Sierra Leone, Track Phantom lock up Kentucky Derby spots

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Sierra Leone jumps to the head of the Kentucky Derby prospect list with a victory in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. Photo courtesy of Fair Grounds
1 of 3 | Sierra Leone jumps to the head of the Kentucky Derby prospect list with a victory in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. Photo courtesy of Fair Grounds

Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Kentucky Derby action stretched from rainswept New Orleans to Japan and back to sunny New Mexico during the weekend with some new prospects popping up along the way.

Fair Grounds also offered some high-class stakes on both the dirt and, to management's credit, on the turf despite the rain. Laurel Park, Gulfstream Park and Aqueduct also were in action.


The Road to the Roses

Sierra Leone effectively guaranteed himself a chance to run in the Kentucky Derby with a stretch-running victory in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

The Gun Runner colt, campaigned by the Ireland-based Coolmore partners, came from the clouds over a sloppy track to chase down pacesetting Track Phantom and score by 1/2 length. It was his second win from just three starts.

The victory was worth 50 points on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" leaderboard, where Sierra Leone now holds the No. 1 slot. Trainer Chad Brown said that makes planning easier.


"What we had planned on, win or lose but assuming a good race, was to use the Blue Grass as our Kentucky Derby prep," Brown said. "So things went well today and we'll stick to that.

"But having the points is a nice-to-have in case there's a rough trip or something doesn't go according to plan in the Blue Grass."

Track Phantom held second and also has enough points now to get into the Churchill Downs starting gate.

At Sunland Park in New Mexico, Stronghold emerged from a scrum on the front end of Sunday's $400,000 Grade III Sunland Derby and drew off in the stretch to win by daylight.

The win pushes the Ghostzapper colt into the No. 4 spot on the leaderboard but his 25 points may not be enough to guarantee a spot in Louisville.

In Japan, Ramjet made his "Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby" debut and pulled off a visually impressive victory in Sunday's Hyacinth Stakes. With previous leader Forever Young in Riyadh to contest next Saturday's Saudi Derby,

Ramjet vaulted to the series lead with one race to go. The final points leader gets a guaranteed invite to Louisville. Ramjet is nominated to the Triple Crown and the Majestic Warrior colt is a live prospect.


The Path to the Oaks

Tarifa chased the early pace in Saturday's $300,000 Grade II Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds, willingly took the lead in the lane and got clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths. The favorite, Intricate, showed late interest to get up for second, 3 lengths in front of Perfect Shot.

Tarifa, a Godolphin homebred filly by Bernardini, ran 1 1/16 miles on a sloppy track in 1:45.28.

Recharge led all the way in Sunday's $250,000 Sunland Park Oaks and held on to win by a neck over Candy Aisle. The favorite, Simply Enchanting, was third.

Recharge, a Winchell Thoroughbreds Gun Runner homebred, ran 1 mile in 1:37.27 with Joel Rosario up for trainer Steve Asmussen. She remains undefeated after three starts.


Money Supply rallied out toward the middle of the sloppy track to nail frontrunning favorite Money Supply by a head in the final strides of Saturday's $250,000 Grade III Mineshaft Stakes at Fair Grounds. Gasoline was well back in third.

Money Supply got his fifth straight win and sixth from seven starts since being claimed for $35,000 last summer at Saratoga.



Honor D Lady took charge in the stretch run in Saturday's $150,000 Grade III Royal Delta Stakes at Gulfstream Park, kicking clear to a 2-lengths victory. Jose Ortiz guided Honor D Lady, a 4-year-old Honor Code filly, over 1 1/16 miles of fast track in 1:44.74. She has missed a top-three finish only once.

Flying Connection, the prohibitive favorite, was in front all the way in Sunday's $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap at Sunland Park and drew off to score by 4 1/4 lengths.


Beatbox, second in his three previous starts, got over the top in Saturday's $175,000 Grade III Fair Grounds Stakes. The 6-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile, trained by Cherie DeVaux, hooked up with pacesetting favorite Strong Quality through the closing stages and prevailed by a neck.

Filly & Mare Turf

Spirit and Glory surged to a clear lead in the stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Albert M. Stall Memorial at Fair Grounds and held off Tryinmyheartout by 3/4 length under the wire.


Post Time, the post time odds-on favorite, ran to his notices in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III General George at Laurel Park, rallying from a last-of-six start to win by 3 lengths over Seven's Eleven. The 4-year-old Frosted colt scored his seventh win from eight starts.


Jaxon Traveler led from gate to wire in Sunday's $100,000 Bill Thomas Memorial at Sunland Park, winning by 3 lengths over Loco Luna.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Apple Picker started last and finished first in Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Barbara Fritchie Stakes at Laurel Park. The 4-year-old Connect filly got through some traffic to take the lead about a sixteenth from the finish and won by 1 length over Last Leaf.

Xtreme Diva dueled with Blue Squall through deep stretch in Saturday's $150,000 Dixie Belle for 3-year-old fillies at Oaklawn Park, finally holding off that rival by a nose.

Halina's Forte rallied to the lead in upper stretch in Saturday's $100,000 Ruthless Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct and drew off to win by 1 3/4 lengths from Ghalia Princess.

Turf Sprint

Stay Hot got hot after the field crossed the dirt track in Saturday's $100,000 Baffle Stakes for 3-year-olds on the Santa Anita hillside course. After trailing his six rivals, the Summer Front ridgling swung four-wide and closed sharply to get home first by a head over Hard Hearted.

Minnesota Ready was ready for the surface switch from turf to slop for Saturday's $100,000 Colonel Power Stakes at Fair Grounds.


Tampa Bay Downs' Turf Dash and Lightning City Stakes were pushed back a week because of turf conditions after a rainy spell.

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