This year’s Championship Series is off and running with an eventful first week! If you missed any of the action, be sure to check out last week’s installment for replays, Brisnet charts and links to recaps.
This is a great time of the year to remind ourselves that the Kentucky Derby is as much about the journey as the destination. Steve Haskin, senior correspondent for The Blood-Horse, follows the Derby trail closely in his weekly column and was kind enough to pen How to find a Derby Winner for our Letter to New Horseplayer series:
So, you can scrutinize over the top 3-year-olds all you want in January and February as long as you realize that the Derby winner might not even be a blip on the radar screen at that point.
It’s also handy to remind yourself that not all Kentucky Derby winners have won all, or even any, of their 3-year-old prep races! Our recent post, Paths to the Kentucky Derby since 1990, illustrates the paths that winners have taken. Look at the paths of Super Saver, Real Quiet and Silver Charm as reminders that the winners in February, March and April may not end up being the winner in May.
Remember to check back after the races for replays, charts from Brisnet.com and links to recaps!
News About the Contenders
Blood-Horse: ‘Laid-Back’ Mor Spirit Aggressive in Workout
Blood-Horse: Songbird Logs Breeze at Santa Anita
DRF: Privman: Road to the Derby: Fountain of Youth Stakes
DRF: Watchmaker: Mohaymen’s performance better than it first looked
Twinspires: Tales from the Crib: Mor Spirit
Blood-Horse: Sunny Ridge, Shagaf Among Gotham Probables
Blood-Horse: ‘Smokey’ and ‘Candy’ Hook Up in Morning Work
Blood-Horse: Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore on Oaklawn Tab
NYRA: Fields taking shape for Gotham weekend
Oaklawn Park: Bullet For Whitmore In First Work Since Southwest
Blood-Horse: Risen Star Runner-Up Forevamo Bounces Back
Blood-Horse: Cherry Wine to Miss Fountain of Youth
Blood-Horse: Stevens Calls Audible During Mor Spirit Work
Blood-Horse: Making the Grade: Gun Runner
Blood-Horse: Haskin’s Derby Dozen – February 23, 2016
DRF: Derby Watch pedigree profile: Mohaymen
DRF: Cathryn Sophia keeps surprising connections
DRF: Kentucky Derby: Who’s hot, who’s not for Feb. 24
DRF: Mor Spirit “fine” after being eased in work, per Baffert
DRF: Zulu flying under the radar ahead of Fountain of Youth
The Racing Biz: Trombetta, Marengo Road map Preakness path
TDN: Songbird Confirmed for Santa Ysabel
TDN: Tapit’s Lani Preps for UAE Derby at Tokyo
The Turf Board: Who’s Targeting the Rebel Stakes?
Davona Dale Stakes
Gulfstream Park, Saturday Feb 27, post time: 1:56 pm ET
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)
2016 Davona Dale Replay
2016 Davona Dale News & Recaps
Blood-Horse: Cathryn Sophia Flawless in Davona Dale
DRF: Cathryn Sophia dazzles again in Davona Dale Stakes
TDN: Rising Star Cathryn Sophia Wows Them in Davona Dale
Twinspires: Cathryn Sophia rolls in Davona Dale
2016 Davona Dale Preview
Undefeated Maryland-bred Cathryn Sophia is the only filly in the Grade 2 Davona Dale field to have already posted a triple-digit Brisnet speed figure, awarded for her devastating 16-length victory in a juvenile stakes race last December at Laurel Park. Shaking off a little early rust, she crushed the 7-furlong Grade 2 Forward Gal on January 30, winning by 5 1/2 lengths under a hand ride by jockey Joel Rosario. Sidelined with a broken wrist, Rosario will be replaced by Javier Castellano for this start. A sharp 4-furlong bullet workout suggests she’s ready for a big effort, and her breeding looks well suited to stretch out to the one-mile distance.
