Carpe Diem an even-money Blue Grass favorite
Ocho Ocho Ocho (Street Sense) will invade from California after sustaining his first loss, a troubled eighth in the March 7 San Felipe (G2) in which he got nicked up after being knocked around in the early stages. The Jim Cassidy trainee captured all three starts at two, including a gutsy nose tally in his lone previous foray outside of California, the $1 million Delta Jackpot (G1) in November, and the speedy colt figures to be much more involved from the start than he was last time. He's listed as the 6-1 co-second choice with new jockey Santiago Gonzalez.
Classy Class (Discreetly Mine), third in the Gotham (G3) and Withers (G3) in his last two starts, is also 6-1. The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained colt will be making his first start outside of New York and Junior Alvarado will be along for the ride.
Danzig Moon (Malibu Moon), Frammento (Midshipman) and Gorgeous Bird (Unbridled's Song) come next on the morning line at 8-1.
Danzig Moon opened 2015 with a smart 4 3/4-length maiden score at Gulfstream Park and followed with a fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby. The promising Mark Casse pupil is eligible to improve upon his first start against winners and will retain the services of top Keeneland jockey Julien Leparoux.
Frammento was no factor as well in his stakes debut, the January 24 Holy Bull (G2), but will attempt to keep moving forward after offering an encouraging late run for third in the February 21 Fountain of Youth (G2). Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, a two-time Kentucky Derby winner, is excited to get his charge away from Gulfstream Park and Frammento recorded his lone victory over maiden special weight rivals at Keeneland last October. Three-time Kentucky Derby winner Gary Stevens picks up the mount on the confirmed closer.
Gorgeous Bird will make his second stakes attempt for Ian Wilkes following a fifth in the Fountain of Youth. Bet down to 6-1, the gray colt did not appear to like the tiring track last time after opening his sophomore campaign with an excellent seven-length score over allowance/optional claiming foes. Brian Hernandez Jr., who was up for Gorgeous Bird's maiden win at Churchill Downs last fall, will retake the reins.
Completing the Blue Grass line-up are Unrivaled (Super Saver), who exits a five-length allowance romp at Parx Racing in his seasonal bow; and John Battaglia Memorial runner-up Pepper Roani (Broken Vow). Both are 12-1 on the morning line.
Peace and War returns to Keeneland for Ashland
"She is better mentally now than she was last year," Stevens said.
The only other Grade 1 winner in the field is Angela Renee (Bernardini), who took the Chandelier (G1) at Santa Anita last fall, but Todd Pletcher's filly was subsequently beaten by wide margins in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Demoiselle (G2). She was fourth in her season debut, the Rachel Alexandra (G3) at Fair Grounds, after a slow start.
Lovely Maria (Majesticperfection) and West Coast Belle (Tapit), second and sixth, respectively, in the Rachel Alexandra, return for the Ashland. Lovely Maria has been first or second in all five outings conducted on a fast track, while West Coast Belle seeks to fare better than what she showed in two starts at Fair Grounds over the winter. She won two stakes at Churchill Downs last fall, including the Golden Rod (G2).
Completing the field are Forward Gal (G2) runner-up Lassofthemohicans (Indian Charlie), fifth in the Davona Dale (G2) last time; New York-bred stakes winner Temper Mint Patty (Congrats); and maiden winner Silverpocketsfull (Indian Charlie).
The $350,000 Madison (G1), a seven-furlong dash for fillies and mares, marks the season debut of Stopchargingmaria (Tale of the Cat). One of the more accomplished three-year-old fillies in the country last season, with consecutive wins in the Black-Eyed Susan (G2), Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), and Alabama (G1), she ended her campaign with a distant second to older mares in the Beldame (G1).
Undrafted (Purim), owned by NFL star Wes Welker and trained by Wesley Ward, is the star attraction of the $125,000 Shakertown (G3) at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf. After taking the Jaipur (G3) at Belmont last June, the gelding was a respectable fourth in the July Cup (Eng-G1) at Newmarket and later missed by a half-length in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Undrafted will have to overcome the far outside post in the field of 13.
Australian import Power Alert (Alert) is two-for-two since arriving in America, most recently taking the $75,000 Silks Run at Gulfstream over Amelia's Wild Ride (D'wildcat), the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint winner with whom he renews acquaintance in the Shakertown.
