While perhaps not as high-profile as the prep races in the coming weeks, this weekend’s races have produced notable recent Kentucky Derby and Oaks winners.
In 2009, Mine that Bird came out of a fourth-place finish in the Sunland Derby to pay a whopping $103.20 as the upset winner of the Kentucky Derby. In 2011, Animal Kingdom won the Spiral Stakes on his way to Derby upset greatness, paying $43.80. Plum Pretty, the 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner, dusted the Sunland Park Oaks field by 25 lengths, and 2006 record-setting Oaks winner Lemons Forever ran third in the Bourbonette.
Bottom line: don’t sleep on this weekend’s races!
News About the Contenders
Blood-Horse: Wildcat Red ‘Full of Himself,’ Trainer Says
Blood-Horse: One for the Roses: Social Inclusion
Blood-Horse: Haskin’s Derby Dozen – March 17, 2014
Blood-Horse: California Chrome ‘Wait and See’ for SA Derby
Blood-Horse: Rebel Rematch Expected in Arkansas Derby
Brisnet: General a Rod puts in final major move for Florida Derby New
Brisnet: Cairo Prince tops Florida Derby worktab New
Brisnet: Honor Code, Social Inclusion record works for Wood Memorial New
Brisnet: California Chrome, Candy Boy tune up for SA Derby clash New
Brisnet: California Chrome confirmed for SA Derby; Bayern gets back to work
Brisnet: Mexikoma skipping Derby, targeting Peter Pan, Belmont Stakes
Brisnet: We Miss Artie rates as early favorite for Queen’s Plate
Brisnet: Zito mulling Florida Derby option for Spot
Brisnet: Hoppertunity headed back to California, for now
Brisnet: Sherman taking ‘wait and see’ approach with California Chrome
DRF: Kentucky Derby: Who’s hot, who’s not for March 19
DRF: Kentucky Derby prospect Honor Code out with suspensory tear New
DRF: Santa Anita: Bond Holder battles laminitis
DRF: Road to Kentucky Derby bumpy as ever for top 3-year-olds
DRF: Hollendorfer pleased with Shared Belief’s progress
Turfway Park, Saturday March 22, post time: 5:42 ET
1 mile (8 furlongs), synthetic surface
Most of the fillies in the field of 12 for Saturday’s Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway Park do their best running from off the pace.
Favorite Sloane Square, trained by Todd Pletcher with jockey John Velazquez aboard for the first time, displayed versatility in both of her wins. She rallied from mid-pack, going five-wide, to win her debut at Gulfstream. In her allowance win at Calder, she sat close to a torrid early pace (:22.29, :45.45) and drew off to win by more than nine lengths. She’s making her first start on synthetic, but her pedigree indicates that’s right up her alley. Her sire, Giant’s Causeway, ranks third on the all-time all-weather sire list.
One of the top challengers to Sloane Square looks to be the more experienced Aurelia’s Belle, a Wayne Catalano trainee who is returning to the surface she showed an affinity for in her sparkling debut at Keeneland. Although she hasn’t won since, she’s been facing the toughest company in her age group, finishing in the money in a Grade 3 and two Grade 2s. Two more appealing factors for this daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid: she posted a sharp bullet work over synthetic in preparation for the race and she reunites with jockey Channing Hill, who was aboard for that debut.
One who could step up on the surface switch is La Mejor Fiesta, who comes off a dazzling stakes win in the Trapeze at Remington Park. She’ll have her sixth jockey in as many starts in Jeremy Rose, and she’ll likely be attempting to rally from off the pace since her lone attempt at being the pacesetter failed. The one drawback that is this filly, along with Swiss Lake Yodeler, will tote a race-high 124 pounds.
Hall of Fame jockey Russell Baze gets the call on California invader Swiss Lake Yodeler, who boasts class. She won two state-bred stakes and was third behind Awesome Baby, the Sunland Oaks favorite, in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel.
