After opening the year with a turf stakes win at Gulfstream, Flameaway wasn’t nominated to the Triple Crown. He had never won on a fast track and appeared likely to stick with turf racing. But the sophomore colt changed the narrative recording a front-running victory in the February 10 Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, gamely scoring over a couple of nice rivals.
Connections will pay a late nomination fee to make him eligible for the Triple Crown and Flameaway is now pointing toward Kentucky Derby.
Sam F. Davis
A hard-trying son of Scat Daddy, Flameaway easily registered a career-best 101 BRIS Speed rating while posting his fifth win from seven starts. He proved resilient re-rallying to the lead after being headed in the stretch by 3-5 favorite Catholic Boy, surging back along the rail to record a half-length decision, and will pick up 10 points for winning the 1 1/16-mile qualifier (when eligible for the Triple Crown).
I was surprised to see him entered given the initial foray in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, a well-beaten sixth in the Iroquois (G3) over a fast Churchill Downs main track last September. That stands as the only dismal showing on the versatile chestnut’s resume, with Flameaway winning on turf, synthetics and slop. He notched his third stakes victory when taking the grassy Kitten’s Joy on January 6, but owner John Oxley and trainer Mark Casse elected to give him another chance on the main track in the Davis.
“He’s a fighter. If you’ve ever watched him, you’ve seen that,” trainer Mark Casse said. “With the track playing a little fast today, I told (jockey) Jose (Lezcano) he was going to like this track. The one thing about him is, if he gets in a battle, he’s going to win the battle.”
The Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in late June remains a possible long-term target for the Ontario-bred but Flameaway will first seek to garner enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
I’m not optimistic about his chances. Kudos for a classy performance but the late scratch of Vouch left Flameaway as the lone speed in the Davis, allowing him to dictate terms from an inside post on a short lead. None of the five rivals were interested in applying pressure and we can’t expect the same set-up next time. Stamina influences abound on the female side of the pedigree but Flameaway is bred for turf and could be back on the green before the end of the season.
Runner-up Catholic Boy and third-placer Vino Rosso are more exciting prospects in my estimation.
Catholic Boy disappointed supporters by coming up a little short and it wasn’t like he ran out of room on the wire; the multiple graded stakes winner looked poised to dismiss Flameaway with a furlong remaining and trainer Jonathan Thomas conceded he hadn’t seen his pupil hang in the latter stages of previous starts.
But all hope isn’t lost. Catholic Boy received a career-best 101 BRIS Speed rating in his 3-year-old bow and the late-running son of More Than Ready may have been a little short in the first start since recording a 4 ¾-length tally in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen (G2) in early December, logging only four works in preparation.
I won’t give up on him but want to see an improved finishing kick in Catholic Boy’s final Kentucky Derby prep. In 2010, Super Saver made his first start back at Tampa after concluding his juvenile campaign with a convincing Grade 2 win and wound up a close third. He kept moving forward with a Kentucky Derby victory two starts later.
Vino Rosso left a fine impression rallying boldly in his stakes debut, waiting until the sixteenth pole to come alive and accelerating past the top two finishers after the wire, and the ceiling could run high for the lightly-raced Todd Pletcher trainee. He posted his first triple-digit BRIS Speed rating (100) and the well-bred Curlin colt will bring an excellent slate of BRIS Late Pace numbers (97-103-106) to his second stakes attempt.
Similar to Always Dreaming’s maiden win at Tampa last year, John Velazquez gave up mounts at Gulfstream on a weekday and drove across state to win an entry-level allowance tally at Tampa aboard Vino Rosso in late December. The chestnut brought a 2-for-2 mark into the Davis but didn’t corner well, with Velazquez going to an all-out drive nearing the conclusion of the bend as he watched Catholic Boy advance to challenge Flameaway, and his mount basically held positioning until launching a bid in deep stretch.
Considering his lack of foundation and focus, Vino Rosso has ground to make up and while I would like to see a couple more prep races, the up-and-comer will probably receive a freshening and wait for the final round of preps. Vino Rosso rates as an intriguing contender but I wonder if the Belmont Stakes (G1) in June may be a more realistic goal than the first Saturday in May.