Something Extra (Indian Charlie), a multiple Grade 2 winner in Canada, has placed in two prior starts over the course, including a neck loss in the 2014 Shakertown. Another threat is Tightend Touchdown (Pure Precision), a multiple winner of the Pennsylvania Governor's Cup at Penn National and past runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint.
Also in the lineup is Zee Bros, a course-and-distance allowance winner in October who later claimed the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel. The D. Wayne Lukas charge has placed in one of three outings so far this year.
Far From Over sidelined due to injury
Far From Over impressively rallied to win the 1 1/16-mile Withers by 1 3/4 lengths after a slow break saw him trail the field of six most of the way.
The colt debut over Aqueduct's inner dirt December 12, when he won a maiden race by a nose going one mile and 70 yards.
Richardson to replace retiring Lehr as Churchill super
Lehr joined the Churchill Downs staff two days after his graduation from Louisville's DuPont Manual High School in 1972 and, with the exception a stint in the Army in 1973-74, has worked beneath the track's venerable Twin Spires since then. Even during his military duty, he came home to work with the track crew for the 100th Kentucky Derby in 1974.
Lehr became part of the track maintenance team upon his 1972 arrival at the track, and later served as Director of Operations at Trackside Training Center, which has a six-furlong training track and stabling facilities and is located about five miles from Churchill Downs, from 1994 through May 2005. After his service at Trackside, Lehr returned to Churchill Downs and served as assistant track superintendent until he was named to the department's top post in 2012.
"Churchill Downs has been an important part of my life and the lives of members of my family as long as any of us can remember, so my decision to retire after 43 years is somewhat bittersweet," Lehr said. "The decision is, however, the right thing for me and my family, and I'm looking forward to the next step in my life. We have always tried to do things the right way in taking care of our dirt and turf courses, and we've been on the lookout for new practices and technology to keep those tracks safe and fair. I'm very proud of our accomplishments and the growth of Churchill Downs racing during my career, and I wish Jamie Richardson the best in this very special job."
As only the fifth person to hold the post of track superintendent at 141-year-old racing and sports icon, Richardson follows Tom Young, who was appointed as the track's first track superintendent by legendary General Manager and President Col. Matt Winn in 1911 and held the job for the next 50 years; Thurman Pangburn, who succeeded Young in 1962 and held the post until his retirement in 1981, and the Lehr brothers.
In Richardson, Churchill Downs will have a new track superintendent who has served in the number two position on its track team since 2012 and a veteran of Triple Crown events. Along with the two Kentucky Derbys he has worked at Churchill Downs, Richardson served as track superintendent for the Maryland Jockey Club from 1989-2008. The MJC's tracks includes Pimlico, the home of the Preakness.
Richardson, a 46 year-old native of Jarrettsville, Maryland, also served as track superintendent at Oaklawn Park for two years before he joined Churchill Downs.
Keeneland opens 15-day spring meet with Transylvania featured
In all, Keeneland's 15-day Spring Meet features 16 stakes races worth $4.35 million.
The Spring Meet runs through April 24, with live racing Wednesday through Sunday. Gates open at 11 a.m. (EDT); post time for the first race is 1:05 p.m. except on April 4 and April 11, when first post is 12:35 p.m. Keeneland is closed this Sunday due to the Easter holiday.
The shift of the Blue Grass to the first Saturday of the Spring Meet makes opening weekend one of the most impressive slates in racing. Three other graded stakes traditionally featured on the Blue Grass undercard will join the opening Saturday lineup and each has earned a purse enhancement: the $350,000 Madison (G1) for older fillies and mares going seven furlongs, up $50,000 from last year; the $300,000 Commonwealth (G3), for older horses at seven furlongs, up $125,000; and the $125,000 Shakertown (G3) for older horses at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf, up $25,000.
Other prominent stakes this spring are the $300,000 Maker's 46 Mile (G1) on the turf for older horses on April 10, and the $250,000 Lexington (G3), a 1 1/16-mile race on April 11 for three-year-olds with Triple Crown hopes.
The opening day feature is the $100,000 Transylvania (G3), a 1 1/16-mile turf race for three-year-olds. Luck of the Kitten (Kitten's Joy), a close second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) when last seen in November, is the likely favorite in his sophomore debut. Prior to the Breeders' Cup, Luck of the Kitten had won the Zuma Beach at Santa Anita and finished second in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile.