Will Cheerful Contender set the pace? The Mark Casse trainee won easily when she was quick to the lead in her second start on Woodbine synthetic, but she’s also won from off the pace on dirt at Oaklawn. She had the excuse of a bad start in her one “off” race, the Martha Washington Stakes, in which she finished sixth. She holds an advantage in that both of her wins were at 1 1/16 miles, so the distance isn’t a question. Jockey Luis Contreras will be aboard for the first time.
The other Casse entry, Zensational Bunny, is the most likely candidate for pacesetter. She faded fast in her lone start on dirt, but that was against stellar foes in the Grade 3 Old Hat. Prior to that, she was invincible when freewheeling on the lead on Woodbine synthetic. The biggest plus? She has jockey Albin Jimenez aboard, the current Turfway Park meet leader. This filly should give a good account of herself on the return to her preferred surface.
Shanon Nicole, who finished a respectable third behind the talented Untapable in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra Stakes, is seeking her first stakes win. Jockey Rosie Napravnik makes the trip from her Fair Grounds base to ride. This filly should benefit from the cutback to a mile, but the surface switch is a question.
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners is seeking its third straight Bourbonette win as an owner with Super Sky, who fits well here and is a must-use for exotics. She’s finished in the money in five of six starts and her best performance was on synthetic at Keeneland. Eclipse won in 2013 with Silsita and in 2012 with In Lingerie.
Parx invader Stormy Novel has won two straight since changing her running style from pacesetter to stalker. She’s yet to run beyond 6 1/2 furlongs and this will be her first race outside of her home track. She could be a sneaky exotics play, however, as the $300,000 Keeneland September 2012 purchase gets the benefit of carrying 118 pounds.
Lightly raced Katie’s Eyes ships in from Fair Grounds after a stakes win as the favorite in her second start. She’s by Leroidesanimaux, sire of Animal Kingdom, who won the 2011 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park en route to winning the Kentucky Derby.
Locally-based longshots Sommerville Miss and
Turtle River SCRATCHED round out the field.
2014 Bourbonette Oaks Replay
Turfway Park, Saturday March 22, post time: 6:28 ET
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs), synthetic surface
They’re shipping from all over the country for the combined 85 Derby points up for grabs in Saturday’s Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, but it’s a colt that has already won over the Florence, KY synthetic track that’s drawing attention.
Trainer Wayne Catalano has always thought highly of Solitary Ranger, and the colt is starting to show signs of progression as a 3-year-old. He showed his class when he finished second to Norfolk Stakes winner No Nay Never in a maiden race at Keeneland and won the Grade 3 Arlington Washington Futurity â€“ both races on synthetic â€“ during his juvenile campaign. Some lost faith when he faded to ninth as the favorite in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity, but it’s possible that the Keeneland surface, soaked to the core that day after a torrential downpour, was not to his liking.
He started the year off with a win over yielding turf in an optional claiming race at Fair Grounds. The statement race came on March 1 at Turfway in the John Battaglia Memorial, when he grabbed the lead from the start and kept going to a dominating 4 3/4-length win.
Still, there’s the issue of distance for Solitary Ranger. He had the easy lead and a comfortable inside position in the 1 1/16-miles Battaglia, which benefited his cause. His sire, U S Ranger, was stellar on turf at a range of 7 furlongs to a mile. He does have stamina influence on his dam side as his broodmare sire is 1992 Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee.
It’s likely Solitary Ranger will bolt to the front and try to hold on for the 1 1/8 miles. If he can’t sustain, his stablemate is one who might orchestrate a winning rally from off the pace.
Poker Player, whose best performance so far was a victory in the Grade 3 Bourbon Stakes on synthetic at Keeneland, was as far as 18 lengths back in the Battaglia before mounting a rally that fell shy for second. This is a colt whose best running is from far back, and he’ll have the perfect target in Solitary Ranger.
“Poker Player, if he runs like he did last time, the more added ground that he’s going to get – a mile and an eighth, he’s probably going to appreciate that,” Catalano said.
