Pletcher sorting out three-year-old talent
In a barn full of accomplished three-year-olds, the Todd Pletcher-trained Stanford (Malibu Moon) and Materiality (Afleet Alex), while talented, have yet to definitively stamp themselves as Triple Crown contenders. They'll be given the chance to prove themselves worthy of a more aggressive pursuit of the spring classics in Friday's $60,000 Islamorada H. at Gulfstream Park.
"I think that's what we're trying to determine in this race, and this race will help decide what their immediate futures are," Pletcher said. "If they were to both to run well in here, then it could lead them into one of the major preps next time, but if not, then we'll probably step back and go a little softer route."
Stanford enters the 1 1/8-mile Islamorada off a smart allowance score at Gulfstream on February 8 in his sophomore debut and first start since a sixth the Saratoga Special (G2) last August. Owned by Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Stonestreet Stables, Stanford received a 95 BRIS Speed rating for his 1 1/2-length victory over stablemate Blame Jim (Sharp Humor), who is one of three Pletcher trainees in Saturday's Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct.
Stanford has been assigned highweight of 121 pounds, between three and six pounds more than his five rivals.
Materiality, meanwhile, has just one start under his belt. The $400,000 auction purchase romped in the slop to begin his career, taking a maiden special weight at Gulfstream by 4 1/4 lengths on January 11.
Both have trained steadily at Palm Beach Downs since their respective last races. Stanford turned in a bullet four-furlong breeze on February 21, clocking :47 3/5. Materiality posted a bullet of his own the following day, breezing five furlongs in 1:00.
"They've both trained well," Pletcher said. "In a perfect world, we'd have found an intermediate step between their last races and a mile and an eighth, but this is sort of the only option we had, and we felt like, timing-wise, it was good for both of them. Hopefully, if they perform well, it could lead them into bigger races in their next starts."
Neither Stanford nor Materiality have ever raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongs, but Pletcher has done well stretching his trainees out from sprints to routes. He's currently winning at a 26-percent clip when making such moves.
"The distance itself isn't such a concern," Pletcher said. "It's just a little concerning from the standpoint that they've only had one six-furlong race this year, and Materiality has only had one six-furlong race in his entire career, but historically, those kind of moves of stretching out off one short race has worked out pretty well for us, so hopefully that will be the case here."
Cancellations continue to accumulate
English Derby entries total 102
Ante-post favorite John F Kennedy (Galileo) heads 102 three-year-olds seeking glory in the £1.325-million English Derby (Eng-G1) at Epsom Downs on June 6 following Tuesday's scratchings' stage. He's listed at 6-1 with Coral on the back of an impressive victory in a Group 3 race at Leopardstown in September.
His trainer Aidan O'Brien, responsible for the last three winners of the premier British Classic and five in total, has 21 entries going forward. They include Group 2 winners Highland Reel (Galileo) and Ol' Man River (Montjeu), as well as eye-catching maiden scorer Giovanni Canaletto (Galileo) and 3.6 million guineas purchase Sir Isaac Newton (Galileo).
There are 32 Irish-trained acceptors for the 12-furlong Derby, Britain's richest race. Dermot Weld has Leopardstown maiden winner Zawraq (Shamardal) among his four entries, while Jim Bolger's four acceptors include Hall Of Fame (Teofilo).
Champion trainer Richard Hannon has seven entries, headlined by Doncaster scorer Basateen (Teofilo) and Mishghar, an unraced son of Galileo out of Group 3 winner Akdarena. John Gosden's quartet includes Christophermarlowe (Tapit), who impressed when winning at Sandown Park and Epsom Downs.
Godolphin has 11 contenders, including Group 3 runner-up Future Empire (New Approach) and the unbeaten Festive Fare (Teofilo), the same number as Hamdan Al Maktoum, whose entries feature the aforementioned Basateen and Zawraq, plus Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes runner-up Nafaqa (Sir Percy) and highly-regarded dual winner Algaith (Dubawi).
