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Three Kentucky Derby preps share weekend racing spotlight

By
Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Life Is Good, shown winning the Sham Stakes on Jan. 2, returns in Saturday's Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita. Benoit photo, courtesy of Santa Anita
Life Is Good, shown winning the Sham Stakes on Jan. 2, returns in Saturday's Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita. Benoit photo, courtesy of Santa Anita

March 5 (UPI) -- Three big Kentucky Derby preps, including a West Coast showdown, share the horse racing spotlight this weekend with Super Saturday in Dubai.

Tampa Bay Downs has an outstanding Saturday card, much of it on the grass. And Santa Anita has a pair of Grade I events including the Santa Anita Handicap.

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On the international front, in addition to Dubai, Australian tracks host four Group 1 events on Saturdays, and Saturday also brings the S A Classic for 3-year-olds at Turffontein in South Africa.

The Kentucky Derby is only eight weeks from Saturday so, naturally, we'll start right there, right now.

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The Road to the Roses

The West Coast contenders get a shakeout cruise in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita with the Bob Baffert-trained pair Life Is Good and Medina Spirit high on the list.

Life Is Good, an Into Mischief colt, has won both previous starts, holding off the late run of Medina Spirit to take the Grade III Sham by 3/4 length Jan. 2. Medina Spirit came back from that to win the Grade III Robert B. Lewis on Jan. 30.

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The San Felipe is not entirely a Baffert show, though. Medina Spirit was all out to hold on in the Lewis with Roman Centurian finishing just a neck back.

That one returns, looking for revenge. There's also The Great One, a Nyquist colt who lost to Speilberg, another of Baffert's, by just a nose in the Grade II Los Alamitos Futurity in December.

While the San Felipe will help sort out the West Coast crowd, it still leaves the question of their merits relative to the rest of the country -- an issue to be decided in the coming months as contenders spread out in search of Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

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Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, meanwhile, looks a lot like one of those "play-in" games for the NCAA basketball tournament -- a chance for a late-blooming contender to make a case for consideration.

Here, the Cinderella might be Candy Man Rocket, winner of the Grade III Sam F. Davis over the same track Feb. 6. That was his third start and second win in a row and the Bill Mott trainee looks like the one to beat.

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Others looking to sneak into the picture at Tampa Bay include Super Strong, who won his only previous start, a Grade I at Hipodromo Camarero in Puerto Rico and now is trained by Saffie Joseph Jr.; Hidden Stash, who was third in the Sam F. Davis; Unbridled Honor, a recent maiden winner who has been burning up the Palm Beach Downs training track for trainer Pletcher; Helium, who won both of his starts on the Woodbine all-weather late last year for Mark Casse; and Sittin On Go, who needs to step it up to justify the faith of trainer Dale Romans.

It would be fun to have Unbridled Honor run well and get him into the Churchill Downs starting gate alongside last weekend's Fountain of Youth winner, Greatest Honour.

Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct is a turnback to 1 mile for much of the field but that could work into almost any training scheme. Freedom Fighter and Wipe the Slate earned a transcontinental trip after their last starts.

The former, trained by Bob Baffert, was a good second behind Concert Tour in the Grade II San Vicente and the latter was fifth in the Grade III Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita on Jan. 30.

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Also in the Gotham: Capo Kane, a Street Sense colt, won the Jerome Stakes and finished third in the Grade III Withers over the Big A surface and Highly Motivated, an Into Mischief colt from the Chad Brown barn, who won the Nyquist Stakes on the Breeders's Cup undercard at Keeneland and makes his 3-year-old debut. The others are recent maiden winners.

The murky waters of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager are beginning to clear a bit, at least according to the morning-line odds for Pool 4, which opens Friday.

For the first time, "All Other 3-Year-Olds" is not the favorite on the line. That honor goes to last weekend's Southwest Stakes winner Essential Quality.

