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Kentucky Derby wide open after Storm the Court, Independence Hall defeats

By
Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Sole Volante wins Saturday's Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, jumping into the Kentucky Derby picture. Photo courtesy Tampa Bay Downs
Sole Volante wins Saturday's Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, jumping into the Kentucky Derby picture. Photo courtesy Tampa Bay Downs

Feb. 10 (UPI) -- With fewer than 12 weeks to post time, no obvious leader on the road to the Kentucky Derby has emerged.

The 2019 juvenile champion, Storm the Court, failed to hit the board in Sunday's San Vicente at Santa Anita and Independence Hall suffered his first career defeat in Saturday's Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs.

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On the filly front, Venetian Harbor and Lucrezia posted dominant wins, a continent apart, on the quest for the Kentucky Oaks.

On the turf, Starship Jubilee continued one of the more remarkable campaigns a former $16,000 claimer has ever enjoyed. River Boyne won, as did Admiralty Pier and Alms.

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And in "News and Notes," The Royal Saint Lucia Turf Club's second-ever race day will package racing with romance.

Road to the Roses

We're still waiting for a contender or two to take command on the Kentucky Derby trail.

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Storm the Court, the 2019 juvenile champ, could have been the one if he'd won Sunday's $200,000 Grade II San Vicente at Santa Anita in his 3-year-old debut. Instead, he was edged for third as another of trainer Bob Baffert's endless string of prospects, Nadal, posted a gutsy, 3/4-length score after battling head-to-head most of the way with eventual runner-up Ginobili. Fast Enough was third.

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Caution flags are waving all over the place about drawing conclusions as the San Vicente was only 7 furlongs, Nadal was having just his second start and Storm the Court had been idle since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile three months earlier. Nonetheless, Nadal looked professional in finishing in 1:22.59, building on a front-running win in his career debut Jan. 19.

We'll find out soon enough as Baffert said he's planning on sending Nadal to Arkansas for the Grade II Rebel at 1 1/16 miles March 14. Nadal currently has no points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, currently topped by Storm the Court and Tiz the Law. The Rebel offers 50 points to the winner -- enough to secure a spot in the Run for the Roses.

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"Today, I told Joel, 'Don't get cute, just go. We can rate him some other day,'" Baffert said. "They took it to him, but if we're gonna get beat, get beat. I trained him light for this, so this is my serious work. ... I thought he was gonna get beat. He got to gut it out today, so he's got a good foundation now."

Nadal is by Blame, the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic winner (by that desperate nose over Zenyatta, as if anyone could forget), out of the Pulpit mare Ascending Angel.

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Across the continent, Independence Hall could have shot to Derby prominence if he had scored his fourth win without loss in Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs -- the sole points-scoring race of the weekend. Instead,

Sole Volante, third in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park Jan. 4, roared by Independence Hall in the stretch run Saturday, winning by a handy 2 1/2 lengths. And while he didn't dazzle, Independence Hall can't be downgraded too much as he held second, 11 1/4 lengths in front of the closest challenger, Ajaaweed.

Sole Volante, with Luca Panici up for trainer Patrick Biancone, dropped 15 or more lengths behind the leader on the run up the backstretch, then quickly moved up along the rail on the turn. Independence Hall, after taking closer order early, assumed the lead at the top of the lane, but had no answer to Sole Volante's challenge. The 1 1/16 miles, run over a fast track, went in a respectable 1:42.60.

Sole Volane won his first two starts, both on Florida's Atlantic coast, before falling 2 1/4 lengths short with a late run in the Mucho Macho Man.

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In the Mucho Macho Man, "He did everything perfectly but ran a little bit early that day and struggled a little the last sixteenth," Biancone said.

"Today I said to Luca, let him relax and run the last 3/8 mile and that's what he did. This horse has a lot of stamina, but nothing is cast in stone. So we'll see how he comes back and how he progresses. We have plenty of races to choose from. Maybe we'll come back here in a month." That would be for the $400,000 Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.

Independence Hall's trainer, Michael Trombetta, said he will watch the replay to see if a loose tongue tie affected his colt and make a decision later on his prospects.

Sole Volante, Italian for Flying Sun, is by the Japanese-bred sire Karakontie from the Kingmambo mare Light Blow. Karakontie was a multiple Group 1 winner in France at distances of 7 furlongs and 1 mile on the turf and won the 2014 Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita. While he thrived as a turf miler, Karakontie is out of the Sunday Silence mare Sun Is Up.

Also ...

Saturday at Aqueduct, Montauk Traffic had to divert around all six rivals in the final furlongs to take the $100,000 Jimmy Winkfield Stakes by 1 1/2 lengths. The favorite, Secret Rules, was head-to-head on the lead with Johnny Ritt most of the way and those two finished second and third Montauk Traffic, a Cross Traffic colt resident in Linda Rice's barn, traveled 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:25.64 for jockey Jose Lezcano. He notched his second straight win at the Big A.

