Week of February 11, 2013
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

The year’s first Grade 1 stakes included a match-up of two gifted older horses headed for a world stage—and a lightly-raced first-time stakes starter who pulled off a shocker.

In the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Animal Kingdom was making his final U.S. start before headed to the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 30. Although he had never before attempted to race beyond 1-1/16 miles on turf, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner was made the post-time favorite over Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up (and three-time Grade 1 turf winner) Point of Entry. Some may argue that Animal Kingdom’s new jockey Joel Rosario made his move too early, but in the end trainer Shug McGaughey’s Point of Entry proved without a doubt that he was the better horse, easily winning by 1-1/4 lengths. Last-out Grade 1 Hollywood Derby victor Unbridled Command finished another 1-1/4 lengths back in third. Next for Point of Entry is the 1-1/2 mile $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic, unless his connections (perhaps unwisely) choose to fork over another $10,000 to nominate him for World Cup race, despite his having never run on Tapeta and being perfectly comfortable on grass.

UPDATE: According to the Daily Racing Form, Point of Entry will no longer be aimed for Dubai, but will instead embark on an American campaign that includes the Arlington Million and Breeders’ Cup Turf.

A competitive field made the Donn Handicap difficult to handicap, as seven of the 10 entrants were either Grade 1 winners or Grade 1-placed. Among the best: Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out returning off his third-place effort in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, not to mention Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy and Super Derby victor Bourbon Courage making their 4-year-old debuts, having last run second and third, respectively, behind Shackleford in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap. Given his mount’s early running style, it wasn’t a surprise to see veteran jockey Edgar Prado send Graydar to the early lead. The shocker was his ability to hold it throughout the 1-1/8 mile race, and with early challenger Ultimate Eagle pulled up mid-race Graydar won by three lengths over late-charging Bourbon Courage. Take Charge Indy finished another five lengths back in third, a neck ahead of post-time favorite Flat Out.

For trainer Todd Pletcher, Graydar was his second graded stakes winner on Saturday’s Gulfstream card. One race earlier, the English Channel filly Channel Lady captured the Grade 3 Suwannee River Stakes in wire-to-wire fashion. Shug nearly pulled off the upset with another first-time stakes starter Abaso, but had to settle for second, finishing a mere nose in front of 2012 Queen’s Plate victress Inglorious who made a beautiful late run for third. Favorite Hard Not to Like could only manage a fifth-place finish.

Shortening up after his third-place effort in the Sunshine Millions Classic, Fort Loudon prevailed over fellow Florida-bred rival Bahamian Squall in the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship. For Fort Loudon, it was his first win since last July’s Grade 3 Carry Back—and since switching to the tutorage of Nick Zito. At Saratoga last summer he ran an excellent second in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop, so he’s clearly a horse who could be a force in the Sprint division given the right opportunities. Favorite Bahamian Squall was actually nosed out for second by Marty Wolfson’s lightly-regarded Swagger Jack who was also cutting back in distance from his latest effort.

Filly and mare sprinters had their opportunity to shine at Gulfstream on Sunday in the Grade 3 Hurricane Bertie Stakes, won by 7-year-old veteran Golden Mystery. Marty Wolfson’s Awesome Again mare looks to be in outstanding form right now, winning by 3-1/2 lengths in a hand ride and defeating many of the same horses she crushed by over five lengths in the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Sprint most recently, including last year’s Hurricane Bertie winner R Holiday Mood. Still, it’s hard to imagine she’ll be a factor outside of Florida. Previously undefeated Applauding proved to be a flop, finishing dead-last in the 9-horse field.

The only other graded stake this weekend was the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes at Santa Anita, and Slim Shadey proved successful in defending his title, albeit under a new rider. For Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, it was his first graded stakes winner since coming out of retirement. As the post-time favorite, Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup runner-up Interaction rallied to gain the runner-up position over All Squared Away. His connections have indicated that Slim Shadey will be aimed for the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard—he finished second in last year’s contest behind Little Mike.

Over the coming weeks, the path to the Triple Crown will begin in earnest. As many of you already know, Churchill Downs instituted a somewhat controversial new points entry system for this year’s Kentucky Derby. To help you better understand how this system works, our own Dana Byerly breaks it down for you in this piece; you can view the scheduled races (with updated results) here. For those interested in more detailed analysis and handicapping of the key prep races, be sure to subscribe to our FREE weekly Derby Prep Alert.

The first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool closed on Sunday, with (not surprisingly) “All Others” favored at 8-5. In something of a shock, Eclipse-winning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby is only the seventh choice, at odds of 14-1. Another Todd Pletcher trainee, the impressive allowance winner Verrazano is second choice at 11-1, followed by Bob Baffert’s Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis winner Flashback at 12-1. Three horses are listed at 13-1, including the oft-raced Itsmyluckyday who recently upset Shanghai Bobby in the Grade 3 Holy Bull, and two other Pletcher horses, Grade 3 Withers victor Revolutionary and Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity winner Violence. You can view the entire Pool 1 final odds here, where you can also find the complete past performances for the Triple Crown nominated horses courtesy of Brisnet.com.

As a reminder: 2011 Derby winner Animal Kingdom didn’t even make an appearance in future wagering until Pool 3 where his final odds were an eye-popping 31-1 (paying $64.60 for those wise enough to choose him). Last year, at final odds of 29-1, I’ll Have Another paid $60.20 for his Pool 1 backers. The moral: it’s still a long and winding road to Derby Day.

Keep up with all the racing commentary and news at Raceday 360 Wire!

Last Week’s Races

2013 Gulfstream Park Championship Sprint Stakes Replay
Fort Louden fights back for the victory.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Gulfstream Park Championship Turf Handicap Replay
Point of Entry wears down a game Animal Kindgom.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Suwannee River Stakes Replay
Channel Lady takes them all the way.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Donn Handicap Replay
Lightly raced Graydar’s first stakes outting is a good one!

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Hurricane Bertie Stakes Replay
Golden Mystery reveals herself.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

Download Brisnet.com Results Charts
2013 Gulfstream Park Championship Sprint Stakes
2013 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap
2013 Suwannee River Stakes
2013 Donn Handicap
2013 San Marcos Stakes
2013 Hurricane Bertie Stakes

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

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Charts and PPs provided by Brisnet