Week of April 4, 2011
By Dana Byerly, Hello Race Fans Co-founder

Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velasquez unleashed a torrent of winning at Gulfstream Park this weekend. Pletcher had five wins on Saturday and three on Sunday while Velazquez had four on Saturday and three on Sunday. The team of Pletcher/Velazquez had seven wins total together with two of them in stakes races (the Rampart and Gulfstream Oaks). However, the dynamic duo couldn’t capture the penultimate race of the weekend, those honors went to trainer Nick Zito and rider Julien Leparoux with Dialed In the Florida Derby.

Trainer Dale Romans had a good weekend too. The Romans trained 2009 Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf Fillies (replay) winner Tapitsfly scored her first win since the Breeders’ Cup in an allowance race that carded more like a stakes race. Also in the race was Hibaayeb (GB), winner of the 2010 Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon (replay), making her first start since the fall. This was Tapitsfly’s third start off an extended layoff that forced her to miss her entire 3-year-old year. Romans noted that it was “good to have her back” and that she’ll be pointed the Churchill Down Turf Mile on Kentucky Derby day. Little Mike, also trained by Romans, made the Appleton his third stakes win in a row and might make his next start in the Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby day.

Unrivaled Belle, winner of the 2010 Ladies Classic (replay), made her first start since the Breeders’ Cup. She came in a non-threatening third to Awesome Maria, who’s not only improving as a 4-year-old, but is currently in top form. Trainer Todd Pletcher noted that Awesome Maria would be pointed to either May 21 Shuvee or the June 18 Ogden Phipps, both at Belmont Park. Unrivaled Belle is pointed to the La Troienne on at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks day according to trainer Bill Mott.

R Heat Lightning put to rest any questions about distance limitations with an emphatic win in the Gulfstream Oaks. Not only was she visually impressive but she got the final quarter in a solid 12:77 without being asked. The May 6 Kentucky Oaks is next up for this Pletcher trainee. While he’s not heading to the Derby, Swale Stakes winner Travelin’ Man might be pointed to the April 30 one-mile Derby Trial at Churchill Downs.

Another week of Derby preps and another week of questions. The biggest question to come out of the 2011 Florida Derby is whether the fact that a 68-1 shot almost wired one of the most competitive Kentucky Derby preps to date proves what horse players moan about annually (“this is a weak crop of 3-year-olds”) or that several contenders had an off day. Naturally, the answer to this question depends on who you ask! Dialed In (5-2) was able to nail Shackleford (68-1) on the wire while To Honor and Serve (7-2) finished almost seven lengths behind them for third. Flashpoint (9-2) was another two lengths behind with favorite Soldat (3-2) next finishing fifth. “He took a lot of dirt, but you’re going to have to take dirt, so we’ll regroup and look him over” is what Soldat’s trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had to say after the race. Capping off a great weekend for Dale Romans, Shackleford’s winnings put him right on the bubble in 19th so it’s unclear at this point if he’ll end up being eligible. But according to the Daily Racing Form Romans was delighted, noting “Now we’ll just sit back and see if $200,000 gets us in.”

Next weekend current Kentucky Derby favorite Uncle Mo will run in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, making his only graded stakes start this year before the Derby. On the west coast Premier Pegasus will take on what’s sure to be a more competitive field in the Santa Anita Derby. Kathmanblu will make her final start before the Kentucky Oaks in the Ashland on opening weekend at Keeneland and we’ll take a look at the Wood Memorial in the Ten Things You Should Know About.

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And as always, keep up with all the 2011 Kentucky Derby and 2011 Kentucky Oaks commentary at Raceday 360 Wire!

Last Week’s Races

2011 Excelsior Stakes Replay
Inherit the Gold makes it five in a row at the Big A.

2011 Alligator Alley Replay
Longhunter got the jump on a fast closing Derby Kitten with an inside run.

2011 Gulfstream Oaks Replay
R Heat Lightening sends a message that’s ready for the Kentucky Oaks.

2011 Rampart Stakes Replay
Awesome Maria annihilates the field with Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic winner Unrivaled Belle a distant third.

2011 Swale Stakes Replay
Travelin’ Man continues the reign of trainer Todd Pletcher with an easy win.

2011 Sir Shackleton Stakes Replay
Capt. Candy Man can and did, holding off Regal Ransom and Nathan’s HQ.

2011 Appleton Stakes Replay
Little Mike makes it look easy.

2011 Skipaway Stakes Replay
S.S. Stone pulls a minor upset as Jackson Bend closes for second.

2011 Florida Derby Replay
Dialed In closes to nip longshot Shackleford at the wire while the rest of the serious Derby contenders turned-in clunkers.

Upcoming Graded Stakes Races

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

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