The undefeated Eclipse Award and Breeders' Cup winner is listed at 7-2 on the line. The aforementioned Life is Good is 4-1 -- a figure certain to be impacted one way or another by his performance in the San Felipe. Greatest Honour is 6-1 and "all others" drops to third choice at 10-1.

Among the "all others" is a Godolphin colt, Highland Avenue, who won Wednesday's Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes at Kempton Park in England, taking the points lead in the "European Road to the Kentucky Derby" series.

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The Dubawi colt, with Hollie Doyle up, overcame a tardy start, led the final furlong and won with authority. The well-regarded Oo De Lally, a Vadamos colt, could only manage third.

The European "Road" continues Friday with the Patton Stakes at Dundalk in Ireland.

Highland Avenue now has two wins from as many starts this year. He is not, however, a nominee to the U.S. Triple Crown so Godolphin's intentions remain to be seen.

Sheik Mohammed's global combine also has promising 3-year-olds in Japan and Dubai as well as Essential Quality and Proxy, who stand No. 3 and No. 5 on the main "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard.

And, speaking of murky waters, take a peek below the surface of the pond with expert analysis of all three U.S. Derby preps this weekend by former trainer, racing exec and journalist Jude Feld. Jude "pontificates" in a unique, informative format at popejude.com.

The Road to the Oaks

A nicely matched field of eight is assembled for Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Honeybee at Oaklawn Park. Oliviaofthedesert, a Bernardini filly, and Will's Secret, by Will Take Charge, both arrive off two straight wins and both won stakes races in their last start.

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The morning-line favorite is Sun Path, a Juddmonte Farms homebred filly by Munnings, who saw her own two-race skein snapped with a fourth-place finish in the Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds in January.

Six fillies are in for Saturday's $250,000 Busher Invitational at Aqueduct and any could win. Miss Brazil is the morning-line favorite after two wins on the track. Make Mischief enters with three wins and three seconds from seven starts. A classic program-stabber.

Sunday's $100,000 Grade III Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita has a field of five, three trained by Bob Baffert and two from Mike McCarthy's barn.

The best of the Bafferts -- best in the race -- is Kalypso, a Brody's Cause filly who won the Grade II Santa Ynez in January and finished second in the Grade III Las Virgenes last month.

The silver-haired conditioner also has Heels Up and Beautiful Gift, whose only wins have been in maiden affairs. McCarthy offers Moraz, third in the Las Virgenes, and maiden winner A Real Hero.

Classic

Maxfield is in from New Orleans to put his unblemished record on the line in Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Santa Anita Handicap.

The 4-year-old Street Sense colt, trained by Brendan Walsh for Godolphin, won twice at 2 at twice more at 3. He started this season with a victory in the Grade III Mineshaft at Fair Grounds Feb. 13.

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The local contingent for The Big 'Cap also includes the first three finishers from the Grade II San Pasqual on Jan. 30 -- Express Train, Tizamagician and Idol.

Also in for the 1 1/4-mile test are Independence Hall, Kiss Today Goodbye and Coastal Defense, all also-rans in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park Jan. 23.

Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs has an interesting field of five. Modernist, Letmeno and War Stopper all were given chances against top company as 3-year-olds, but couldn't quite hack it but all returned later to show promise.We'll see what they can do now that they're four.

Last Judgment gets some class relief after finishing up the track in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup last time. And Jungle Fighter will find things different in his 5-year-old debut.

He makes his first start on the dirt, first start as a gelding, first start outside Woodbine, first start for owner-trainer Kerri Raven and the blinkers come off. To mis-use the line from "Guys and Dolls," the guy says the horse can do.

Distaff

Lake Avenue and Thankful stand out among eight entries for Saturday's $125,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational at Aqueduct.

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Lake Avenue, a Tapit filly, arrives from Gulfstream Park off an impressive allowance score in her last start. She won the Grade II Demoiselle at the Big A in 2019, regressed last year and looks to snap back.

Thankful, a 4-year-old American Pharoah filly, won the Ladies Handicap at Aqueduct in January in her last outing.