Other leading contenders are Eh Cumpari (Elusive Quality), recent winner of the Palm Beach at Gulfstream; Divisidero (Kitten's Joy), a close third in the Palm Beach in his stakes debut; Night Prowler (Giant's Causeway), who captured the Dania Beach (G3) at Gulfstream prior to a troubled fifth in the Palm Beach; A Lot (Tapit), a recent allowance winner after running second in the Dania Beach; Tuba (Magna Graduate), upset winner of the Black Gold at Fair Grounds; and last-out maiden winners Saham (Lemon Drop Kid) and Danish Dynaformer (Dynaformer).
Pimlico meet commences with hi-def signal, low-takeout Pick 5
"We are very excited about going high-definition and anxious for the public to see the new graphics on our daily show," said Maryland Jockey Club General Manager Sal Sinatra. "Pimlico is an historic track, and it plays hosts to one of sport's most iconic events in the Preakness S. (G1). I think our fans will be pleased with the new direction we're taking for a more vibrant telecast."
There will be free admission and live programs Thursday. First race post is 1:10 p.m. (EDT). The spring meet runs through June 6 and will be highlighted by the 140th running of the Preakness on May 16 and Black-Eyed Susan Day on May 15.
The Maryland Jockey Club announced earlier this month that it would offer a Pick 5 with an industry-low 12-percent takeout during the Pimlico meet, as well as a 10-cent Rainbow 6.
The Rainbow 6 will be offered on the last six races of each race day. The Rainbow 6 carryover jackpot is paid out only when there is a single ticket sold with all six winners. On days when there is no unique ticket, 60 percent of that day's pool goes back to those bettors holding tickets with the most winners, while 40 percent is carried over to the jackpot pool.
The first day of grass works for the Keeneland Spring Meet brought out a contingent of horses from trainer Wesley Ward's barn. Seven Ward horses worked, including two winners from last fall's Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. Working first was Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Hootenanny (Quality Road), who covered five furlongs in 1:02 2/5 around the "dogs" while working in company with Sunset Glow, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Sunset Glow (Exchange Rate) was clocked in 1:02 4/5 with internal fractions for both being :26 and :39 3/5. Next up was Undrafted (Purim), the third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1). Working in company, Undrafted was clocked in 1:04 with fractions of :26 and :40 2/5. Working on her own was Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) winner and champion Judy the Beauty (Ghostzapper), who covered a leisurely half-mile in :53...
Business was down Tuesday at the Fasig-Tipton Texas Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training, where 66 horses sold for $1,161,900. That was a drop of 36.1 percent over last year when 80 juveniles sold for $1,818,700. The average was down 22.6 percent, from $22,734 to $17,605, while the median was off 13.3 percent, from $15,000 to $13,000. The sales topper was Hip No. 115, a son of Corinthian who was gaveled down to Carl Moore for $75,000. He was consigned by Ray Bryner, agent for B & C Bloodstock. The March 10 Kentucky-bred was produced by the stakes-winning Bountempo (Cape Town) and hails from the family of Canadian Horse of the Year Benburb (Dr. Carter).
KENTUCKY DERBY REPORT
APRIL 1, 2015
by James Scully
The first round of major final prep races is in the books, with favorites International Star (Fusaichi Pegasus) and Mubtaahij (Dubawi) capturing the Louisiana Derby (G2) and U.A.E. Derby (UAE-G2), respectively, and 9-5 second choice Materiality (Afleet Alex) extending his mark to three-for-three in the Florida Derby (G1).
Anticipation runs even higher for this Saturday's races as top contenders square off in the Blue Grass (G1), Santa Anita Derby (G1) and TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial (G1).
Materiality is an up-and-coming colt with good speed. He broke well in the Florida Derby, racing on the front end with a longshot before asserting control entering the far turn, and took everything the well-regarded Upstart (Flatter) had to offer before edging away late to a 1 1/2-length decision.
Over a slow and tiring Gulfstream Park track, the bay colt registered 103 E1 and 115 E2 Pace numbers en route to an excellent 105 BRIS Speed rating. And Upstart posted a 103 Speed while finishing 12 1/2 lengths clear of third. The final time (1:52.30) is misleading given the way the track was playing.