The top two finishers in last November’s Grade 2 Demoiselle, Lewis Bay and Thrilled, make their season debuts here for top trainers Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher respectively. In her short three-race career, the well-bred Lewis Bay has done nothing wrong, successfully stretching out each time, including a victory at the Kentucky Oaks’ 1 1/8-miles distance in her last race. A half-sister of Grade 3 Holy Bull winner Winslow Homer, Lewis Bay has posted a string of solid workouts in advance of this start. While
Thrilled (Scratched) was no match for Lewis Bay in the Demoiselle, three straight bullet workouts suggest she may be primed for an upset. A strong damline turf pedigree led to her career beginning on grass, including a narrow runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Miss Grillo. However, after a disappointing 11th place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly Turf, she was switched to dirt where she performed admirably. Given that her second dam is a full sister to Breeders’ Cup Distaff victress Spain and her sire is two-time juvenile Grade 1 winner Uncle Mo, the dirt may turn out to be her best surface. Breaking from the rail post, Thrilled will also be wearing blinkers for the first time, doubtlessly in order to help her engage early in this one mile event.
Winner of the 7-furlong Gasparilla Stakes at Tampa Bay last out, R Girls a Charmer likes to be on the early lead. The question that needs to be answered is whether this speedy daughter of Grade 1 sprinter In Summation can stretch out in distance. The same distance issue plagues undefeated Dearest, speedy winner of a 7-furlong allowance optional claiming event last out.
Off a one-mile maiden turf victory, the connections of Rontos Lily took a big chance entering her in the Grade 2 Forward Gal; she finished fourth, 13 lengths back of Cathryn Sophia. Even with the first-time addition of Lasix, this daughter of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Platinum Tiara will be a huge longshot to hit the board. It took eight attempts before Bagema broke her maiden in a race for $16,000 claimers. A distant second-place finish against $25,000 claimers just nine days ago hardly recommends her against this class of fillies.
Aqueduct, Saturday Feb 27, post time: 4:50 pm ET
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)
2016 Busher Replay
2016 Busher News & Recaps
Blood-Horse: Mo d’Amour Rallies to Victory in Busher
DRF: Mo d’Amour could be Stanco’s ticket back to Kentucky Oaks
TDN: Uncle Mo Filly Follows in Sylmar’s Hoofsteps in Busher
Twinspires: Mo d’Amour captures Busher
2016 Busher Preview
The second of three Oaks points races held at Aqueduct this year, the Busher attracted a field of seven 3-year-old fillies hoping to earn qualifying points for the Kentucky Oaks on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Though only 14 fillies can start in the Oaks, competition for a spot in the gate is generally less competitive than it is for the Kentucky Derby, held a day later and open to 20 starters. Last year, due to attrition among many of the top points earners, the horse at #17 on the leaderboard, Money’soncharlotte, qualified with only 22 points. (She finished next to last at odds of 34-1.)
The favorite on Saturday and the only filly in the field with a graded stakes placing, Flora Dora sits at #8 on the Oaks leaderboard with 11 points, earned in her fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Demoiselle last November and a victory in the listed Busanda at Aqueduct at the end of January. She’ll be getting her fourth jockey in six starts in the Busanda; trainer Marialice Coffey had replaced Kendrick Carmouche with José Ortiz for the filly’s last start, but with Ortiz riding in Saudi Arabia this week, veteran Cornelio Velasquez gets the call. The most accomplished filly in the race, she should have pace to run at, and though she faltered in the Demoiselle at this distance, she prevailed by a length and a half in a Florida-bred restricted race at Gulfstream Park at nine furlongs in October.
The light blue and purple silks on Mo d’Amour will be a familiar sight to fans of Princess of Sylmar, who won this race in 2013 en route to an upset in that year’s Kentucky Oaks. Mo d’Amour is a daughter of Uncle Mo, who won the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and ended 2015 atop the national first crop sire list; her road to the Busher hasn’t been nearly as precocious as that of Princess of Sylmar, and here she’s likely to have some company up front, as both Whistling Straits and Lost Raven have a demonstrated affinity for going to the lead. She’ll be the sentimental pick of the many fans of “The Princess,” but expecting her to duplicate that filly’s performance is a big ask.
Lost Raven will carry the Repole silks that adorned Uncle Mo during his racing career; though consistently competitive, this homebred hasn’t been to the winner’s circle since a Laurel Park stakes race last November and she finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Flora Dora last out in the Busher. Another from Uncle Mo’s first crop, she might be tested at distances beyond a mile, especially if she has to battle early, and her inside post here does her no favors.
Katniss the Victor has done nothing wrong in her fledging career, winning her first start by 2 1/4 lengths and losing by just a nose in the Maddie May Stakes on the day of the Busher in January. She can boast a win at the distance over this Aqueduct inner track, an edge she’s got over her rivals; conditioned by Rudy Rodriguez, she also trains at Aqueduct, perhaps giving her a home field advantage.