Five time-winning Derby trainer Sir Michael Stoute has eight contenders going forward, headed by winning debutants Consort (Lope de Vega). He is also responsible for Sandown Park maiden winner Dartmouth (Dubawi), who could bid to give The Queen a first victory in the Derby. Her Majesty came close with 1953 runner-up Aureole and more recently Carlton House, who was third to Pour Moi in 2011.
Spanish Squeeze (Lope de Vega) was third to Consort in a seven-furlong maiden at Newmarket in September and stepped up on that performance when taking a mile maiden decisively at Kempton Park on October 22.
Newmarket trainer Hugo Palmer said: "I am very happy with Spanish Squeeze at this stage -- he has filled out and wintered really well.
"He had done very little before his debut at Newmarket and ran a lovely race there to finish third. Then he went to Kempton and, through the Newmarket rumor mill, we were told the Godolphin horse (Legend's Gate [New Approach]) would not be beaten, but we ended up beating him pretty comfortably.
"On official ratings, Spanish Squeeze has got a long way to go before Epsom but I do hold him in the highest possible regard and hopefully he will confirm that. It is very early to think about where he might start off but he has got a 2000 Guineas entry. We could go down that route because he has got plenty of speed.
"He has never done anything to suggest that he isn't at least as good as Aktabantay, Home Of The Brave and New Providence, who were the Group horses from last year. I have always suspected he might be a bit better than them, but time will tell."
There are eight French-trained entries, headlined by the Aga Khan-owned pair of Zarkar and Zourkhan, both Alain de Royer-Dupre. Zarkar is by Galileo out of the great Zarkava, while Zourkhan is a Shamardal half-brother to the champion racemare.
Jonathan Pease has confirmed Group 3 runner-up Nucifera (More Than Ready) and Tale Of Life, a son of Deep Impact who won a mile maiden by seven lengths at Saint-Cloud in November.
Andre Fabre, who sent out Pour Moi to win the 2011 Derby, trains three for owner Khalid Abdullah, who has enjoyed success in the Classic with Quest For Fame (1990), Commander In Chief (1993) and Workforce (2010). They are Harlem (Champs Elysees), Heredity (Distorted Humor) and Hipparchus (Champs Elysees).
All horses currently engaged were originally entered as yearlings in December, 2013. There is a second entry stage costing £8,000 on April 7, when Group 1 winners Elm Park (Phoenix Reach) and Gleneagles (Galileo) are likely to be added. Another horse prominent in the market at 16-1 with Coral who is not currently entered is Epicuris. The Rail Link colt was unbeaten in three outings last season including the Criterium De Saint-Cloud (Fr-G1).
Horses can be supplemented at a cost of £75,000 on June 1.
David Stevens of Coral said: "Aidan O'Brien has sent out the last three winners of the Investec Derby, and the odds suggest the Ballydoyle maestro has an excellent chance of making it four in a row at Epsom in June.
"His squad of potential runners headed by the regally bred John F Kennedy, while the home defense could be led by the Racing Post Trophy (Eng-G1) winner Elm Park, with a supplementary entry likely for Andrew Balding's charge."
Shared Belief faces dozen in Santa Anita Handicap
The most notable opponent of Shared Belief's is Moreno (Ghostzapper), who also suffered a bad break in the Breeders' Cup Classic and wound up last of 14. Some observers felt that if not for being interfered with at the startt he would have challenged eventual winner Bayern (Offlee Wild), who led wire-to-wire, in the early going and perhaps changed the outcome of the race.
Moreno has had an uneven career, but earned a signature victory last August in the Whitney (G1) at Saratoga. That performance was book-ended by second-place efforts in the Suburban H. (G2) and Woodward (G2). However, the five-year-old has never won in seven tries at Santa Anita nor has he won in six attempts over 10 furlongs.