Sprint

It looks like they'll have Brickyard Ride to catch in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II San Carlos at Santa Anita. On paper, that might be a tough task for these rivals, none of whom has much of a record at this 7-furlong distance on the dirt.

Note the presence, on the rail, of Storm the Court. The 2019 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has not found the winner's circle in any of his nine subsequent starts as trainer Peter Eurton has tried him going long, going short, on turf and on dirt. He's been working well and a hot pace up front could give him a chance here.

Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Tom Fool Handicap at Aqueduct got six takers. Share the Ride sticks out as the winner of the Grade III General George at Laurel Park in his last outing. He also won the Grade III Fall Highweight last year.

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Last year's Tom Fool runner-up, Happy Farm, winner of the 2019 Grade III Fall Highweight before that, enters off a victory in a straight claimer in which he wasn't taken for $50,000. Perhaps he's lost a step at age 7. Pete's Play call has been consistently in the money in local stakes.

Turf Mile

Smooth Like Strait and Hit the Road take on a huge invasion of Florida-based rivals in Saturday's $400,000 Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita.

Smooth Like Strait, a 4-year-old Midnight Lute colt, comes off a win in the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile, while Hit the Road won the Grade III Thunder Road in his last outing -- both at Santa Anita.

Six rivals flew in from Florida for this (and, yeah, yeah, their legs are really tired!). Among them: Social Paranoia was last seen a respectable fourth in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf; Flavius won the Tourist Mile at Kentucky Downs last fall, then finished a close second to Count Again in the Grade II Seabiscuit in a November trip to California; and Ride a Comet and Casa Creed exit a 1-2 finish in the Grade III Tropical Turf at Gulfstream Park.

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Saturday's $75,000 Columbia Stakes for 3-year-olds at Tampa Bay Downs has a full field with lots of recent maiden winners.

One to watch: Winfromwithin was well enough intentioned that he was nominated to the Triple Crown but didn't show much last summer in New York. He woke up big time when trainer Todd Pletcher gave him a chance on the greensward in his 3-year-old debut Jan. 2 at Gulfstream Park, leading all the way to his first win with a Beyer Speed Figure of 84.

Filly & Mare Turf

Some major players will line up in a field of 11 set for Saturday's $225,000 Grade II Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs. Magic Attitude, a 4-year-old, British-bred Galileo filly, competed at the highest levels in France last year, winning a Group 3 race, finishing second in the Group 1 Prix Saint Alary and fifth, beaten just 3 lengths, in the Group 1 Prix de Diane or French Oaks.

Sent across the water, she won the Group 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational and finished third in the Group I QE II Cup at Keeneland. If she can reproduce any of that, she will be tough here.

The opposition includes the 1-2 finishers from the Grade III Endeavour, Counterparty Risk and New York Girl, and Micheline, who won last year's Dueling Ground Oaks at Kentucky Downs and finished second in the QE II Cup.

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While the Hillsborough is packed with proven quality, Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Florida Oaks over the same course is filled with potential. The big field has lots of recent maiden winners, first-time turfers and one who was claimed last time out for $20,000.

The exception is Jouster, a daughter of Noble Mission and granddaughter of Galileo, who ran twice on the dirt last year but, like the aforementioned Winfromwithin, blossomed when trainer Pletcher put her on the grass, winning both previous starts this year while leading all the way and starting to justify her $360,000 yearling ticket.

Saturday's $100,000 China Doll Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Santa Anita is 1 mile on the lawn with nine takers and the usual mix of maiden winners and iffy stakes contenders.

Quattroelle, an Irish-bred daughter of Mehmas, comes off a win in the Blue Norther over the course and distance following a third in the Grade III Jimmy Durante at Del Mar and could make a statement here. Some of those maiden winners look scary, too.

Around the world, around the clock:

Dubai

It's Super Saturday in Dubai, last local stop before World Cup night three weeks down the road. Seven races preview the big night, which last year was canceled at the last minute as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the Middle East.

