The Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) on Saturday at Gulfstream Park wasn’t the only Kentucky Derby (G1) action taking place over the weekend. A number of contenders put in their final major works ahead of next week’s prep races and a new hopeful may take a shot at Derby glory of another kind.
Firenze Fire took to Belmont Park’s fast dirt training track on Sunday and breezed a half-mile in :50.69 under jockey Manny Franco.
The bay son of Poseidon’s Warrior worked in company to ready for next Saturday’s $300,000 Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct. He and stablemate Whatstotalkabout covered the first eighth in :14.20, with Firenze Fire starting behind his older workmate before easily passing him to finish the move about 1 1/2 lengths in front.
“It’s the same as he always works. He’s kind of a plugging-along horse,” trainer Jason Servis said. “He’s taken dirt in his races and I know he’s pretty fit at this point, but I still want him to stay behind horses and gallop out a little bit.”
Firenze Fire returns to Aqueduct where he captured the Jerome Stakes on January 13 under Franco and ran second in the February 3 Withers Stakes (G3) with Trevor McCarthy aboard.
Last year, the Mr. Amore Stable homebred racked up wins in the Sanford Stakes (G3) and Champagne Stakes (G1), the latter over eventual champion Good Magic, before finishing seventh behind that rival in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) to close out his two-year-old campaign.
“He doesn’t get much respect sometimes,” Servis noted. “He’s kind of a Rodney Dangerfield, I don’t get it. He ran a mile and an eighth (in the Withers) and it didn’t look like he had trouble with it. He kind of made a middle move and just couldn’t get to that horse, but it wasn’t like he stopped or anything. I think if he’s ridden right, he’ll get a mile and a quarter. But, he’s got to get the points first.”
Franco takes back the mount on Firenze Fire for the Gotham.
McCarthy guided Dial Operator, Servis’ other probable Gotham starter, through a half-mile breeze in :50.20 over the Belmont training rack on Sunday.
The move wasn’t without incident, as the chestnut son of Dialed In got loose near the gap before being caught and going on to work.
The New Farm homebred is unbeaten in two starts thus far, breaking his maiden by 1 1/4 lengths last July 29 at Monmouth Park in his home state of New Jersey and capturing his February 4 sophomore bow in a Laurel Park allowance/optional claimer by 4 1/2 lengths.
Also working for next Saturday’s Gotham was Free Drop Billy, who breezed five furlongs in 1:02.55 over Gulfstream Park’s fast main track on Saturday. Trained Dale Romans scratched the Union Rags colt from Saturday afternoon’s Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) in favor of the Gotham, then saddled Promises Unfulfilled to upset that 1 1/16-mile affair at 18-1.
Over Santa Anita Park’s fast main track on Sunday, Grade 1 hero McKinzie clocked seven furlongs in 1:23.80 under jockey Drayden Van Dyke for trainer Bob Baffert. The Street Sense colt is headed to next Saturday’s $400,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) and, as has been his modus operandi, worked in company.
Baffert said McKinzie went “very well” ahead of his second start of the year while private clocker Gary Young commented the colt “looked terrific.”
The Kentucky-bred bay broke his maiden by 5 1/2 lengths last October at Santa Anita and then was awarded the win in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) with the disqualification of stablemate Solomini to close out his juvenile campaign on December 9.
McKinzie returned to remain undefeated from three career starts with a 3 1/2-length victory in the January 6 Sham Stakes (G3).
Solomini also took an in-company spin around Santa Anita’s fast dirt Sunday, turning three-quarters in a bullet 1:11.40 for Baffert, who said the chestnut son of Curlin is headed to the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park on March 17.
The Kentucky-bred is unraced since being placed third in the Los Alamitos Futurity and is still seeking his first official stakes win after finishing second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and FrontRunner Stakes (G1).
Bolt d’Oro is scheduled to work four furlongs at Santa Anita under Victor Espinoza on Monday at 9 a.m. (PT). It will be the final major move for the Medaglia d’Oro colt in advance of his delayed three-year-old bow in the San Felipe.
“He’ll work a half-mile Monday at 9 o’clock,” owner/trainer Mick Ruis said. “It will be five days from the race with Victor (Espinoza) up.”
Originally scheduled to make his seasonal bow in the San Vicente Stakes (G2) on February 10, Bolt d’Oro was forced to miss that contest after pulling a muscle. He suffered his first and only loss to date when third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last out. Prior to that, the bay colt romped in the FrontRunner and captured the Del Mar Futurity (G1).
Javier Castellano has the call in the San Felipe.
In other Kentucky Derby news, undefeated Exclamation Point could make his stakes debut in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 14 following a 1 1/4-length victory in Saturday’s 5TH race at Oaklawn Park.
The Concord Point chestnut took his career opener on February 3 at the Hot Springs, Arkansas, venue for trainer Brad Cox, who said it’s “very possible” his charge will go for a hat trick at Oaklawn before the meet is out.
The conditioner added that there’s “no shot” Exclamation will make the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) on March 17, that the race comes up “too quick,” but that the Arkansas Derby as well as the $150,000 Northern Spur Stakes on April 18 are under consideration.
“He’s got ability, he’s got talent,” Cox said. “It’s just, I guess, getting it out of him. We’re getting it out of him, but there’s a fine line you’ve got to walk as far as getting him to perform in the afternoon and doing it the right way – running straight and not jumping on the pony. It’s a work a progress.
“I thought he ran well,” the conditioner added about Saturday’s race. “It looked like he got a little lost at the top of the lane, and then also down the lane. With nothing to run at him, he was kind of looking at maybe a tire track from the gate.
“Overall, for him to step up and run against winners for the first time, first time around two turns – we asked a lot of him. I thought he sat off somewhat of a hot pace today. He did well. He’s very athletic. The horse has a ton to learn. Moving forward, I don’t know where we’ll go with him. We’ll probably give him a little time.”
One who is expected to make his stakes debut in the Rebel is the Donnie Von Hemel-trained Higher Power.
The Medaglia d’Oro colt broke his maiden last November at Remington Park in his second start and captured a one-mile allowance/optional claimer at Oaklawn Park on January 13 to open his sophomore campaign.
Under consideration for the Southwest Stakes (G3) on February 19, the Pin Oak Stud homebred was forced to skip that contest after a minor illness caused him to miss about a week of training.
Since returning to the track, Higher Power has breezed three times, the most recent coming February 27 when clocking five furlongs in 1:00.80 at Oaklawn in company with stablemate Broken Promise.
“I think it was what we were wanting,” Von Hemel said. “We were wanting a good, strong work with him. We know Broken Promise, being a four-year-old, could kind of keep him to his task. I thought it was a good effort. We got something out of it.”