Imperative (Bernardini), seventh in last year's Big 'Cap, shocked Game On Dude and Moreno in the Charles Town Classic (G2) last April, but has placed in only two of seven subsequent starts. He has been well beaten by Shared Belief in their past four meetings.
Hard Aces (Hard Spun) was privately purchased following a four-length romp in the $72,000 Louisiana at Fair Grounds in mid-January, but is taking a big step up in class on Saturday. Also with form to find is Sr. Quisqueyano (Exclusive Quality), an upset 20-1 winner of the Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream last time.
The likely favorite is Summer Front (War Front), the multiple Grade 3-winning six-year-old who was runner-up in the Shoemaker Mile and Eddie Read (G1), and then fourth in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1), in his last three trips west.
Silentio (Silent Name), second by a nose in the 2013 Kilroe and fifth last year, was a sub-par last of 14 in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (G1) last time after being squeezed at the start. A mile is more his game as he's won or placed in many of the circuit's leading races at mile or thereabouts.
Looking to make amends for a disappointing sixth in the Twilight Derby (G2) in October is Ring Weekend (Tapit), who previously scored in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on dirt and the Saranac (G3) and Hill Prince (G3) on grass.
Another intriguing prospect is multiple Grade 3 scorer Za Approval (Ghostzapper), whose several Grade 1-placings include a second to Wise Dan (Wiseman's Ferry) in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Mile over the course and distance. He was most recently second in the Arcadia (G2), finishing ahead of returning rival Home Run Kitten (Kitten's Joy). The latter captured the Eddie D (G3) in September and is four-for-nine on the Santa Anita lawn.
Others of note are the turf sprint specialist in the Dimension (Medicean) and the veteran Mr. Commons (Artie Schiller), the runner-up in the 2012 Kilroe Mile.
San Felipe attracts unbeaten Dortmund, Ocho Ocho Ocho
Prospect Park (Tapit), who dropped his first three outings at two, has come on this winter with back-to-back scores against maiden and allowance company, the latter by more than five lengths going a mile on January 30. The San Felipe marks his stakes debut.
Also likely to attract support are Lord Nelson (Pulpit), most recently a neck winner over Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Texas Red (Afleet Alex) in the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2), and Bolo (Temple City), who makes his dirt debut after an easy win in the December 27 Eddie Logan on turf.
Among the others, the most notable are San Vicente third Sir Samson (Smart Strike), the multiple stakes-placed California-bred Pulmarack (Lucky Pulpit), and stakes winner Pain and Misery (Bob and John).
Conquest Two Step (Two Step Salsa), who ran Shared Belief (Candy Ride) to a neck in the Malibu (G1) before scoring in the Palos Verdes (G2) last time, will attempt to make it two in a row in the $250,000 San Carlos (G2) over seven furlongs.
Back to challenge is Wild Dude (Wildcat Heir), the 2014 Palos Verdes hero who ran third in this year's edition in his first start start in more than nine months. Grade 3 winner Chitu (Henny Hughes), winner of the $101,000 Damascus on Breeders' Cup weekend, makes his first start of the year after closing out 2014 with a narrow third in the Malibu.
Other notables in the San Carlos lineup are Grade 3 winners Kobe's Back (Flatter) and Midnight Hawk (Midnight Lute), and the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Outside Nashville (Broken Vow), a non-factor when shipped east last month for the General George H. (G3) at Laurel.
The $75,000 China Doll, a one-mile turf race for three-year-old fillies, is populated by a number who contested the $79,000 Sweet Life on February 15. The top four finishers from that race -- She's a Big Winner (Bellamy Road), Bobbi Grace (Big Bad Bob), Spirit of Xian (Kodiac), and Mio Me (Eskendereya) -- all return.
Blue Norther heroine Lutine Belle (Bellamy Road) returns to turf after finishing fifth in the Las Virgenes (G1) on dirt, while Maybellene (Lookin at Lucky) tries the surface for the first time after finishing eighth of nine as the Las Virgenes favorite.
