April 29 (UPI) -- Kentucky Derby week kicks off with a competitive field in its final preparations for Saturday's race at Churchill Downs and from coast to coast.
By mid-week, the 3-year-olds will be in the shadow of the Twin Spires and facing the race's first challenge, the post position draw.
Omaha Beach, the expected favorite for Saturday's Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve, put in his final pre-race work Saturday on a blessedly clear morning at Churchill Downs. The War Front colt, winner of the Arkansas Derby, toured 5 furlongs in 49 seconds, second-fastest of 43 timed at the distance.
Trainer Richard Mandella delayed the work by one day because of earlier rains and was rewarded with a fast track. Substitute rider Julien Leparoux was enthusiastic as he jumped off the colt back at the barn.
"He felt good. Very good," Leparoux said. "When I asked him, he went."
Mandella, 0-for-6 in the Run for the Roses, said, "I've never had a 3-year-old doing this well this early."
UAE Derby winner Plus Que Parfait worked the same trip in 1:02 and Signalman was clocked in 1 minute flat. At the San Luis Rey training center in California, Gray Magician toured 5 furlongs in 1:00.40.
Trainer Bob Baffert's final two Derby runners, Game Winner and Roadster, joined stablemate Improbable on the Louisville backstetch, all looking to give Baffert his sixth Derby trophy.
In general, works have gone well as the hopefuls for the 145th Run for the Roses dodged some dodgy weather in Louisville. There have been no defections from the 20 who earned spots in the starting gate through the various qualifying races.
Meanwhile, as if Baffert needed any more Triple Crown potential in his barn, Kingly reeled in the breakaway leader in the stretch run to win Saturday's $100,000 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields by 1/2 length with Visitant 8h close attendance at the end. More Ice was third. Kingly, a Tapit colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:42.73, a time just a shade more than 1/2 second off the track record. He now has two wins and two seconds from four trips -- one win each on dirt and all-weather.
In other weekend action around North America:
Paradise Woods, the odds-on favorite, more than ran to her notices in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Santa Margarita at Santa Anita, kicking away to win by 10 1/2 lengths with jockey Mike Smith enjoying the scenery through deep stretch. La Force was second, 5 1/4 lengths to the good of Exuberance. Paradise Woods, a 5-year-old Union Rags mare, got 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.95. She returned to the winner's circle for the first time since winning the Grade I Zenyatta Sept. 30, 2017.
Trainer John Shirreffs said the key to ending the win drought was getting Paradise Woods to relax. "When she gets mad, she stays mad for a long time, so we spent a long time focused on ways to keep her from getting anxious. The first thing was to get her to relax in her gallops and, hopefully, we've taught her a better way to relax."
Smith added, "I'd like to take some credit but honestly it was John Sherriff and his crew. Man, they did a lot of work on this mare and they finally got her to a point where she will listen to you a little bit."
Filly & Mare Turf
Ickymasho opened a huge lead in Friday's $150,000 Grade III Bewitch Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland, then held on to win by 1 length over the favorite, Gaining, who was gaining ground throughout the stretch. All that was missing was a call by Mike Battaglia. Coachwhip finished a distant third in the Lexington track's spring stakes finale. Ickymasho, a 6-year-old, British-bred mare by Multiplex, ran 1 1/2 miles on firm going in 2:31.26 with Jose Ortiz at the controls.
Last year, Ickymasho was third in the Bewitch in her North American debut after 30 starts in Europe. She entered this year's running on the heels of close runner-up efforts in the Grade III The Very One and the Grade III Orchid at Gulfstream Park.
Winning trainer Roger Attfield said he was happy when Ortiz sent Ickymasho to the lead passing the finish line the first time. ""When he took command of the race and down the backside she opened up enough that I felt reasonably comfortable. I thought, please, God, don't catch her now. She's a gutsy mare. We're just delighted with her."
Blitzkrieg stormed by the early leader at the quarter pole in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III San Francisco Turf Mile at Golden Gate Fields and held sway over the favorite, River Boyne, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over that one. Choo Choo ran evenly to chug home third at a big price. Blitzkrieg, a 4-year-old War Front colt, finished in 1:35.56 with Rafael Bejarano in the irons.
Undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint winner Bulletin looked like the standout in a field of eight 3-year-olds in Saturday's $125,000 William Walker Stakes at Churchill Downs. But it was the Scat Daddy filly Jo Jo Air who battled that one into submission, then battled to a 3/4-length victory. Uncapped and Legends of War also got by Bulletin to finish second and third. Jo Jo Air, trained by Wesley Ward, ran 5 furlongs on firm turf in 58.86 with John Velazquez in the irons. She scored for the second time in five starts.
"We sort of sat the perfect trip all the way around there," Velazquez said. "Turning to the three-eighths pole, I started to make my move and she really dug in and responded gamely. It was a good kickoff to Derby Week." And possibly to Royal Ascot, as well, as Ward has pioneered U.S. involvement there.
Therapist trailed all five foes down the backstretch in Saturday's $125,000 Elusive Quality Stakes at Belmont Park, advanced into the stretch and was up in the final sixteenth to win by a neck over Emmaus. The favorite, Big Handsome, yielded late to finish third. Therapist, a 4-year-old Freud gelding, ran 7 furlongs over yielding turf in 1:24.75 with Eric Cancel in the irons.
"He's a fun horse and he tries very hard," trainer Christophe Clement said of Therapist ... We waited all winter long to run him back. He ran a very good race today and I'm happy." He said the $125,00 Kingston Stakes against fellow New York-breds is the plan.
