Thrilling stretch drives where the hallmark of last weekend’s races, in particular the Kentucky Derby preps as the winning margin in each was less than a length.
In the Grade 1 Wood Memorial (chart) at Aqueduct Alpha, winner of the Withers and Gotham Stakes, “did everything right except not win” according to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin while the winner, Gemologist, remained undefeated. Both colts seemed to get something out the effort with Alpha demonstrating that he could get in the gate without freaking out and Gemologist having to fight for the first time. Winning jockey Javier Castellano noted that Gemologist was looking around at the crowd when he made the lead but took off again when he saw Alpha approaching. Despite having the perfect trip, Gemologist showed an impressive will to win.
At Santa Anita I’ll Have Another did just that, proving that his win in the Robert B. Lewis at 43-1 was no fluke by winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby (chart). The winner ran down favorite Creative Cause after a long stretch drive to win by a nose. Creative Cause, who already had the earnings, ran without blinkers for the first time and trainer Mike Harrington said they would likely stay off for the Kentucky Derby. Both came of the race in good order. Creative Cause will head to Churchill on April 28, 6th place Liaison will also head to Louisville to train. Trainer Bob Baffert noted that Liaison “never liked” the track at Santa Anita and if he sees improvement in the colt that he’ll take advantage of his graded earnings and enter. Travel plans haven’t been finalized for I’ll Have Another.
In the Grade 2 Illinois Derby (chart) at Hawthorne upset winner Done Talking scored the biggest career purse win for his 67-year-old trainer Hamilton Smith, who noted “you don’t get a lot of chances to go to the Kentucky Derby.” Currently at 18 in the graded earnings with one more big weekend of preps to go, Done Talking could find himself on the bubble by this time next week.
Trinniberg trounced in the 7-furlong Grade 2 Bay Shore Stakes (chart) on the Wood undercard but his connections are still leaning towards the Preakness even though they are now 17 in graded earnings. Owner Shivananda Parbhoo had a refreshing explanation, “Everybody likes the Derby; I like it, too. Everybody wants to win that race, but if I think he’s not capable of going a mile and a quarter, why go just to run? I don’t want to ruin the horse and there are so many races for 3-year-olds. His breeding says a mile to a mile and a sixteenth, and that’s it. He’s a good horse, and I want to keep him a good horse.”
The Kentucky Oaks preps also produced thrilling performances. Broadway’s Alibi continued her domination in the Grade 2 Comely (chart) and might become the first Comely winner to try the Kentucky Oaks. The team might opt to keep her in the 7-furlong to mile range, no decision has been made yet. Upset Grade 1 Ashland (chart) winner Karlovy Vary is likely heading to the Oaks despite running 7th in the Golden Rod at Churchill in the fall. Trainer Rusty Arnold noted of that effort “we had some things go wrong. We fixed those and think we’re ready now.”
Mike Smith earned his 5,000 career win aboard Eclipse sprint champion Amazombie in Grade 2 (chart)Potrero Grande at Santa Anita on Saturday. Trainer Bill Spawr said that Amazombie’s goal is to repeat in Breeders’ Cup Sprint, which will be on his home turf of Santa Anita this year. Amazombie won the Potrero Grande last year and will mirror his 2011 campaign according to Spawr (see his Lifetime PP up to 2011 for details!). Lady of Shamrock scored her first graded win and second win in a row after returning to turf in the Grade 3 Providencia Stakes (chart). No word on what’s next, but it seems safe to assume that it will be on the turf.
Finally, it was Jackson Bend and Caleb’s Posse who provided the thrilling stretch duel in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap (chart) at Aqueduct after the Wood Memorial. Come from behind Caleb’s Posse couldn’t catch Jackson Bend in time but it looks like the two will meet again on May 28 in the Met Mile. Shackleford, who ran third in first cut back to under a mile since his maiden, is also likely for the Met Mile.
Horse of the Year Havre de Grace will skip the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park this coming Friday due to weight assignments. In a handicap race the racing secretaries assign weight for each to horse to carry to level the playing field. Havre de Grace was assigned 123lbs with It’s Tricky assigned 119 and Plum Pretty assigned 117. In a statement on the Fox Hill Farm Facebook page owner Rick Porter explained the team’s position. Her next stop will be the La Troienne at Churchill Downs on May 4th, which is the Kentucky Oaks card. Clocker Bruno DeJulio noted this after seeing Havre de Grace workout on Sunday: “Watching Havre de Grace gallop this morning under Larry Jones I can understand why he is waiting for La Troienne.” It’s Tricky also skipping Apple Blossom, she’ll start in this weekend’s Grade 2 Distaff at Aqueduct.
This week we have a Ten Things for the Arkansas Derby and will publish a new horse profile for fan favorite Smarty Jones. In the meantime, be sure to enter our Trip to the Triple Crown contest for your chance to see a Triple Crown race in person!
Also be sure to check out what the second of April has in store in this month’s addition of The Month Ahead.
Road to the Kentucky Derby Telecast Schedule
Saturday April 14, CNBC 6pm – 7pm ET
Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker
See you at the track!