Kentucky Derby contenders compete from California to Dubai

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Dubyuhnell defeats Arctic Arrogance in December's Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. Dubyuhnell is the favorite in Saturday's $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and Arctic Arrogance is the favorite in the $250,000 Withers at the Big A, both Kentucky Derby preps. Photo by Susie Raisher, courtesy of New York Racing Association
1 of 2 | Dubyuhnell defeats Arctic Arrogance in December's Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct. Dubyuhnell is the favorite in Saturday's $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and Arctic Arrogance is the favorite in the $250,000 Withers at the Big A, both Kentucky Derby preps. Photo by Susie Raisher, courtesy of New York Racing Association

Feb. 10 (UPI) -- The "Road to the Kentucky Derby" has a bunch of alternate routes weekend, with potential candidates for the big race in action as far afield as Dubai while 2022 juvenile filly champ Wonder Wheel wheels back into action in Florida.

Otherwise, turf sprinters take their turn at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita, there are nice dirt sprints at Oaklawn Park, Tampa Bay Downs, Oaklawn Park and Turfway Park in an otherwise relatively quiet weekend in racing.


Internationally, there are more doings in Dubai, some 3-year-olds heating up in Japan the British All-Weather Championships spin off a prospect for Australia's autumn staying races.

Not real quiet, after all.

The Road to the Roses

New York, California and Florida all have official stops on the Churchill Downs "Road to the Kentucky Derby" this weekend, with the $250,000 Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct and the $250,000 Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs each offering points on the 20-8-6-4-2 scale.


The El Camino Real Derby on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather course is worth 10-4-3-2-1 points. The Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas in Dubai isn't part of the series, but serves as an entry point to the Group 2 UAE Derby, which is.


Dubyuhnell is the 9-5 morning-line favorite among 12 in for Saturday's Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs -- a pretty good indication this race is up for grabs.

The Danny Gargan-trained Good Magic colt makes his 3-year-old debut after wrapping up 2022 with a win in the Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct.

In that, he was all out to catch Arctic Arrogance (see New York, below) and win by 1/2 length, with the rest of the field strung out most of the way back to Ozone Park.

Should Dubyuhnell not please the eye, it's time to stab the program with a hatpin and hope. Worthington has run okay at Gulfstream Park but exclusively on the turf.

Saffie Joseph Jr. saddles Prairie Hawk, a winner last time out at the Tampa oval. Dreaming of Kona won the Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Jan. 1 on a disqualification. Zydeceaux and Champions Dream return from the local prep, the Pasco Stakes.


New York

The Withers, run at 1 1/8 miles at the Big A, drew a field of seven, but the oddsmaker has it a virtual match race between the local boy, Arctic Arrogance, and the invader, Hit Show.

Arctic Arrogance emerged from the state-bred ranks to finish second in both the Grade II Remsen in December and the Jerome last month. The Linda Rice trainee, a Frosted colt, gets the nod as the 8-5 favorite. Brad Cox brings Hit Show from Oaklawn Park, where he was last seen winning impressively going 1 mile.

The rest of the field is composed mostly of New York-breds looking to emulate Arctic Arrogance's move up in the world. General Banker jumped up from New York-bred company to get show money in the Jerome.

Andiamo a Firenze has mostly competed against locals, too, finishing fourth, beaten more than 12 lengths, when tried in the Grade I Champagne back in October.

If the entries look tilted toward an upset, have a peek at Jungfrau, a Godolphin homebred colt by Arrogate who has been improving through three starts.


Friday evening's Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas is the on-ramp for the Group 2 UAE Derby on World Cup night March 25 -- a race that's part of the Churchill Downs "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series with 100 points to the winner, 50 to the runner-up, etc.


And that Derby in the desert may be the qualifier least likely to be full of expensive, talented runners trained by Bob Baffert (in person or by proxy), Brad Cox or Todd Pletcher. Of course, Sheikh Mohammed might have something.

Lack of American rivals certainly the case for the 2000 Guineas and California-based trainer Doug O'Neill, a Carnival veteran, is ready to pounce with Tall Boy, a Lookin' at Lucky colt, set to make his 3-year-old debut in the event.

"The reason he's in Dubai is because we think he's capable of being pointed to the UAE Derby," assistant trainer Leandro Mora said. "He has two Kentucky Derby points already and we like him because he's run three tough races against Bob Baffert horses. He's a gentle giant with a lot of talent."

He's also still winless after four starts as a 2-year-old but showed some promise while finishing fourth in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity.

The Guineas field also includes Shirl's Bee, trained by Doug Watson for owner-breeder Charles Fipke. Fipke bred the Bee Jersey colt, who won his only previous start at Meydan Dec. 23.


Both Tall Boy and Shirl's Bee are early U.S. Triple Crown nominees, so there's a hint.


You travel up the coast from Southern California, where the 3-year-old races are filled with Bob Baffert's talented stock, flip the Golden Gate Fields program to the page for Saturday's $100,000 El Camino Real Derby, and what's the first thing you see in the No. 1 gate?

Another Baffert horse.

That's Gilmore, who makes his first start of 2022, and his first on the all-weather, in the 1-mile heat. The Twirling Candy colt finished third in his career bow at Del Mar and won in December at Los Alamitos. He's been ticking along like a Longines watch in his Santa Anita drills.

Several of the others in the El Camino Real have been disputing the local 3-year-old features. Passarando won the Gold Rush Stakes in December, but regressed in last month's California Cup Derby, getting home third. Harcyn steps into the stakes world with a 2-for-2 record.

And at the bottom of the page in the outside No. 8 stall? Yet another from the Baffert barn -- Nularbor, coming off a front-running maiden claiming win in a Sana Anita sprint in which he wasn't taken for $62,500.