It was a grueling performance for the top two finishers, one they'll need to keep moving forward from while stretching out another eighth of a mile five weeks later, but Materiality and Upstart will at least exit an encouraging performance as opposed to Itsaknockout (Lemon Drop Kid), who stamped his Kentucky Derby ticket winning the February 21 Fountain of Youth (G2) via disqualification but never fired in a dismal fourth-place showing Saturday, beaten 21 lengths.
Materiality didn't make his career bow until January 11, easily winning a six-furlong maiden special weight in the slop by 4 1/4 lengths, and was freshened nearly two months in advance of his next appearance, rolling to a 5 3/4-length win in the March 6 Islamorada at 1 1/8 miles. He came back only three weeks later in the Florida Derby, a quick turnaround for a Todd Pletcher trainee, and received the first real test in his brief career.
The unbeaten colt has never lost ground in the stretch, increasing his margin at the last two calls in every start, and Materiality owns a nice set of BRIS Speed figures (96-100-105) as well as a commendable pedigree for 10 furlongs. But he's also had things his own way most of the time and rates as a prime candidate for a regression at Churchill Downs.
Lightly-raced horses with no two-year-old foundation have a terrible record in the Kentucky Derby. Foundation is important given the extreme demands of the 1 1/4-mile race early in a horse's three-year-old season.
I've said previously that an unraced juvenile will eventually win the Kentucky Derby, especially in this era of lightly-raced horses, but that individual needs to be able to overwhelm the competition (think of the field Big Brown was facing in 2008). That scenario appears highly unlikely for Materiality this year given the talent at the top.
Materiality remains a highly-promising individual, one that must be considered a prime contender for important future races such as the Belmont Stakes (G1), Haskell Invitational (G1) and Travers (G1), but the fact that he's never raced outside of Gulfstream hurts his chances as well. The Kentucky Derby is not the spot to try something new and it should come as no surprise that every winner in the modern era raced at multiple venues beforehand -- experience matters.
I liked Upstart entering the year and jumped on the bandwagon following his convincing win in the 1 1/16-mile Holy Bull (G2) in late January, but his last two performances have left something to be desired. And I'm doubting his ability to stretch out effectively next time.
Upstart opened his racing career with flashy wins in a pair of Saratoga sprints, including a career-best 106 BRIS Speed rating for the restricted Funny Cide at 6 1/2 furlongs. That's not something you want to see, a Kentucky Derby contender run his fastest race sprinting at age two, and the presence of champion sprinter Housebuster as the second damsire is probably more pronounced than I originally wanted to believe.
Upstart steadily lost ground over the final five-sixteenths of a mile in the Florida Derby, laboring mightily in the latter stages. He's still a talented colt who would be tough to ignore if the Kentucky Derby was at 1 1/16 or 1 1/8 miles, but I can't envision him thriving on the stretch out.
Third-place Ami's Flatter (Flatter) has quality concerns but the stoutly-bred sophomore can't be ruled out of Kentucky Derby exotics consideration due to his finishing kick, with late-running longshots Commanding Curve and Golden Soul finishing second the last two years behind hot early paces.
Didn't like the decision to run Itsaknockout in the Florida Derby given that he had raced exclusively at Gulfstream and the colt appeared to get very little out of the race. He could still have a nice future, but difficult to imagine him being ready for his best on May 2.
International Star's ability to corner well on the far turn could prove beneficial in the Kentucky Derby. He launched another eye-catching move in the Louisiana Derby, accelerating past rivals along the rail before swinging out for the stretch drive, and determinedly ran down the pacesetting Stanford (Malibu Moon) to win by a neck.
He wasn't facing the stiffest opposition all year at the New Orleans oval, and his BRIS Class rating Saturday (119.8) paled in comparison to Materiality's Florida Derby (122.4), but International Star's improving form for Mike Maker is easy to admire.
The son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus had never won on dirt before this season, breaking his maiden on Belmont Park's turf and capturing the Grey (G3) on Woodbine's Polytrack last year, and he's moved forward in each start since opening 2015 with a victory in the Lecomte (G3), posting BRIS Speed ratings of 94-97-99.
His 99 Louisiana Derby figure was compromised by a moderate early pace that didn't play to his strengths. International Star laid it all on the line while switching back to the wrong lead in deep stretch, registering an impressive 107 BRIS Late Pace number given the early fractions, and the hard-trying colt is extremely game.