The Spiral favorite, multiple graded stakes winner Tamarando, will be making his 11th start, which is somewhat rare for a 3-year-old in this day and age. The California-bred seems to thrive on the consistent competition, as he’s finished in the money in 9 of 10 starts and has already banked $625, 120, by far the most of the field. His four wins have come on synthetic and he’s one of just two contenders with a win at this distance, the other being Asserting Bear. He’s faced the best 3-year-olds on the California circuit, holding his own with or beating most of them.
The only angle that raises eyebrows is that this is the first time he’s shipped out of California.
“He’s been very ultra-consistent for me,” trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said. “He’s never shown any inclination to have any filling in any of his joints, and he’s been very bullet sound, so that’s why I kept running him, and he’s coming up to this race really well.”
The Todd Pletcher-trained All Tied Up has made a name for himself on turf, and he looks like a colt who could handle the distance, as both of his wins were from off the pace at 1 1/16 miles. His sire, Even the Score, is the sire of the late Dullahan, whose three wins were on synthetic. This is one to watch at a nice price.
The other Pletcher trainee, We Miss Artie, could also make some noise with John Velazquez aboard. It’s obvious he doesn’t favor dirt and performs much better on turf and synthetic. The Ontario-bred is also a versatile runner who can be close to the pace or come from far off it.
So far, Coastline’s better races have been at a mile or less, so these longer distances might not be his game. He does like synthetic, however, and could play a role in the early pace under new jockey Stewart Elliott.
The wild card is Almost Famous, who generated quite a bit of Kentucky Derby buzz as a 2-year-old. While things didn’t work out in the major preps in Florida, a switch to synthetic could be a favorable move. His sire, Unbridled’s Song, ranks 21st on the all-weather sire list, and it might be a more forgiving surface for the colt than the speedy Gulfstream track. He’ll also likely be close to the pace and has the speed to threaten Solitary Ranger. Three-time Kentucky Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel is aboard.
Arctic Slope, who has run in route races since his first start, is coming off a long layoff, but he’s trained well at Gulfstream Park and is returning to a surface on which he fared well as a juvenile. Turfway Park’s leading rider, Albin Jimenez, gets the call.
Asserting Bear’s best performances have come on Woodbine’s synthetic, and his fifth in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis was better than it looks on paper.
Trainer Katerina Vassilieva said stakes-placed Big Bazinga could be closer to the pace Saturday under jockey Luis Contreras. He enjoyed the class relief on turf last out, beaten a neck by the talented Divine Oath. Has he been running beyond his class level, or does he just prefer turf and synthetic?
Other contenders in the field are Iroquois runner-up Smart Cover and locally based Harry’s Holiday.
2014 Spiral Stakes Replay
Sunland Park Oaks
Sunland Park, Sunday March 23, post time: 6:05 ET
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)
Although non-graded, the Sunland Park Oaks has produced terrific winners in its short history, including 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, trained by Bob Baffert. In fact, Baffert has won this race five times in the past seven yearsâ€”and four of those five fillies went on to become Grade 1 winners, including Tough Tiz’s Sis, Gabby’s Golden Gal, Plum Pretty, and Midnight Lucky. Baffert’s entry this year is the Grade 2 Santa Ynez winner Awesome Baby who ships in from Santa Anita off a wire-to-wire victory at this 1 1/16 miles distance in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel. In terms of experience, she stands out from the other five entrants, having twice been tested at the highest (Grade 1) level last year before capturing two graded stakes in her last two outings. On a fast dirt track like Sunland that often favors early speedâ€”and with the veteran jockey Mike Smith aboardâ€”she could easily go to the lead and never look back.
Her most likely challengers are the maiden winners Lucky for You and Empress of Midway. Shipping in from Florida for trainer Todd Pletcher, the nicely bred Lucky for You broke her maiden over this distance at Gulfstream last out. By Malibu Moon (who gave us last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Orb) out of a daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold, Lucky for You should not have a problem stretching out in distance even beyond the 1 1/16 miles to be contested here. Empress of Midway also has an interesting pedigree, being by Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker out of the stakes-winning Carson City mare Miss City Halo. Her second dam is a half-sister to Squall Linda, dam of the talented (and fast) Grade 1 winner Street Hero. There’s a lot of sprinting talent in her damsideâ€”and she’s never raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongsâ€”so the question she will need to answer here is whether or not she can stretch out. John Velazquez takes over riding duties from the otherwise engaged Mike Smith for trainer Doug O’Neill.