Another intriguing entry is the Carla Gaines-trained Curlin's Fox (Curlin), a debut winner down the hill in early February.
Carpe Diem returns in salty nine-horse Tampa Bay Derby
The bay colt made his career debut in mid-December on Aqueduct's inner track, easily capturing a six-furlong maiden special weight, and followed with a commendable victory in the January 31 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, overcoming a wide trip to score by a neck. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin immediately committed Ocean Knight to the Tampa Bay Derby afterward, but was forced to consider Saturday's Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct when Pletcher announced Carpe Diem's participation due to common ownership.
The close proximity to his South Florida base at Palm Meadows, coupled with the weather uncertainty in New York, led McLaughlin to recommit the Stonestreet Stables colorbearer to the Tampa Bay Derby earlier this week and Ocean Knight drew much better in post 2 Saturday after breaking from gate 12 last time. Irad Ortiz Jr. will stick with the promising Kentucky Derby hopeful.
Three-time stakes winner Souper Colossal (War Front) has been re-directed to the Tampa Bay Derby following last weekend's washout of the Swale (G2) at Gulfstream Park. After sustaining his first setback with a seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the Eddie Plesa Jr. trainee opened his sophomore campaign on turf, winning the five-furlong Texas Glitters going away on February 7. Joel Rosario, who picked up the mount last time, retains the assignment.
Divining Rod (Tapit) just missed on the front end when making his stakes debut in the Sam Davis, finishing five lengths clear of third, and the speedy colt figures to show the way again from his rail post with Luis Garcia. Sam Davis third-placer My Johnny Be Good (Colonel John) is also back along with fourth-placer Ami's Flatter (Flatter), who adds first-time Lasix and blinkers for conditioner Josie Carroll.
Danzig Moon (Malibu Moon) will make his first stakes attempt for Mark Casse following a visually-impressive maiden win at Gulfstream Park on February 7. Julien Leparoux will accompany the well-bred colt from the far outside post position.
The $200,000 Florida Oaks (G3) is one of three supporting stakes on the Tampa Bay Derby undercard and a full field of 14 sophomore fillies, highlighted by the Chad Brown-trained Consumer Credit (More Than Ready), is set for the 1 1/16-mile turf affair.
Consumer Credit has won three straight, including the January 24 Sweetest Chant (G3) at Gulfstream, and tops the field in BRIS Prime Power (148.9). Edgard Zayas has the call. Her main rivals include Sweetest Chant runner-up Quality Rocks (Rock Hard Ten); recent Gulfstream allowance winner Lismore (Tiznow), who finished second to Consumer Credit two starts back in the Wait a While; and Don't Leave Me (Lemon Drop Kid), who makes her first appearance since recording a troubled sixth at short odds in the Natalma (G2) last fall.
Multiple Grade 1 queen Stephanie's Kitten (Kitten's Joy) is the one to beat in the $150,000 Hillsborough (G3), a 1 1/8-mile turf event that has drawn 12 fillies and mares. Last seen finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), the Ken and Sarah Ramsey-owned mare will make her first appearance at Tampa and keeps Velazquez in the saddle.
Filimbi (Mizzen Mast) will make her first appearance since capturing the November 2 Goldikova (G2) at Santa Anita and Sparkling Review (Lemon Drop Kid) has a three-race win streak in tow, easily capturing the Mrs. Revere (G2) and Valley View (G3) last fall.
The stakes action kicks off with a 13-horse field, including an also-eligible, in the $60,000 Challenger at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. Old Time Hockey (Smarty Jones) goes turf to dirt for Tom Proctor following a head second in the January 24 Tampa Bay (G3) and Grade 1-placed General a Rod (Roman Ruler), a Triple Crown veteran last year, will make his first start for Pletcher.
