Kentucky Derby field starts final shakedown for 150th running May 4

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Encino won Saturday's Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and, with a little help from a withdrawal, earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby field. Photo courtesy of Keeneland
1 of 2 | Encino won Saturday's Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and, with a little help from a withdrawal, earned a spot in the Kentucky Derby field. Photo courtesy of Keeneland

April 15 (UPI) -- The Kentucky Derby field appeared set for fewer than 24 hours before Saturday racing and a Sunday withdrawal started the annual tossup to see which 3-year-olds will fill the 20-horse starting gate.

Meanwhile, turf racing at Keeneland promised a hefty European challenge in this summer's big U.S. grass racing.


We also have the first leg of the Japanese Triple Crown in the books and some promising French 3-year-olds.

Shall we? Oui.

The Road to the Roses

Encino's front-running win in Saturday's $400,000 Grade III Lexington Stakes at Keeneland wasn't quite enough to get him into the Kentucky Derby field.

But, combined with the defection of No More Time less than 24 hours later, he sliped right through the back door into maximum-20 horse field for the Run for the Roses. Whether he will run is up to his owners at Dubai-based Godolphin.


The Lexington was Encino's first start on dirt after a second and two wins on the Turfway Park all-weather. He had no trouble with the surface switch, jumping out to the lead under Florent Geroux, crossing over to the rail and hanging on to win by 3/4 length.

Trainer Brad Cox, who already has Catching Freedom and Just a Touch firmly in the Derby field, wasn't counting any chickens about adding Encino to that lineup. But he said he'll be ready.

"I'll tell you it will either be the Derby or the Preakness," Cox said.


Oaklawn's Grade I Apple Blossom Handicap is one of the premier filly-and-mare races on the American calendar and Bob Baffert has been one of the most successful big-race visitors at the Arkansas track for years now.

The elements came together in Saturday's $1.25 million renewal of the Apple Blossom as the Baffert-trained Adare Manor led from the early jumps and won off by 5 1/2 lengths, unchallenged.

Flying Connection and Free Like a Girl, at odds of 26-1 and 58-1, respectively, were second and third.

On Sunday at Aqueduct, Tizzy in the Sky flew down the stretch to win the $150,000 Top Flight Stakes by 9 lengths, geared down by jockey Kendrick Carmouche. Movie Moxie was best of the other four.


Tizzy in the Sky, a 5-year-old Sky Kingdom mare, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.56, recording her first stakes win.

Filly & Mare Turf

The bettors found a way, to their regret, to ignore the combination of jockey Frankie Dettori, trainer Chad Brown and the Keeneland turf, letting Beaute Cachee go at odds of 25-1 in Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes.

The 5-year-old mare and 53-year-old jockey responded by leading throughout the 1 1/16-miles feature, and then held off the favorite, English Rose, and jockey William Buick by 1 1/4 lengths for the win. Didia was third.

Turf Mile

Master of the Seas, idle since winning the Breeders' Cup Mile last November, returned in style with a 2 1/4-length victory in Friday's $600,000 Grade I Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland.

Jockey William Buick pointed the Dubawi gelding to a big opening on the rail at the top of the stretch and he responded immediately.

Naval Power was second, giving Godolphin a 1-2 in the event. Master of the Seas has won four of five U.S. starts, and trainer Charlie Appleby said he'll be sticking around in the colonies for the foreseeable future.


"We hope they both have a nice future for the summer here in America, hopefully the pair of them," Appleby said.

Turf Sprint

Roses for Debra came with a sustained run through the stretch to win Saturday's $300,000 Grade III Giant's Causeway Stakes at Keeneland by 1 1/4 lengths over Love Reigns. Elm Drive was third.

Roses for Debra, a 5-year-old mare by Liam's Map, got 5 1/2 furlongs on good turf in 1:02.79 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the kip.

Three-year-old fillies contested Friday's $250,000 Limestone Stakes at Keeneland and Hot Beach made short work of that affair, leading most of the way to a 4-length win.


Skelly had a seven-race winning streak snapped when he finished second in the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in Saudi Arabia in February. But he picked right back up in Saturday's $500,000 Grade III Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park, dominating a half-dozen rivals en route to a 3-length victory.

Around the world, around the clock


Justin Milano found a powerful late turn of foot that carried him to victory Sunday at Nakayama Racecourse in the first leg of the Japanese Triple Crown, the Grade 1 Satsuki Sho.

The colt not only won the race impressively from just off the very hot early pace but also lowered the course record by 0.7 second while remaining undefeated after three starts.


Last year's champion, Japanese 2-year-old, Jantar Mantar, got the lead in the stretch, but gave way in the final strides and finished third with long shot Cosmo Kuranda second.

The favorite, Regaleira, a Suave Richard filly who defeated colts in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes in December, finished sixth.

Jockey Keita Tosaki and trainer Yasuo Tomomichi expressed confidence Justin Milano can handle the 2,400 meters of the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby on May 26.


Ramadan, the solid favorite, captured Sunday's Group 3 Prix de Fountainbleu for 3-year-old colts and geldings at Longchamp, defeating Beauvatier by 3/4 length.

A Le Havre colt, Ramadan made it 2-for-2 this season after wrapping up 2023 with a fourth-place finish in the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud.

Candala, also a solid favorite, rallied from well back to win Saturday's Group 3 Prix de la Grotte for 3-year-old fillies at Longchamp by a short head over Minoushka. It was the 3-year-old debut for Candala, an Aga Khan homebred filly by Frankel, who won one of two starts in 2023.

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