JANUARY 31, 2014
by Dick Powell
I’m not saying the road to the first weekend of May is going to suddenly
divert to Maryland but there is some good racing going on there and attention
needs to be paid.
With higher purses now available, Laurel’s four stakes last Saturday
attracted good horses that turned in some eye-popping performances, including
the $100,000 Wide Country for three-year-old fillies going seven furlongs. It
attracted monster maiden winner Taris (Flatter), an 11-length winner of her
debut at Aqueduct when she shipped in from her Penn National base.
She took home the money that day at almost 4-1 but despite moving up to
stakes company, Laurel bettors backed her down to 1-5 favoritism and she turned
out to be an overlay. Under regular rider Clinton Pitts, she cruised to an easy
lead going :22.90 and :22.89 through her first two quarter-miles. Without any
urging, she opened up by seven lengths in the stretch going 1:10.83 for six
furlongs and was throttled down to win by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:24.71.
In terms of speed ratings, Taris took a step backwards but it showed that she
can relax early and two turns will not be out of the question. It is below zero
in Saratoga as I write this but the Test Stakes (G1) going seven furlongs in
August would be a perfect long-term goal.
The $100,000 Miracle Wood was run for three-year-olds going a mile and five
of the six runners went off between 23-10 and 49-10 odds. Joint Custody (Outflanker)
gunned to the front and was stalked by Extrasexyhippzster (Stroll), who was
coming off an easy win in the six-furlong Don Rickles at Aqueduct.
After six furlongs in 1:11.08, Joint Custody began to weaken and
Extrasexyhippzster began to draw clear. His final margin was 3 3/4 lengths,
recording a final time of 1:36.75, and earned a solid BRIS Speed rating of 97.
Down at Gulfstream Park, Shug McGaughey sent out Top Billing (Curlin) to a
monster allowance win going 1 1/16 miles against fellow three-year-olds. With
the recent announcement that Honor Code (A.P. Indy) will miss the Fountain of
Youth Stakes (G2) in four weeks, Top Billing will makes his stakes debut there
and based on what we saw on Saturday, it will be an interesting spot. Not many
horses are able to rally from far off the pace at Gulfstream as easily as Top
Billing did on Saturday. It was his second start over the track going two turns
so he’s gained as much experience as anyone else.
Top Billing ran his last five-sixteenths in 31.05 seconds and his final time
of 1:42.66 was certainly graded stakes caliber.
After Orb’s victory in last year’s Kentucky Derby, McGaughey looks like he’s
holding another strong hand this year. Honor Code has bruised feet and needs a
week off. Luckily, it’s early enough to overcome the training interruption and
McGaughey indicated that he might send him to New York for the Gotham Stakes
(G3) in the beginning of March.
The Holy Bull Stakes (G2) was run later in the day at Gulfstream and it
attracted an 11-horse field. Honor Code won last year’s Remsen Stakes (G2) going
nine furlongs at Aqueduct and the second and third-place finishers showed up
Cairo Prince (Pioneerof the Nile) raced wide every step of the way but broke
the race open turning for home, drawing off to win by 5 3/4 lengths. He earned a
BRIS Speed rating of 100, which was way better than the 83 he earned in the
slow-paced Remsen. He covered 5,271 feet, which was more than all but two other
starters, one of whom was Wicked Strong (Hard Spun) who disappointed as the
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin now has the choice of coming back in the Fountain
of Youth or training Cairo Prince up to the Florida Derby (G1). In today’s world
of training, I’m betting on the Florida Derby as his next start.
Out at Santa Anita, there are two young riders that are starting to attract
some attention. Drayden VanDyke is a 19-year-old native of Hot Springs, Arkansas
that has been working for Tom Proctor. He won his first race in only his second
career mount on November 21 and has since lost his 10-pound apprentice
Right now, getting seven pounds is a huge advantage for the bugboy that
finishes his races like a veteran. With Proctor having a big meet, he should get
a steady supply of live mounts.
Another young rider at Santa Anita that I am learning about the hard way is
Flavien Prat. Last Friday, race seven was a downhill turf sprint and I had an
interest in a horse, Macaabra (Exceed and Excel). He ran well in his U.S. debut
then threw in two dull efforts. I thought he would be tough off a freshening but
Rafael Bejarano abandoned him and he wound up being ridden by Prat.
Not being as familiar with California racing as I should and with only one
win in 12 mounts in the U. S. the past 13 months, I took a pass. You can imagine
my mood when Prat had Macaabra fly by the field on the outside to win going away
Well, it turns out that Prat was the champion apprentice rider in France in
2009 and was named the second call rider for the powerful Wertheimer operation
two years later. He has ridden in Santa Anita before for Len Powell and was
clearly not as obscure as he first looked. Next time I see him in an overlay
situation, I’ll pull the trigger instead of taking a pass.