El Kabeir tops Gotham; Salutos Amigos rematches with Dads Caps in Tom Fool
A good enough run in the Gotham will likely see El Kabeir and Far From Over rematch in the $1 million Wood Memorial S. (G1) on April 4, as the Withers winner is training up to that nine-furlong contest. In the meantime, El Kabeir won't have to contend with him in the Gotham while taking on some new rivals.
Two familiar faces he will see on Saturday are Classy Class (Discreetly Mine) and Tencendur (Warrior's Reward). The former was fourth in the Remsen S. (G2) in his 2014 finale prior to running third in the Withers last out. The Kiaran McLaughlin charge could improve in this spot while making his second start after the layoff and gets a jockey switch to Junior Alvarado. The George Weaver-trained Tencendur tried stakes rivals for the first time in the Withers and was a one-paced fourth on the line. He'll need to move forward with Cornelio Velazquez returning to the irons.
Only two other runners in Saturday's Gotham have prior stakes experience. Combat Diver (Line of David) enters the race off a nose second in Laurel Park's Miracle Wood S. in his sophomore bow on February 16 while Toasting Master (Congrats) was well beaten when sixth in the Spectacular Bid S. and fourth in the OBS Champion S.
That leaves four maiden winners and one who has yet to score a victory to line up in the Gotham. Dontbetwithbruno (Tiz Wonderful) eked out a close score over track and distance in his third try for trainer Todd Pletcher while stablemate Blame Jim (Sharp Humor) finished second in an allowance/optional claimer on February 8 after taking his maiden debut last July at Saratoga by three lengths.
Unlike his brother, who travels south to ride unbeaten Ocean Knight (Curlin) in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), Jose Ortiz is sticking with Dads Caps, who is seeking his first victory since a 1 1/2-length triumph in the Carter H. (G1) last April. The bay has been second or third in all but two of his starts since then, including last September's Vosburgh S. (G1), and is looking to go one better than his runner-up effort in the Tom Fool 12 months ago.
Daredevil stars in rescheduled Swale; tough trio return in GP 'Cap
Regular rider Javier Castellano will be aboard Daredevil as the 123-pound highweight breaks from the rail.
X Y Jet (Kantharos) owns a track advantage over his rivals having run a close second in the Hutcheson S. (G2) over track and distance on January 24. The gray gelding was also a neck second in the Pasco S. at Tampa Bay Downs in his juvenile finale and in his first start for trainer Jorge Navarro after being conditioned by Antonio Sano.
"He's doing amazing," Navarro said. "The way he trained (last Sunday), I was like, 'Wow.' Even the exercise rider jumped off and said 'He would have won the race.' He was great and happy so we'll be set for Saturday."
Ready for Rye (City Zip) was a seven-length maiden winner in his final two-year-old start in October, and returned January 3 to add a runner-up effort to his resume while making his stakes debut in the Spectacular Bid S. for trainer Tom Albertrani. The Swale being rescheduled gave the bay gelding time to get in one more work as he clocked a half-mile in :49 on Monday at Palm Meadows.
"Our schedule didn't really get all that interrupted," Albertrani shrugged. "At least we had some time to come back and breeze him and he should be on pretty much the same kind of schedule, just a week later. The way he broke his maiden I was hoping for a little rain, just not so much."
Souper Colossal is cross-entered in the Swale and the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), also on Saturday. The Ed Plesa Jr. trainee is 4-0-0 from five starts, with his only loss coming in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He made his three-year-old, and turf bow, a 1 1/2-length score in the Texas Glitter last out on February 7 and gets Paco Lopez back in the irons.
Stakes winner Twotwentyfive A (Awescome of Course) and Senor Grits (Elusive Quality) return from last week's field while Holy Bull S. (G2) third Bluegrass Singer (Bluegrass Cat) and Social Request (Lookin at Lucky) are new shooters.