Claimed from O’Neill for $50,000 at Santa Anita in late January, Virginia-bred D’ya Knowwhatimean appears outclassed here, especially when you consider that in her last race (a 6-furlong allowance optional claiming event) she was defeated by a 25-1 longshot. However, she did close well (as she did in her maiden win), so watch for her to be moving late. There is definitely stamina in her, with her sire being 1 1/8 miles Grade 2 Philip H. Iselin winner Broken Vow and her damsire being 1 1/8 miles Grade 1 Haskell victor Dixie Union. Interesting, though, among the actual performers in her damside are a number of turf runners.
Also in possession of a strong turf pedigree is George’s Peach, a game runner-up in the grassy 1-mile Scottsdale Handicap at Turf Paradise last out. Her only dirt start, at third-tier Arapahoe Park, can be forgiven as she was a first-time starter as a juvenile, but she just hasn’t proven herself worthy to be considered a serious threat. A $17,000 yearling Keeneland purchase, George’s Peach has a stamina-rich pedigree, being by three-time 1 1/4 miles Grade 1 winner Pleasantly Perfect (Breeders’ Cup Classic, Pacific Classic, Dubai World Cup). However, turf signifiers dominate her pedigreeâ€”her dam’s half-sisters include 1 1/8 miles Grade 1 Garden City runner-up Snow Top Mountain and 1 3/8 miles Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf third-place finisher Keertana.
The only local entry,
Let Her Dance SCRATCHED runs for the same connections as Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, owner Mark Allen’s Double Eagle Ranch and trainer Chip Woolley. A daughter of 1 3/16 miles Grade 1 Pimlico Special winner Eddington, Let Her Dance’s unraced dam is a half-sister to multiple graded stakes-winning sprinter Hurricane Bertie, as well as 1 1/4 miles Grade 1 Alabama runner-up Allamerican Bertie, so there’s both speed and stamina in her family. Unfortunately, this beautifully bred filly has yet to prove herself in either regardâ€”after breaking her maiden at Sunland in January, she twice finished in the money but quite far back in her last two races. A total early-pace meltdown may set her up for an improbable come-from-behind victory.
Sunland Park, Sunday March 23, post time: 7:40 ET
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)
At a glance, it’s evident that this race consists of promising maiden winners and graded stakes performers, as well as those seeking redemption for recent failures. Toss in a couple of local contenders and it makes for one wide-open race.
The successful graded stakes performers come from the barn of trainer Bob Baffert, who ships in 1 1/16 miles Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis runner-up Chitu and 1-mile Grade 3 Sham winner Midnight Hawk. A $300,000 Ocala juvenile purchase, Chitu has posted strong speed figures in each of his three lifetime starts and finished just a half-length behind Grade 1 runner-up Candy Boy in his most recent race. Whether or not he can carry that speed 9 furlongs is the question to be answered here, although his damside is resplendent in stamina, beginning with his dam Sea Gift who broke her maiden in her only start going 10 furlongs on turf. Her dam Ocean Queen set a new turf course record (that still stands) defeating males in the 1 1/8 miles Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders’ Cup Derby, so it’s probably safe to say the distance won’t be a problem for Chitu. Regular rider Martin Garcia will be aboard.