Breaking from post three, Dreams to Reality started her career in the maiden claiming ranks and was a well-beaten fourth in the Busanda last out. Arch Or Nothing will hope to bounce back after stumbling badly at the beginning of the Busanda and losing her rider, and Whistling Straits makes her first start outside the maiden ranks after dominating a Gulfstream Park field in late January in her third start.
Fountain of Youth Stakes
Gulfstream Park, Saturday Feb 27, post time: 5:30 pm ET
1 1/16 miles (8.5 furlongs)
2016 Fountain of Youth Replay
2016 Fountain of Youth News & Recaps
Blood-Horse: Mohaymen Dominates Fountain of Youth
DRF: Mohaymen sets stage for Florida Derby showdown by winning Fountain of Youth
TDN: A ‘Men’ Among Boys in Fountain of Youth
Twinspires: Mohaymen continues to star in Fountain of Youth, anticipation grows for Florida Derby
2016 Fountain of Youth Preview
Since 1990, a total of five colts have used a victory in one of the three major prep races at Gulfstream Park in Florida as a path to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle. Orb in 2013 was the most recent, when he won in Florida on his way to glory in Kentucky. The Fountain of Youth Stakes is one of the three major Derby preps (along with the Holy Bull and Florida Derby) at Gulfstream. With 50 qualifying points towards the Kentucky Derby for the winner and 20 to the runner-up, the top two finishers are essentially guaranteed a place in the gate for the big race at Churchill on May 7th.
This year’s Fountain of Youth is especially compelling with the entry of Mohaymen. He has stood on top of many Kentucky Derby contender lists since winning two graded stakes in New York late last year. His brilliant season debut, an easy win in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream in January, pushed his record to a perfect four for four. In addition to being the class of the field in the Fountain of Youth, he is the only entry with a graded stakes win beyond one mile. In the Holy Bull, he beat Grade 1 winner Greenpointcrusader, so he has proven himself against quality competition. As if that wasn’t enough, Mohaymen is regally bred. Out of the stakes winning sire Tapit, his dam Justwhistledixie won two graded stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Gulfstream Park in 2009. He will be a heavy and worthy favorite on Saturday. With another impressive win on Saturday, he will solidify his position as a legitimate contender to wear the Roses in May.
The imposing presence of the race favorite resulted in a small field of just six runners. The lone graded stakes winner, Awesome Banner, might not run according to his owner but, if he does, he stands a chance to sprint the upset. He notched his stakes victories at 6 and 7 furlongs in winning the Grade 3 Hutcheson Stakes and Grade 2 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He stopped the clock in impressive times in both victories while winning wire-to-wire. In his three career races, he has never trailed at any point. If his owner decides to run him on Saturday, he is the most likely pacesetter and will have an opportunity to prove his worthiness to continue on the Derby trail when they hit the stretch. As of Friday morning, it appears he will be entered.
Zulu won his debut in December and his next start in January, both at Gulfstream Park. He beat a field of allowance horses in his second start by a resounding 7 lengths. He enters the Fountain of Youth as a big unknown, considering that his two career wins have come against questionable competition. His trainer Todd Pletcher has been the leading trainer at Gulfstream the last 13 seasons and won last year’s edition of the Fountain of Youth with Itsaknockout (via DQ). While his entry in this year’s race is undefeated, the colt is unproven against stakes company and at distances beyond 7 furlongs, Zulu will get a fair share of attention from the gambling public due to his superstar conditioner.
Awesome Speed has won three straight races including a win in his last start, the one-mile Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He ran close to an aggressive pace in that race before drawing clear in the stretch and winning by a length. He will have a hard time keeping up with Awesome Banner early and will have to contend with Mohaymen late. It seems a tall order for this son of the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again.
Fellowship is the most experienced of the bunch with nine career races. He finished a well-beaten third behind Mohaymen in the Holy Bull Stakes in his last start. He is a consistent colt who has given an honest effort in most of his races, finishing in the top three six times. It would not be a surprise to see Fellowship earn Kentucky Derby qualifying with a top-four finish
Golden Roy, who most recently finished last against a field of claiming horses, rounds out the field.
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