Honor Code had an abbreviated sophomore season, boasting just two starts, after making his juvenile finale a nose score in the Remsen S. (G2). Sustaining an injury in his right hind leg after finishing a well-beaten second last March, the Shug McGaughey runner wasn't seen again until taking a six-furlong allowance/optional claimer at Aqueduct on November 22 with a brilliant stretch run.
"It's gone excellent," McGaughey said. "I couldn't have asked for it to go better. He got a little freshening-up time after he ran in November. We've trained him pretty hard since then and he's taken it well. He's ready to go.
"I think as we go along, I think he'll be better around two turns," McGaughey added. "He'll probably be in the race a little more around two turns."
Private Zone (Macho Uno) will be toting the top weight of 122 pounds in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, two more than Wicked Strong and eight more than Honor Code, after closing out 2014 with a five-length romp in the Cigar Mile H. (G1) on November 29.
"It's a chance of a lifetime," said Navarro, who will be saddling the six-year-old gelding for the first time. "He came to my barn tough to train, but all of that has gone away. He's training really good. He's a beautiful horse. The way he trains, he does everything so easily. The times he's putting up are serious, and we're not asking him for anything.
"I appreciate the chance the owners have given me."
Fred Hooper S. (G3) hero Valid (Medaglia d'Oro), Grade 2 winner East Hall (Graeme Hall) and stakes scorer Loverbil (Not for Love) complete the Gulfstream Park Handicap.
The Swale begins the stakes action and is followed three races later by Dania Beach S. (G3) scorer Night Prowler (Giant's Causeway) trying to make it two graded wins in a row in the Palm Beach against eight rivals.
Sarah Sis, Promise Me Silver face off in Honeybee
Sarah Sis boasts two wins and three seconds from five lifetime starts for trainer Ingrid Mason. The dark bay lass took her maiden and an allowance but has yet to break through against stakes rivals. However, she was close in her past two against Promise Me Silver in the Dixie Belle and Take Charge Brandi in the Martha Washington S. In that latter contest the Kentucky-bred miss rallied to just miss by a head on the wire in the one-mile race, and keeps Julio Felix aboard here.
Four of the remaining seven entrants on Saturday have never competed against stakes company, with the other three placing.
Pangburn (Congrats) finished second in last fall's Pocahontas S. (G2) under the Twin Spires, and just returned off that September 6 event to take an allowance over track and distance on February 20 for trainer Kenny McPeek. Jesus Castanon has the call.
Super Saks (Sky Mesa) dropped two of her initial three starts by double-digit lengths and failed to finish in the other last year. The D. Wayne Lukas trainee obviously turned a corner over the winter because she made her sophomore bow a nice third in the Dixie Belle before breaking her maiden 15 days later by 11 lengths. Terry Thompson rides as the gray filly returns to stakes company in this spot.
Indian Annie (Indian Charlie) was making just her second start for new trainer Steve Asmussen when finishing third in the Martha Washington, and gets Ricardo Santana Jr. back in the irons for this one.
Desert Valley (Desert Party), Bootsy's Girl (Summer Bird) and Purr (Bluegrass Cat) all enter the Honeybee as maiden winners, while Oceanwave (Harlan's Holiday) did one better than those when taking an allowance/optional claimer on January 22.
Two races before the Honeybee a field of seven will sprint six furlongs in the $100,000 Hot Springs S., including Gentlemen's Bet (Half Ours) and Ivan Fallunovalot (Valid Expectations). The former just returned to be third off a 15-month break that last saw him run third in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) while the latter posted a 2 3/4-length score in the King Cotton S., both over track and distance.