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All seven races are competitive and each is likely to provide a few -- or more -- contenders for the March 27 program. And, while the Godolphin home team has been a dominant force throughout the World Cup Carnival, the blue silks are not the major players in several of the Super Saturday events.

The Group 1 Maktoum Challenge Round 3 previews the World Cup itself. This is a well-matched contest with Salute the Soldier, Secret Ambition and Thegreatcollection in the mix. Godolphin will have lots more for the big race but for this, trainer Saeed bin Suroor sends out Dubai Mirage, who experiments with the dirt surface.

The Al Bastakiya at 1,900 meters on the dirt gives several 3-year-olds a last-minute chance to get into the Group 2 UAE Derby. Major contenders include Uruguayan colt El Patriota and Sheik Hamdan's American-bred Panadol.

There are two Group 3 sprints on the card, the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint, a preview of the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint, and the Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal on the dirt, a prelude to the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen.

Doug Watson saddles the top two in the Mahab Al Shimaal in Canvassed and Premier Star. The Nad Al Sheba is wide open with Sheikh Hamdan owning half the 14-horse field.

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The Group 1 Jebbel Hatta at 1,800 meters on the grass is a prep for the Group 1 Dubai Turf at the same conditions. Godolphin's Al Suhail and 8-year-old globetrotter Lord Glitters are among the top prospects.

The Group 3 Burj Nahaar at 1,600 meters on the dirt previews the Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night. Midnight Sands and 9-year-old North America are among the favorites, along with Blown By Wind.

And the Group 2 Dubai City of Gold is 2,410 miles on the turf and leads to the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup at 2 miles. This is one where Godolphin is prominent with four of the seven starters, including two of the most-fancied on the international wagering platforms.

Australia

Four Group 1 events are on tap Saturday.

Royal Randwick hosts the Randwick Guineas at 1,600 meters, featuring the undefeated Aegon, a New Zealand-bred gelding by Sacred Falls, and the Heineken 3 Canterbury Stakes at 1,300 meters with Bivouac, Savatiano, Masked Crusader and eight others.

Flemington has the TAB Australian Cup at 2,000 meters, featuring a massive field and lots of prospects, and the Seppelt Wines Newmarket Handicap at 1,200 meters with September Run looking to return to the winner's enclosure after a second to Nature Strip in the Group 1 Black Caviar Lightning in her last start.

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France / England

Duhail was impressive in winning Tuesday's Prix Anabaa at Chantilly, a Fast-Track Qualifier for the Betway All-Weather Sprint Championship at Lingfield Park on Good Friday. Nonetheless, his connections indicated the son of Lope de Vega is headed for the grass in the spring and summer.

Trained by Andre Fabre and ridden by Vincent Cheminaud, Duhail was having his first start since winning a 1,200-meters handicap at Longchamp in October. In Tuesday's race, he emerged from mid-pack entering the final furlong and won by 4 lengths.

"That was very pleasing, particularly as Duhail was running against some horses who are specialists on this surface, although he has already won on the All-Weather," said Rupert Pritchard-Gordon, racing manager in France for the owner, Al Shaqab Racing.

"We know he is just as effective on soft ground. He won the handicap off top weight at the end of the year on heavy ground, so he is very versatile ... Hopefully, now he is a fully mature horse turning 5, he will be a horse to look forward to in some of those nice 7-furlong races."

South Africa


Saturday's Group 1 World Sports Betting S A Classic for 3-year-olds at Turffontein Standside has 11 takers with Malmoos looking to start showing some command of the division.

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The Captain Al colt is 5-for-6 with the only loss coming Dec. 19 in the Cape Guineas where he was carried out by a rival in the final furlong. Mike de Kock trains for Sheik Hamdan.

He returned with a victory in the Gauteng Guineas on Feb. 13, edging Catch Twentytwo by a neck and faces that rival again Saturday. Copper Mountain, Second Base and Bingwa were third, fourth and fifth three weeks ago and also return.

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