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"I was thrilled he was able to get up," said Rice, who also handles the more-ballyhooed Derby hopeful Max Player. "He's continuing to mature and shown a lot of ability in his three starts so far. This horse I'd like to point towards the Gotham. Max Player we'll point towards the Wood." The $300,000 Grade III Gotham is 1 mile on March 7. The $750,000 Grade II Wood Memorial is 9 furlongs April 4.

Saturday night at Delta Downs, he was only facing fellow Louisiana-breds but No Parole still put on enough of a show to turn some heads in Saturday night's $100,000 Premier Night Prince -- doubtless including those of trainer Tom Amoss and owner Maggi Moss. The Violence colt started on top and romped home 6 lengths ahead of his closest rival, finishing 1 mile on a fast track in 1:39.93.

He now is 3-for-3 and, while all his victories have been against Louisiana-bred rivals, they all have by open lengths and Amoss acknowledged the obvious, saying, "I think we have to try one of the Triple Crown preps. He earned it tonight and showed what a good horse he is."

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The odds

Reflecting the still-unsettled nature of the competition, the Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager closed Sunday evening with "All Other 3-Year-Olds" the 2-1 favorite. Among the 24 individual interests, Nadal and Tiz the Law were best-favored at 8-1.

Next week

Saturday's Risen Star at Fair Grounds proved so popular it was split into two divisions, each with the original $400,000 purse and each awarding 50 Churchill Downs qualifying points to the winner and 20-10-5 for the minor placings.

Saturday's $100,000 El Camino Real Derby on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather track. There are points to the winner on the 10-4-2-1 scale

Saturday's $100,000 Miracle Wood at Laurel Park can be a pointer to the Preakness more so than the Derby.

Monday's Presidents Day holiday finds the $750,000 Grade III Southwest at Oaklawn Park -- part of an early season trio of stakes worth a combined $1.45 million. Despite the purse, the points on offer are on the 10-4-2-1 scale.

Kentucky Oaks Preps

The placing judges didn't have much to do at the end of Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Las Virgenes at Santa Anita as the favorite, Venetian Harbor, got away to a 9 1/4-lengths victory. Gingham was second, 2 1/4 lengths better than Stellar Sound.

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That one, in turn, was another 9 1/4 lengths in front of Go Big Blue Nation. Cholula Lips trailed, another 7 1/2 lengths in arrears. That's roughly 28 1/4 lengths from first to last and a pretty good measure of the dominance of Venetian Harbor, a Munnings filly trained by Richard Baltas. She finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:37.51 with Flavien Prat in the irons.

Venetian Harbor finished second in her career debut Nov. 15 at Del Mar, and then returned to win by 10 3/4 lengths Dec. 29 at Santa Anita.

"I am very happy that she got the two turns," Baltas said. "That was a little bit of a concern today. She had never been two turns and this is a tiring track. ... She delivered today. It looks like now she may have to do some moving around. Hopefully she comes back well and we will see [where we go next]. She passed the first test."

Saturday's $150,000 Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs looked pretty wide open on paper but apparently no one mentioned that to Lucrezia. The Into Mischief filly, under Daniel Centeno, stalked the pacesetter into the turn, came around that one and shook free to win by 5 lengths.

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Turtle Trax was second, 3/4 length to the good of the lukewarm favorite, Motu. Lucrezia, trained by Arnaud Delacour, ran 1 mile and 40 yards on a fast track in 1:39.99. It was her 2020 debut following a juvenile season that saw her winning twice, including the Sandpiper Stakes in December. The Suncoast, however, was her first effort around two turns.

"There was a question mark about her ability to go a little farther than what she has before, and obviously she showed she can do it," Delacour said. "She's won on turf and she's won sprinting, so we have a lot of options with her and it's a fun place to be.

"We'll take things one race at a time. We're very proud of her."

Down by the bayous at Delta Downs, Steph'sfullasugar was full run in the stretch in Saturday's Premier Night Starlet for Louisiana-bred fillies, kicking clear to win by 6 3/4 lengths. The Tapiture filly, trained by Victor Arceneaux, now is 2-for-2 with both wins against other state-bred fillies.

Turf

Admiralty Pier struggled for the lead in Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes, fought through some rough going early in the stretch run and survived to win a three-way photo by a nose. Devamani was second, a head in front of the favorite, March to the Arch.

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A claim of foul against the winner was denied. Admiralty Pier, a 5-year-old English Channel gelding, got 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.96 with Samy Camacho riding for trainer Barb Minshall. After struggling against graded stakes company through most of the 2019 Woodbine season, Admiralty Pier now has two consecutive wins at Tampa Bay Downs.