The Maryland Jockey Club announced Thursday that Armin van Buuren, the world's most popular electronic music DJ and producer, will headline the 2015 Preakness InfieldFest Concert. The progressive trance DJ, recognized as the world's best five times by DJ Mag, will play an extended set on the main stage at Pimlico Race Course on May 16 when the Maryland Jockey Club, North America's oldest sporting organization, plays host to the 140th Preakness Stakes. Joining the lineup on the main stage will be special guest Childish Gambino, nominated at the recent Grammy Awards for Best Rap Album (Because the Internet) and Best Rap Performance (3005). "We're extremely excited and honored to welcome critically acclaimed artists Armin van Buuren and Childish Gambino to InfieldFest at this year's Preakness Stakes," Pimlico Race Course's General Manager Sal Sinatra said. "Both Armin van Buuren and Childish Gambino are global stars who have embraced emerging technologies while altering the way we hear, see and feel music. They are unique artists with fan appeal that cut across different generations and demographics. This is the kind of extraordinary talent our fans expect at the Preakness Concert Series' InfieldFest."...
While many of her expected rivals in Saturday's $60,000 Allen Lacombe Memorial may have resolved themselves as specialists over the grass surface upon which the about 7 1/2-furlong race will be contested, Divine Dawn (Divine Park) has a bigger race on her radar over a different surface -- if all goes well. Trained by Larry Jones, the gray miss is being prepared for a possible run in the $500,000 Ashland S. (G1) at Keeneland on April 4 if she exits her effort this weekend in good shape. According to Jones, a return to the Keeneland dirt surface is something to which the filly's connections look forward -- especially considering the Kentucky-bred broke her maiden at first asking on October 17 over that very surface. Divine Dawn has since won and finished second in Fair Grounds allowance/optional claimers over the Lacombe's course and distance and was a disappointing fifth, beaten 11 lengths by her runaway stablemate I'm a Chatterbox (Munnings), in the Silverbulletday Stakes, her only other dirt attempt in four career starts...
Todd Pletcher entered three-year-old colts Stanford (Malibu Moon) and Materiality (Afleet Alex) for Friday's $60,000 Islamorada, an overnight handicap scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on the main track at Gulfstream Park. Stanford returned from a six-month layoff to capture his sophomore debut, a six-furlong optional claiming allowance over favored stablemate Blame Jim (Sharp Humor) on February 8 at Gulfstream. Materiality was a 4 1/4-length winner in his career debut over a sloppy, sealed main track January 11 at Gulfstream. Tradesman (Street Sense), disqualified from a maiden win over eventual John Battaglia winner Royal Son (Tiznow), goes to bat for Tom Albertrani...
MARCH 6, 2015
by Dick Powell
Three Kentucky Derby (G1) prep races will be held this Saturday as the clock ticks towards the first Saturday of May. At 4:50 p.m. (ET), the $400,000 Gotham Stakes (G3) will be run on the inner dirt track at Aqueduct. Then, at 5:23 p.m., the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) will be run at Tampa Bay Downs and at 6 p.m., the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) will be run at Santa Anita.
All three races will be run at 1 1/16 miles around two turns and all three will award 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner, 20 points to the second-place finisher, 10 points to the third-place finisher and 5 points to the fourth-place finisher.
In the Gotham, a field of 10 has been assembled and three of them will run coupled as a Todd Pletcher-trained entry. El Kabeir (Scat Daddy) is the 8-to-5 favorite and rightfully so. He won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill last November then came back here and won the Jerome Stakes (G3) by more than four lengths.
Last out, El Kabeir battled for the lead in the Withers and weakened late when Far From Over (Blame) blew by the field. He picks up one pound here and as the only stakes winner in the field, he has to concede seven pounds to his nine rivals. I was surprised that he gave up the lead as easily as he did in the Withers and am concerned that he could be on the downside while representing little pari-mutuel value.
The horse that I think can pull off the upset here is Tencendur (Warrior's Reward). He showed in the Withers that he can compete with these but when the running got serious, he refused to change leads. Since then, blinkers have been added and the results have been spectacular; a fastest of 99 half-mile breeze on February 21 and a fastest of 35 five-furlong breeze on March 1. Cornelio Velasquez worked him in both starts and is back aboard on Saturday.