Also of note

Saturday's 6-furlong Jimmy Winkfield Stakes at Aqueduct and 6 1/2-furlong Valdale on the Turfway Park all-weather are worth a look -- probably not for the Derby but one or two from the Winkfield -- Drew's Gold and/or Clubhouse -- could be on a Preakness course.

Coming up next

The $400,000 Grade II Risen Star on Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds ups the ante on the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" with 50 points to the winner and 20-15-10-5 to the next four finishers. That will shake the leaderboard.

The Path to the Oaks

If the Sam F. Davis is a wide-open affair, the companion $150,000 Suncoast Stakes is anything but -- on paper, anyway. The even-money favorite in a nine-filly field is Wonder Wheel, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Eclipse Award winner.

She won four of five last year and her numbers stand out. The Tampa Bay oddsmaker gives Grade II Demoiselle winner Julia Shining some love and she could be flying late.

Turf Sprint

The "Old Guys Rule" crowd is at it again in Saturday's $100,000 Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint with 9-year-old Belgrano and 7-year-old Carotari the morning-line favorites in a field of 10.

Miss J McKay, a mare of a certain age (6), also tops the morning-line for Saturday's $100,000 Ladies Turf Sprint at the Hallendale Beach oval.


They're all 3-year-old fillies in Saturday's $100,000 Sweet Life Stakes at Santa Anita with Manhattan Jungle the morning-line favorite in a field of 11.


Eleven go in Saturday's $100,000 Pelican at Tampa Bay Downs with Sibelius the morning-line pick. He comes from a victory in the Grade III Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Carmel Swirl, last seen finishing second to Eclipse Award winner Goodnight Olive in the Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga, returns to action in Saturday's $50,000 Minaret Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

She'll probably have to catch a couple starting to her inside but, even off the long vacation, it would be quite a surprise if she can't beat this field.

Brad Cox ships Key of Life up from his New Orleans base to make her 2023 debut in Saturday's $150,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Oaklawn Park. A daughter of Mo Town, Key of Life won three of five starts last year on the Kentucky circuit.

Eleven are entered for Saturday's $125,000 Valdale Stakes on the Turfway Park all-weather. Wesley Ward, as often happens at the northern Kentucky track, saddles the favorite, Murky.

She won at first asking last September on the Kentucky Downs turf, flopped on the Keeneland greensward and won her 2023 debut at Turfway last month.


Around the world, around the clock


While the 2000 Guineas is the cream of the evening's crop potential contenders for Super Saturday and World Cup night are sprinkled through the program, The Group 2 Blue Point Sprint 1,000 meters on the grass, in particular, should showcase a pair of Godolphin contenders for the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint in March.

Local favorite Lazuli who warmed up for the Blue Point with a victory over course and distance in January, and Man of Promise, second last time out in the listed Dubai Sprint. Those two have faced off twice, each winning once. Charlie Appleby, who trained Blue Point for Godolphin, also trains both Lazuli and Man of Promise.

"Lazuli is tried and tested over five furlongs at Meydan and this is his optimum trip," Appleby said. "He is in great form and, even with his draw in stall one, he has speed horses around him and looks the one to beat.

"Man Of Promise ran a good solid race over this distance in the Dubai Dash and seems to be taking his racing better these days."

Irish-bred Czech invader Ponntos finished third behind Lazuli in their last race. Irish trainer Johnny Murtagh, a first-timer at the Carnival this season, is represented by the filly Ladies Church, a Group 2 winner in Ireland two starts back, but 17th in the Group 1 Flying Five Stakes back home last time out.



Efforia, a three-time Grade 1 winner in 2021, is back in action Sunday in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen at Hanshin Racecourse, looking to rebound from a 2022 season that saw him finish out of the frame in all three starts.

The 5-year-old son of Epiphaneia was ninth in the Osaka Hai, sixth in the Takarazuka Kinen and fifth in the Arima Kinen in 2022, after winning the Satsuki Sho or Japanese 2000 Guineas, the Tenno Sho Autumn and the Arima Kinen and finished second in the Tokyo Yushun or Japanese Derby.

Do Deuce also is looking for a rebound although his slump looks more forgivable. After winning the 2022 Tokyo Yushun, the Heart's Cry colt journeyed to Paris, where he finished fourth in the Group 2 Prix Niel before straggling home 19th in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

The race is 2,200 meters on the turf and drew a field of 13. Yutaka Take ride Do Deuce with Takeshi Yokoyama up on Efforia.

Sunday at Tokyo Racecourse, a dozen 3-year-olds are entered for the Kyoto News Hai, an 1,800-meter event that should be instructive about chances for upcoming Classics. Three-year-old fillies take a shakeout cruse at the same track Saturday in the Grade 3 Daily Hai Queen Cup.



Earl of Tyrone, making his first start for trainer William Haggas, pulled away from an accomplished field to with the featured conditions stakes Wednesday at Kempton Park by a comfortable 2 3/4 lengths over Berkshire Rocco.

The field also included last year's All-Weather Marathon Championships winner Earlofthecotswolds, who faded from the lead to finish fourth. James Doyle had the winning ride.

The victory earned Earl of Tyrone a Fast-Track Qualifier spot in this year's £150,000 All-Weather Marathon Championships on Good Friday but it appears the 5-year-old Australia gelding instead is headed to Australia.

"Earl Of Tyrone was bought [for 300,000 guineas] at the horses-in-training sale, and we have not had him that long," assistant trainer Maureen Haggas said.

"He is off to Australia and goes into quarantine tomorrow. I think William wanted to find whether we go for the mile-and-a-half race (Tancred Stakes) or the 2-mile race [Sydney Cup].

"Looking at that, he will probably go straight for the Sydney Cup and you'd hope he would have a nice chance."

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