"The race went so perfect," Camacho said. "Barbara told me in the paddock to try to break on top and try to let him be comfortable and slow things down the first part and make your race." After crossing back to the dirt track after the race, Admiralty Pier shied from a flock of birds and dumped Camacho. "I went down and I'm dirty, but I'm good," he reported.

Filly & Mare Turf

Starship Jubilee, unhurried through the early furlongs of Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Suwannee River Stakes at Gulfstream Park, easily assumed command in the stretch and ran on to win by 4 1/4 lengths, ridden out by Luis Saez.

The favorite, Magic Star, had traffic problems into the stretch, then rallied for second but couldn't make up any ground on the winner. Tapit Today was third. Starship Jubilee, a 7-year-old daughter of Indy Wind, a $16,000 claim almost exactly three years ago, ran 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.54. She has won 14 times and earned more than $1 million since the claim, including a victory in the Grade I E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine in October.

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"She just keeps getting better," said Starship Jubilee's trainer, Kevin Attard. "Saez gave her a great trip. I know Magic Star got kind of trapped inside there and lost a little momentum, but my filly kicked on and she accelerated down the lane. She just proved she's one of the top turf fillies in the country right now."

Got Stormy got beaten at odds of 1-5 in Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, taking down with her some bridge-jumper money in the show pool. With the heavy favorite never near the lead, Jehozacat showed the way through 1 1/16 miles over firm turf and held off Altea in the closing strides to win by a neck.

It was another 3/4 length to Andina Del Sur in third with Got Stormy a further 1 length back in fourth. Jehozacat, with Daniel Centeno in the irons, reported in 1:42.44. The 5-year-old Tapit mare made it two in a row following a win in the Wayward Lass over the same course last month.

Centeno said that when the other speed horse, Dynatail, was scratched, he was confident he could lead the parade home. "She was getting a little tired at the end, but she's a nice mare and has been improving every race, and she handles both dirt and turf," the rider said.

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Saturday at Fair Grounds, Alms ran to her notices in the $60,000 Shantel Lanerie Memorial for 3-year-old fillies, taking back early for jockey Paco Lopez, then asserting herself through the stretch run to win by 4 1/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite.

Dominga was second with Pass the Plate third. Alms, a Godolphin homebred daughter of City Zip, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:39.32. She remains undefeated in four career starts, including the Grade III Matron at Belmont Park last October and the Grade III Jimmy Durante at Del Mar in November.

"We had this race in mind just because we love running at Fair Grounds," said Alms's trainer, Michael Stidham. "It was a perfect race for her to kick off her 3-year-old campaign. The Florida Oaks comes up about a month after [March 7] this, so it works out perfect. She's very talented. I think the sky is the limit for her."

Turf Mile

River Boyne waited behind the early speed in Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Thunder Road at Santa Anita, rallied to the lead at mid-stretch and kicked clear, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. Camino Del Paraiso, True Valor, Kingly, Frontier Market and Majestic Eagle followed in that order, all bunched within 1/2 length. River Boyne, a 5-year-old, Irish-bred son of Dandy Man, ran 1 mile on firm going in 1:33.78 with Abel Cedillo up. He was fourth in this race last year, starting a 2019 campaign that was winless in eight starts.

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"He's a game horse," said River Boyne's trainer, Jeff Mullins. "Since he turned 4, things have been a bit tougher for him. He's had some troubled trips. He needed this."

Sprint

Share the Upside wasn't about to share the lead in Saturday's $125,000 King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Leading pretty comfortably all the way, the 5-year-old Maclean's Music gelding cruised home first by 1 1/2 lengths with the favorite, Whitmore, unable to close the gap with a late effort in his first start since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last November.

Silver Ride was third, 3 1/4 lengths farther back. Share the Ride, with Ricardo Santana Jr. up, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.39. The same two fought it out in last year's Hot Springs Stakes over the Oaklawn oval with Whitmore emerging from that duel to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

While Whitmore is regarded as a prototypical "horse for the course" at Oaklawn, Share the Upside now is 4-for-5 at the Arkansas showplace. "Share the Upside loves Oaklawn," said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. "I'm glad to see him back here. This is where his best races have been. For him to start off the sprint series so good, we're obviously hoping for a big meet with him."

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That series continues with the $150,000 Hot Springs on March 7 and concludes with the $500,000 Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap on Arkansas Derby Day, April 11.

At Turf Paradise in Arizona, Mr. Jagermeister dueled down the stretch with Minister of Soul before edging away to win Saturday's $75,000 Phoenix Gold Cup by 3/4 length. The favorite, Chief Cicatriz, was boxed in when he needed to run, then finally closed to finish third, 1/2 length farther back. Mr. Jagermeister, a 5-year-old, Minnesota-bred son of Atta Boy Roy, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.02 with Leandro Goncalves in the irons.