He may not be good enough to win on the class hike, but International Star figures to receive the right set-up in the Kentucky Derby and I'll include the fast-finishing colt underneath in exotics.
Stanford turned in a big performance in his first Kentucky Derby qualifying race and the improving colt will bring speed to the first leg of the Triple Crown.
He's bred for longer distances, but the Pletcher charge has recorded his lone wins at five furlongs (maiden) and six furlongs (February allowance/optional claimer). His ability to get away to an uncontested early advantage led to a career-best performance in the Louisiana Derby, but different circumstances next time could easily compromise his chances. I'll look for more down the road from the promising runner.
War Story (2.40-1) nearly went favored over International Star ( 2.30-1) but supporters hoping to see him put it all together came away deeply disappointed. He never threatened recording a well-beaten third, a step back from respectable runner-up efforts in the Lecomte and Risen Star (G2).
I've seen nothing that suggests a turnaround for the gelding in the Kentucky Derby -- War Story has now lost ground to International Star in the stretch of three straight races -- and he's a bad actor in the starting gate, which won't help his chances in a 20-horse field.
The moderate pace didn't benefit fourth-placer Keen Ice (Curlin) but his inability to make up any ground on the far turn was the most disappointing facet of his performance. The deep closer only passes rivals after straightening into the stretch and that recipe doesn't work in the Kentucky Derby -- Keen Ice would need to be accelerating into contention on the final bend to have even a puncher's chance at a minor award.
I tabbed U.A.E. Derby winner Mubtaahij as a serious contender in a blog I wrote for TwinSpires.com earlier this week (click here for my analysis) and will reiterate one key point: Mubtaahij does not resemble any of the false contenders that shipped over previously from Dubai.
Previous Dubai horses were either too lightly-raced and/or ill-equipped to handle the 1 1/4-mile distance, but trainer Michael De Kock hasn't followed the failed playbook employed by conditioners Aidan O'Brien and Saaed bin Suroor in past years.
Since breaking his maiden on December 31, Mubtaahij has raced four more times on Meydan's dirt track. The colt upped the ante in every start, narrowly dropping his stakes debut at a mile before posting a comfortable 2 1/2-length decision over the well-regarded Sir Fever (Texas Fever) in the March 7 Al Baskiya at 1 3/16 miles.
He continued to improve while stepping up to face deeper company at the same distance last Saturday, offering an outstanding turn of foot to take a commanding lead by midstretch before being taken under wraps through the final furlong of an eight-length decision. Mubtaahij is peaking at the right time for a dangerous trainer and faces a 1 1/4-mile trip that he should relish -- he will certainly change the narrative regarding Dubai shippers (who are dismissed outright by many handicappers) if able to challenge our best three-year-olds on dirt.
Mubtaahij will be one to follow once he gets to Churchill Downs -- his stock figures to keep rising if he trains forwardly under the Twin Spires.
The California region is arguably much deeper than the rest of the country and Dortmund (Big Brown) will headline a strong Santa Anita Derby field that includes Prospect Park (Tapit), Bolo (Temple City) and One Lucky Dane (Lookin at Lucky). This grouping could play a serious part in the Kentucky Derby outcome.
Carpe Diem (Giant's Causeway) is listed as the even-money favorite over seven rivals in the Blue Grass at Keeneland and his affinity for the oval -- romped by 6 1/4 lengths in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) last fall -- is an advantage. He figures to be tighter for his second start back and I want to see improvement from a speed-figure perspective given that Carpe Diem earned only a 96 BRIS Speed rating for a most facile Tampa Bay Derby (G2) win. Grade 3 hero Ocho Ocho Ocho (Street Sense) is looking to rebound from a troubled effort in his 2015 bow and brings excellent speed to the mix. The rest of the field, including Classy Class (Discreetly Mine), Danzig Moon (Malibu Moon) and Frammento (Midshipman), are all either maiden or allowance winners only.
The TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial lost a key contender when Far From Over (Blame), who hadn't raced since early February, was removed from consideration Tuesday due to an injury. That leaves Gotham (G3) and Jerome (G3) scorer El Kabeir (Scat Daddy) as the one to beat at Aqueduct. His main foes are expected to include Daredevil (More Than Ready), Frosted (Tapit) and Tiz Shea D (Tiznow).
Top Speed/Class ratings
TOP BRIS CLASS RATINGS
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