Kanthaka rated behind a wicked duel in the February 10 San Vicente (G2) and launched an eye-catching move into contention rounding the far turn, swinging out wide for the stretch and inhaling the front-runners as he drew off to a 3 ¼-length decision in the 7-furlong test at Santa Anita. A maiden winner in his previous start for Jerry Hollendorfer, the Jimmy Creed colt received an encouraging 99 BRIS Speed figure and is eligible to stretch out to two turns for a Kentucky Derby qualifier next time. But one-turn distances may prove to be his ultimate calling. Nero held well for second after chasing ridiculous early fractions, winding up 12 lengths clear of third, and the Pioneerof the Nile colt may appreciate more ground as he continues to develop. The promising colt is part of a deep Bob Baffert arsenal.
Tenfold made a belated career debut at Oaklawn Park on February 9 and is probably getting started too late for the Kentucky Derby, but he certainly caught the eye recording an impressive 5 ¾-length debut score in a 1 1/16-mile maiden and figures to jump straight to stakes company for Steve Asmussen. We’ve seen unraced juveniles come a long way quickly, with Cloud Computing winning the 2017 Preakness (G1) after making his first start on February 11, and Tenfold will try to jump forward after receiving a commendable 92 BRIS Speed rating leading wire to wire. The Curlin colt possesses an ideal pedigree for extended distances being out of a Tapit mare and from the same immediate female family of turf champion Possibly Perfect.
Telekinesis also opened his racing career with a sharp performance, rallying to win a 6-furlong maiden going away by 3 ¼ lengths at Fair Grounds February 9, and the Ghostzapper colt posted a 92 BRIS Speed. The Casse runner hails from a Street Cry mare but high speed can be found in the bloodlines with multiple Grade 2-winning sprinter Gold Mover as the second dam.
Unplaced in his first two outings on turf at Saratoga, He Takes Charge made his third dirt start at Gulfstream a winning one for Casse on February 10. And while he’s been a little slow to come around, the late-running son of Tapit netted a solid a 93 BRIS Speed rating striding away by 2 ¼ lengths and may have turned a corner with the triumph.
The Road to the Kentucky Derby runs through Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park this weekend.
Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star (G2) represents the first race in the Championship Series, awarding a total of 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5), and 10 were entered for the 1 1/16-mile event at Fair Grounds.
Instilled Regard will take some beating off a smart win the Lecomte (G3) four weeks earlier, and the Pletcher-trained Noble Indy will receive support in his stakes debut. Similar to Noble Indy, Supreme Aura will bring a 2-for-2 record into his first stakes attempt and I give him a chance to run well at an expected price.
Due to a scheduling quirk, Monday’s $500,000 Southwest (G3) serves as the final race in the Prep Season, with 17 points up for grabs (10-4-2-1), and the 1 1/16-mile event on President’s Day could be split into divisions when it’s drawn Friday.
Baffert, Asmussen and Pletcher are all considering multiple runners and Sporting Chance, who was seen winning the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga, will make his first start back for 82-year-old Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas.
I am excited to see what Combatant has to offer following a pair of runner-up finishes in his first two stakes attempts for Asmussen.
Kentucky Derby Top 20
- GOOD MAGIC: 2yo champ training forwardly for return in 3/3 Fountain of Youth
- SOLOMINI: Classy juvenile poised to step forward at age 3
- BOLT D’ORO: Multiple G1 winner tuning up for 3/10 San Felipe
- INSTILLED REGARD: Like the progression so far for Risen Star favorite
- AUDIBLE: Stepped forward with smashing win in Holy Bull; 3/24 Florida Derby next
- MCKINZIE: Receiving a freshening after sharp score in Sham in early January
- CATHOLIC BOY: Didn’t run poorly recording a surprising setback in Davis
- FREE DROP BILLY: Bounced back from BC Juvenile drubbing with Holy Bull runner-up
- COMBATANT: Smarty Jones runner-up figures to receive better set-up in Southwest
- VINO ROSSO: Davis third-placer could have big upside for Pletcher
- MASK: Awaiting return to worktab after being sidelined with undisclosed issue
- COPPER BULLET: Appears close to returning for Asmussen but plans unclear
- IMPACT PLAYER: Came on when adding blinkers, ready for stakes company
- SPORTING CHANCE: Showed good class and high speed last year
- PRINCIPE GUILHERME: Lecomte runner-up looking to rebound Saturday
- MENDELSSOHN: Could be the goods but don’t like international route
- STRIKE POWER: Speed merchant ready to step into a qualifier
- MOURINHO: Wire-to-wire Smarty Jones winner back for Southwest
- SUPREME AURA: I’ll be using Candy Ride colt on Risen Star stretch out
- ENTICED: Showed affinity for Churchill but needs more after Holy Bull clunker