Stablemate Midnight Hawk also has much to recommend him, although he did finish 1 1/4 lengths behind Chitu in the Robert B. Lewis. His latest effort was a distant (7 1/4 lengths) second-place finish behind the ultra-impressive California Chrome in the 1 1/16 miles Grade 2 San Felipe. While he may be more favored than his stablemate (likely due to the California Chrome form), Midnight Hawk has some stamina questions that need to be answered, although not through his Eclipse champion male sprinter sire Midnight Lute, as one might suspect. Grade 1-placed as a juvenile, his dam Miss Wineshine never had the opportunity to stretch out in distance beyond 7 furlongs, but her full brother Delta Wolf won multiple sprint stakes in his 49-race career. Midnight Hawk‘s three-quarters sister Quiet Shine twice won at 1 1/6 miles, but his pedigree combined with his efforts thus far suggests that the 9-furlong distance isn’t a slam dunk for him.
The promising maiden winners are Global Strike and Garen. A winner at 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream last out, Global Strike is already twice proven at the distance, plus he’s got some good form surrounding him. He began his career on turf, finishing third behind Nowhere to Run and Gala Award, the latter most recently capturing the 9-furlong Grade 3 Palm Beach on turf. Perhaps given that his dam Misty Lady was a Group 1-winning turf sprinter in Argentina, grass is in Global Strike‘s future. For now, trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Stonestreet Stables are throwing the dice on a Triple Crown bid.
Garen ships in from California for trainer Peter Miller off a wire-to-wire maiden win going 1 1/16 miles. In addition to his ever-improving speed figures and sharp workouts, Garen offers a tantalizing pedigreeâ€”not only has his sire Street Cry given us the likes of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and the legendary champion Zenyatta, but his Argentine dam has already produced the 9-time Grade 1 winner, Horse of the Year and Hall of Fame inductee Invasor.
Once-promising horses seeking redemption for recent failures, Tanzanite Cat, Bourbonize, and Commissioner all have something to prove in this race. Winner of the 1-mile Smarty Jones, Tanzanite Cat set the early pace before failing to place in the roughly contested 1 1/16 miles Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn. He finished fifth, 10 lengths back of the victor Tapiture and one length ahead of Bourbonize, an Oaklawn allowance winner whose 10-1 odds belied the lack of enthusiasm for his chances to stretch out in distance. Both face similar challenges in stamina here. A disappointing sixth, 10 lengths back of the winner Wildcat Red in the 1 1/16 miles Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, Commissioner probably offers the best chance to redeem himself given that the son of stamina-rich A.P. Indy has already twice won at this 1 1/8 miles distance. In fact, Top Billing, the colt he defeated in an allowance race immediately before the Fountain of Youth, rallied impressively to get third in that Grade 2 event. There’s a nice mix of stamina and speed in Commissioner’s damside, with his dam Flaming Heart being a narrow runner-up to the talented Fleet Indian going 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 3 Next Move, while Commissioner’s half-brother Laugh Track came roaring up the track from last place to just fall a neck short of defeating Secret Circle in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Obviously trainer Todd Pletcher believes the addition of blinkers will put Commissioner into the race earlier, so look for a big effort out of him.
Rebranded and Lawly’s Goal are the local hopes, having finished one-two respectively in the 1-mile Riley Allison Futurity back in late December. While Lawly’s Goal recently ran second in the 1 1/16 miles Turf Paradise Derby, nothing in his pedigree suggests that he can successfully stretch out to 1 1/8 miles. On the other hand, Sunland Park’s Mine That Bird Derby runner-up Rebranded is eminently bred for the distance, being by two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow out of the stakes-winning A.P. Indy mare Bayou Breeze. Beginning his career in New York under the tutelage of trainer Todd Pletcher, Rebranded finished third in his first startâ€”behind two subsequent graded stakes winners, Grade 1 Hopeful victor Strong Mandate and recent Grade 3 Southwest winner Tapiture. He’s also been tested at this 9-furlong distance, leading for much of the going in a maiden special weight event at Aqueduct before giving way, finishing fourth behind another classy horse, Cousin Stephen, who finished third, less than a length behind Vinceremos, in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis. While he couldn’t quite catch the undefeated Proceed last out, he was closing extremely well and, combined with a razor-sharp 5-furlong workout and the addition of blinkers for the first time, this colt could surprise a lot of people.
2014 Sunland Derby Replay
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