Nitrous swung five-wide into the stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-olds at Oaklawn Park, quickly closing a big gap to pacesetting Landeskog, and went on to win by 1 3/4 lengths over that rival. The favorite, Gray Attempt, was third. Nitrous, a Tapit colt from a City Zip mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.70 with Ricardo Santana Jr. at the controls. He was coming off a fourth-place finish in the Gazebo Stakes.
"He ran a very good race today," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "I think the race last time didn't go his way. Ricardo wanted another chance at him. He let him settle today and he came home beautifully."
Souper Success rallied down the lane in Saturday's $120,000 (Canadian) Woodstock Stakes for 3-year-olds and got there first by 1 length over pacesetting Powell. The favorite, Yes I Am Free, dueled with Powell early and held on for show money. Souper Success, a Souper Speedy gelding, got 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.65 with Jesse Campbell riding.
Campbell said he has been a long-time fan of Souper Success. "He's got a brain on him and he can run, too," the rider said. "He's been a cool cat since he was 2, a long ways before he had ever run, and he's still showing it today. I'm just very proud of the connections and this horse. He's just a neat little guy."
Pat On the Back rallied past most of his five rivals with a wide trip into the stretch in Friday's $100,000 Affirmed Success for New York-breds, then cleared to win by 1 1/4 lengths. Eye Luv Lulu was second, 1 length to the good of the favorite Syndergaard. Pat On the Back, a 5-year-old son of Congrats, got the Belmont Park summer stakes season off on the right foot despite a sloppy track, finishing 6 furlongs in 1:10.875 for jockey Dylan Davis.
The Hunted hunted down pacesetting Tule Fog in deep stretch to bag Saturday's $100,000 Crystal Water Stakes for 3-year-old California-breds by 1 length. Brandothebartender was third. The Hunted, a 4-year-old Unusual Heat gelding, got 1 mile on firm turf in 1:35.07 under Tiago Periera.
Underpressure raced mid-pack through most of Saturday's $75,000 EVD Classic for Louisiana-breds, took over in the stretch run and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Just Stormin. Mageez was third and the favorite, Bitsy's Afleet, retreated throughout, finishing last of nine. Underpressure, a 5-year-old son of 1999 Kentucky Derby winner Birdstone out of the Charismatic mare Charming Colleen, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.39 with Gerard Melancon in the irons. Charismatic won the 2004 Belmont Stakes.
Special Blessing blessed her supporters with a front-running, 6 1/2-lengths upset win in Friday night's $75,000 EVD Distaff. With Pablo Morales up, the 4-year-old Flat Out filly dueled for the early lead, then quickly put matters to rest, finishing 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.58 and returning $20.80 straight. Tap Dance Star and Hyper Piper completed the trifecta.
Quebec went quickly to the front in Saturday's $75,000 Powder Break Stakes for fillies and mares, led comfortably into the stretch and won by 1 1/4 lengths from Fools Gold. Supercommittee was another 1 1/4 lengths back in third. Quebec, a 3-year-old Into Mischief mare, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.50 under Sammy Camacho.
Golden Gate Fields
Sold It, the odds-on favorite, led from gate to wire in Saturday's $75,000 California Oaks, winning by 1 1/2 lengths over Creative Romance. Karsivina rallied from last of seven to get show money. Sold It, a daughter of The Factor, finished 1 1/16 miles on the all-weather track in 1:44.78 with Rafael Bejarano riding for trainer Doug O'Neill.
Anyportinastorm rallied by pacesetting long shot Algenon in the final furlong to win Saturday's $75,000 Lost in the Fog Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths. Sequentially was third in the order of finish sequence. Anyportinastorm docked in 1:08.80 with Juan Hernandez up. The winner is a 5-year-old son of City Zip.
Simply Breathless won a stretch battle with the favorite, Zaffinah, in Saturday's $75,000 Golden Poppy Stakes for fillies and mares, scoring by 1 length. Tizno's Dilemma rallied to finish third. Simply Breathless, a 4-year-old, British-bred filly by Bated Breath, ran 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:43.48 with Flavien Prat in the irons for trainer Neil Drysdale.
S Y Sky surged to the lead at the top of the lane in Saturday's $75,000 Camilla Urso Stakes for fillies and mares and drew off smartly to win by 3 1/2 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Ima Happy Cat and Claudia Mae filled out the trifecta slots. S Y Sky, a 5-year-old Grazen mare, completed 5 furlongs on firm turf in 56.48 seconds with Flavien Prat up.
Midnightcharly came from next-last of eight to capture Saturday's $100,000 Lyman Handicap for Pennsylvania-breds by 1/2 length from Long May You Run. Jw'strickymischief was third. Midnightcharly, a 4-year-old Uptowncharlybrown gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:24.17 with Mychel Sanchez riding.
Zipper's Hero zipped to the lead in Saturday's $100,000 Foxy J.G.S. Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares, opened a big gap and closed the deal by 2 1/2 lengths despite bearing out late. Sweetest Yet was second with Its a Journey third. Zipper's Hero, a 6-year-old mare by Partner's Hero, finished 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.12 with Johan Rosado in the irons.
Altissimo battled for the lead in Saturday's $75,000 Edward Babst/Albert Palacios Memorial Handicap for Ohio-breds, then cleared in the stretch, winning by 1 1/2 lengths from Me Dont No. Mannford was third. Altissimo, a 6-year-old Noble Causeway gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.10 with Christian Pilares up.
Rock City Roadhog raced with the leading quartet into the turn in Saturday's $75,000 Bosselman Pump and Pantry/Gus Fonner Stakes, found another gear and raced on to win by 5 lengths. Pain and Misery was second and the odds-on favorite, Hollywood Critic, settled for third. Rock City Roadhog, a 9-year-old Valid Expectations gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:46.60 with Erik McNeil in the irons.