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MARCH 22, 2013

by Dick Powell

There was lots of hot three-year-old action last week and it didn't all happen in the stakes races.

Last Friday in the seventh race at Gulfstream, Todd Pletcher unveiled Zaikov in a six-furlong maiden special weight for three-year-olds. A son of the turf champion Wait a While, the gray or roan colt was making a belated debut in the middle of March but was certainly worth the wait.

Sent off as the 9-10 favorite, Zaikov tracked the early pace of Trinni Heart through a first quarter in a modest 22.85 seconds. Johnny Velazquez had him under a snug hold but was able to seize the lead without any effort on the turn and straightened out in the stretch.

With a half-mile run in 45.77 seconds, Zaikov just kept motoring along as his lead began to widen with every stride. He effortlessly opened the margin to 14 1/4 lengths at the wire, covering his last quarter mile in 24.01 seconds as he finished six furlongs in 1:09.78. His BRIS Speed rating for his debut was a spectacular 105.

Zaikov is trailing the field in terms of experience and can't really be considered for the Triple Crown events. Based on his pedigree and stride, there's no reason he can't get two turns so it will be interesting to see what campaign Pletcher maps out for him. I would imagine the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga going seven furlongs would be on the list but who's to say he can't win the Grade 1 Haskell going nine furlongs. This is one, serious three-year-old colt.

Out in California, there were whispers that Bob Baffert's best three-year-old was War Academy, who was entered back in Santa Anita's seventh race on Friday. An optional claimer/non-winner of a race, War Academy was getting his chance to stretch out to two turns after a strong career debut going six furlongs and an even fourth going seven furlongs in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes last out.

Being out of a dam by A.P. Indy, distances were going to be his future but he drew a pretty tough field here. Baffert also had Manando in the field coming off a third two starts back in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes and the bettors made War Academy the 9-10 favorite with Manando right behind him at 14-10.

As expected, Martin Garcia sent Manando to the lead and he quickly opened daylight between himself and the rest of the field. Loose on an easy lead with the first half-mile only taking :48.64, the rest of the field was in trouble. Mike Smith began to work on War Academy with a half-mile to go, but he had at least five lengths to make up on the far turn.

Manando ran his third quarter mile in 23.25 seconds and War Academy had to have shaded 23 seconds as he began to eat into the margin. When they turned for home, Smith swung War Academy to the outside and the race was quickly over as Manando offered little resistance to his stablemate's surge.

War Academy drew off to a 3 1/2-length victory and stopped the teletimer for 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.42. Considering how slow the early pace was, his BRIS Speed rating of 99 was excellent. His Pace figures were 73, 84, 111 which accurately reflects how his energy was doled out as he was up against a negative pace scenario (-14, -4).

Baffert was excited enough to state after the race that the goal is still the Kentucky Derby and the next stop will be one of the 100-point prep races to get him there. If you remember last year at this time, Bodemeister had limited graded earnings going into the Arkansas Derby but that quickly changed when he demolished his foes that day. War Academy doesn't have the speed on the front end that Bodemeister had but he finishes his races much better.

At Oaklawn Park, a handicapping lesson was taught in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes that we have seen before, but often, forget. Baffert entered the 6-5 favorite Super Ninety Nine and Den's Legacy at 14-1. Wayne Lukas had Oxbow at 38-10 and Will Take Charge at 28-1.

We have seen numerous times, especially in big races, where the lesser regarded part of the coupling beats the more fashionable part. And sure enough on Saturday, Lukas finished one-two but Will Take Charge was the winner and Den's Legacy finished third ahead of the favored Super Ninety Nine.

The lesson has two parts. There's money to be made betting the lesser-regarded part of the coupling. And, as we have seen so often, you have to question whether the people around the horses themselves really know which horse is going to run better.

The world's fastest horse will be in action late Friday night/Saturday morning in Australia. The undefeated Black Caviar will try to win her 24th straight race at Moonee Valley in the Group 1 William Reid Stakes going slightly less than six furlongs. It will be her 13th win at the Group 1 level and despite her misadventure at Royal Ascot last June, she looks better than ever at the age of six.

I wasn't crazy about her coming back to the races after Ascot but so far I have been wrong. She's had nagging physical issues throughout her career and surviving the near debacle at Ascot should have been enough of a warning that the time is right to retire undefeated. Black Caviar carries a lot of weight on her frame and she runs sectional times within her races that have never been approached before. As good as she's doing, let's hope she gets through Friday night and dodges another bullet.


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