted home and he pretty much had them in hand the whole way."
Belle Royale circled wide into the stretch in Saturday's $75,000 American Beauty Stakes for fillies and mares, ran by most of the field and collared the pacesetter, A Jealous Woman, in the closing yards, winning by a half length. Go Forth North was another half length back in third, the same margin in front of Briecat in fourth. Belle Royale, a 4-year-old, Irish-bred Val Royale filly, ran the mile on firm turf in 1:33.09 for Joel Rosario.
Ben's Cat collared pacesetting Steady Warrior at the end of Saturday's $75,000 Mr. Diz Stakes for Maryland-breds, winning the event for the third straight year. At the line it was Ben's Cat by a neck with Delaunay third. Ben's Cat, a 6-year-old Parker's Storm Cat gelding, finished the 5 furlongs on firm turf in 57.26 seconds with Horacio Karamanos in the irons. "He's a machine," said jockey Horacio Karamanos, who subbed for Ben's Cat's regular rider, the injured Jeremy Rose. "I didn't even have to hit him. I just touched him on the left shoulder and he took off. I am so glad to finally ride him."
Laurie's Rocket rallied widest of all around the stretch turn in Saturday's $75,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-olds and went on to win by a length over Apprehender. Top Cat Boogie finished third. Laurie's Rocket, a Bluegrass Cat colt, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:10.01 with Calvin Borel up.
She'smylittleman put in a big performance Saturday in the $50,000 Czaria Handicap for fillies and mares, kicking clear at the end to win by 3 1/4 lengths over Squiggle. Hot Citizen got home third. She'smylittleman, a 6-year-old Valid Wager mare, finished the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.28 under Alejandro Medellin.
Taptowne tracked the early pace in Saturday's $60,000 Cryptoclearance Stakes, advanced along the inside around the turn and then outran Shadowbdancing to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Gleam of Hope finished third as the favorite. Taptowne, a 4-year-old Tapit gelding, ran the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.55 with Orlando Mojica aboard.
Tampa Bay Downs
Saturday was the 10th annual Florida Cup Day with six races, each worth $75,000 and each restricted to Sunshine State progeny.
Hooh Why led most of the way in the First Dude Distaff Turf, then held on to win by a head over the odds-on favorite, Unbridled Humor. Another Smokey finished third. Hooh Why, with Rosemary Homeister Jr. in the irons, ran the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.46.
Tarpy's Goal rallied four-wide to get the lead late in the Ocala Breeders' Sales Sophomore Stakes for 3-year-olds and won by a length over the fast-closing Midnight Serenade. Indirectly A.P. finished third. Tarpy's Goal, a High Cotton colt, ran the 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.52 for jockey Leandro Goncalves.
Star Channel drove by pacesetting Didn't Take It in the stretch run of the Dayton Andrews Dodge Sophomore Turf Stakes for 3-year-olds and went on to win by 2 3/4 lengths over that rival. Crafty Unicorn finished third. Star Channel, an English Channel colt, ran 11/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.20 with Pedro Cotto Jr. up.
Xunlei came from well back in the Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies for 3-year-old fillies, blew by pacesetting Citizen Advocate and went on to win by 4 lengths. Citizen Advocate held second, a half length better than Backstage Magic. Xunlei, a daughter of D'wildcat, got the 7 furlongs on the main track in 1:23.17 with Goncalves riding.
Roman Tiger rallied from near the back of the field to take the Turf Classic by 3/4 of a length over Vanquisher. Slew's Answer was just a nose farther back in third. Roman Tiger, a 7-year-old Tiger Ridge gelding, got the "about" 9 furlongs on the grass in 1:48.10 with Angel Serpa in the irons.
It's Me Mom led all the way in the Hilton Garden Inn Sprint Stakes and held well to score by 2 3/4 lengths over My Charming Clude. Jackfrost Ofcourse finished third. It's Me Mom, a 4-year-old Put It Back filly, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in track-record time of 1:08.67 with Jorge Vargas up.
Stamp Queen bobbled at the start of Saturday's $50,000 Royal North Stakes for Ohio-bred 3-year-old fillies but quickly recovered, shot to the lead and won off by 6 1/2 lengths over Judy's Reflection. Fluffy Ontheinside finished third. Stamp Queen, a Soto filly, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:12.11 for jockey Rafael Hernandez.
News and notes:
Raymond "Butch" Lehr is parking his tractor after more than 45 years as Churchill Downs' track superintendent. Lehr announced this week he will retire at the end of the spring meet on July 1. Lehr, 63, was hired onto the backside maintenance crew in 1967, was named assistant to then-superintendent Thurman Pangburn in 1976 and as Pangburn's successor in 1982. He oversaw the construction and design of the Matt Winn Turf Course, which opened in 1986, as well as the conversion of the former Louisville Downs harness track into the Trackside Training Center. "I came to work here because I needed a job and ended up working my whole life here," Lehr said. "And it's been a good life."