Tencendur is by a hot sire and his female family has been heating up. He is a half-brother to Mother Russia (Mayakovsky), who won six stakes races and more than $528K. She has produced Golden Barrows (Tapit), a Japan stakes winner and one of their leading three-year-olds, and her two-year-old by Kitten's Joy was an RNA for $390,000 at the Fasig-Tipton sale on Wednesday.
What I like about Tencendur is his cruising speed and if the blinkers are working as well as it looks like they are in the morning, he will run much better in the stretch. He's 8-to-1 in the morning line and worth the price.
The Tampa Bay Derby came up especially strong with nine three-year-olds entered. Last year, Carpe Diem (Giant's Causeway) won the Breeders' Futurity (G1) in his second career start and went to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) as the favorite. He experienced a nightmare trip that day finishing second and returns for his three-year-old debut off a series of strong workouts for Todd Pletcher at Palm Beach Downs.
Ocean Knight (Curlin) broke his maiden first time out going six furlongs on the inner dirt track at Aqueduct then shipped down to Tampa Bay and won the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) going two turns. He was originally going to go back to New York for the Gotham but his connections called an audible and will go in the Tampa Bay Derby. A race over the track should be a big advantage on a surface that can prove quirky.
The rest of the field seems evenly matched. Danzig Moon (Malibu Moon) broke his maiden last out going a one-turn mile and should have no trouble getting two turns for Mark Casse. He will have to overcome the wide draw with Julien Leparoux. Divining Rod (Tapit) could be the dangerous speed from the rail after almost wiring the Sam F. Davis, especially with Thursday's news that the speedy Super Colossal (War Front) will be scratched due to a fever.
Great Stuff (Quality Road) is still a maiden, but he's improved as the races have gotten longer and posseses a devastating late kick. This is his two-turn debut and his young sire was brilliant in these spots.
The headliner on Santa Anita's Saturday card is the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) but the San Felipe should not be overlooked. This is the deepest of the Kentucky Derby prep races of the weekend as it has attracted Dortmund (Big Brown), winner of the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) and Robert Lewis Stakes (G2); LORD NELSON (Pulpit), winner of the February 1 San Vicente Stakes (G2) going seven furlongs; and OCHO OCHO OCHO (Street Sense), the unbeaten winner of the $1 million Delta Jackpot (G3).
Taking on the trio of graded stakes winners will be the exciting Prospect Park (Tapit), a big colt that took a while to get his act together but broke his maiden two starts back then came right back to beat allowance foes by more than five lengths in a good time.
Sir Samson (Smart Strike) broke his maiden going six furlongs second time out and came back with a game third in the San Vicente. Brian Koriner removes blinkers and stretches him out with the right pedigree being by Smart Strike, sire of Curlin, and out of a dam by Malibu Moon, sire of Kentucky Derby winner Orb.
With the weeks dwindling to a precious few, some of these horses have to step up their games if they are going to earn enough points for entry in the Derby. The puzzling thing is the presence of Dortmund, who does not need this race. A strong effort could set him back and a poor effort ruins his undefeated record. He has shown tremendous courage in his races but that could backfire in here if he gets challenged, which appears likely to happen.
Ocho Ocho Ocho makes his seasonal debut off a 105-day layoff. He won both starts here last year going short in fast time then stretched out to two turns to win the Delta Jackpot. I love his pedigree being by Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and his third dam is the immortal Personal Ensign. There is plenty of distance genes on the dirt and Mike Smith seems to be doing everything right in the saddle. Take him for the mild upset.
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HANDICAPPER'S EDGE is compiled by Bloodstock Research Information Services. This newsletter may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. Copyright 2011, Bloodstock Research Information Services. Information as to the races, race results and earnings was obtained from Equibase Company LLC and is utilized herein with the permission of the copyright owner, Equibase Company LLC.
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