In other racing:

Aqueduct

More Mischief rallied widest of three into the stretch in Sunday's $100,000 Biogio's Rose Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares and ran on to a 2 1/2-length victory. The pacesetter, Newly Minted, held second by 3 1/4 lengths over No Hayne No Gayne. More Mischief, a 4-year-old daughter of Into Mischief, finished 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.20 with Manny Franco up.

Sunland Park

Susans Violette led from the start in Saturday's $100,000 Coneja Stakes for New Mexico-bred fillies and mares and held off a cavalry charge in the final yards, winning by a neck. She was followed in close order by Orogrande, Sexy Bikini Model and I'm a Dancin Who. Susans Violette, a 5-year-old Stellar Rain mare, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.92 for jockey Enrique Gomez.

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Sheriff Brown chased down front-running odds-on favorite Pendleton in the final sixteenth to win Sunday's $65,000 Winsham Lad Handicap by 3/4 length. Black Ops reported third. Sheriff Brown, a 4-year-old Curlin gelding, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:35.79 with Alfredo Juarez Jr. in the irons.

Delta Downs

Saturday was Louisiana Premier Night, featuring state-breds. Check the Road to the Roses and Kentucky Oaks preps sections for the results of the 3-year-old races. Otherwise:

Double Barrel Man produced one of the evening's true upsets, outfinishing Bending Saint to take the $100,000 Sprint by 3/4 length at odds of 16-1 with the favorite, Laughingsaintssong, another 3/4 length back in third. Minit to Stardom, on the other hand, performed to her favorite's status in winning the $100,000, 5-furlongs Matron by 3 1/2 lengths over Midnight Fantasy.

Underpressure found a bit of added kick in the final yards of the $150,000 Championship and surged to a 1/2-length victory over Pound for Pound. The odds-on favorite, Shang, faded from the lead to finish fifth, burning a bit of bridge-jumper money. Mariah's Galaxy, the odds-on favorite, rallied to the lead in the lane in the $125,000 Distaff and rolled on to a 4-lengths victory over Tenpins Tempo, finishing in 1:39.48.

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Around the world, around the clock:

Dubai

Thursday's program at Meydan features the $250,000 Group 2 Balanchine Stakes for fillies at mares at 1,800 meters -- a prep for the $6 million Group 1 Dubai Turf, which promises to be one of the highlights of World Cup night. Also on the card is the $200,000 Group 3 Firebreak Stakes at 1 mile on the dirt course, a lead-in to the $1.5 million Group 2 Godolphin Mile. Check back late in the week for results on these.

Hong Kong

As the Hong Kong Jockey Club continues to ratchet down attendance in response to the corona virus threat, Sunday's dual Group 1 events will be run with Sha Tin Racecourse a virtual ghost town. Other than trainers, jockeys, club officials and stewards with race day duties, only horse owners with starters will be admitted to the racecourse. "It is our estimation that the number of customers will be further reduced to 400," the HKJC said in a statement. Customers will submit to temperature screening before entry and advised to wear medical masks.

The Sunday card includes the City Hong Kong Gold Cup at 2,000 meters and the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at 1,400 meters. It's one of only four multiple Group 1 days on the season's calendar.

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The HKJC and the Macau Jockey Club also have suspended their annual Interport Series. This year's Macau Hong Kong Trophy, originally set for March at Taipa Racecourse, and the Hong Kong Macau Trophy, which was to be scheduled in May at Sha Tin Racecourse, have been canceled.

Australia

Alabama Express seized the lead about 200 meters from home and held on to post a narrow victory over Fierce Impact and Kings Will Dream in Saturday's Group 1 C.F. Orr Stakes at Caulfield. Alabama Express, a 3-year-old colt by Redoute's Choice, ran 1,400 meters over good turf in 1:22.07 with Michael Dee riding, posting his fourth win from seven starts. The victory over older horses had his owners buzzing about the boost to his stallion potential, particularly as his sire also was a C.F. Orr winner some 20 years earlier.

News and Notes

The Royal Saint Lucia Turf Club, looking to build on its successful inaugural race day in December, is packaging races with romance for a Valentine's Day-Independence Day celebration -- a natural for an island that bills itself as the world's honeymoon capital.

The races -- four heats featuring the Turf Club's own runners -- will be staged on Sunday, Saint Lucia's Independence Day, at the new track near the south shore of the island. The track is the first piece of a planned multiuse, multibillion-dollar development dubbed "Pearl of the Caribbean," spearheaded by the China Horse Club and designed to bring foreign investment to Saint Lucia.

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The kickoff event in December drew international interest and a large contingent of potential investors -- plus a large crowd of local racing enthusiasts. "We were honored and delighted by the positive response of Saint Lucians to our inaugural race day last December and our team has been working feverishly to ensure we provide wonderful experiences again for people of all ages," said Eden Harrington, the turf club's executive director.

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