Week of February 25, 2013
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

As the Kentucky Derby Championship Series gets underway, there’s a new (and surprising) leader atop the point standings, and a top contender falls to the wayside. Here we go again, folks…

A large field of mostly unproven 3-year-olds presents the perfect opportunity for the unexpected to happen. Case in point: Saturday’s Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. The post-time favorite was Grade 2 Remsen runner-up Normandy Invasion making his 2013 debut for trainer Chad Brown. Second choice was D. Wayne Lukas’ Grade 3 LeComte winner Oxbow, followed by a trio of maiden winners, Steve Asmussen’s Proud Strike, Todd Pletcher’s Palace Malice, and Bob Baffert’s Code West. At the finish, most of these well-regarded horses were within three lengths of the winner, but, at odds of 135-1, who (other than Fair Grounds staff writer Graham Ross that is) had Ive Struck a Nerve upsetting this field? Closing from the clouds with a perfect ride from James Graham, Ive Struck a Nerve now appears to be Kentucky Derby bound, leading the point standings with 51 points. For trainer Keith Desormeaux, it was his first graded stakes victory.

An $82,000 Ocala Breeding Sale juvenile purchase, the Triple Crown nominated son of Yankee Gentleman is out of the Cryptoclearance mare Ranaway, a half-sister to multiple Grade 1-placed turf router Slew Valley and 9-furlong Grade 1 Meadowlands Cup victor K J’s Appeal. This is also the family of Grade 3 Risen Star runner-up Bob’s Image who subsequently failed to hit the board in either the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby or the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes. For Ive Struck a Nerve, his connections have indicated the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 30 is next up.

No word yet as to the plans of Risen Star runner-up Code West, who finished only a nose back. The Lemon Drop Kid ridgling is a full-brother to Grade 2 Peter Pan winner Charitable Man so he certainly has the breeding to get the Derby distance. Right now, with 20 points, he’s number 6 in the point standings. For his third-place finish, Palace Malice earned 10 points, and fourth-place finisher Oxbow added 5 points to the 11 he’d already earned, bringing his total to 16 points.

In the other Kentucky Derby prep race, Todd Pletcher’s undefeated favorite Violence was upset by Shug McGaughey’s well-regarded Orb in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream. The pair finished nearly seven lengths ahead of their nearest competitor, Speak Logistics; Majestic Hussar was another two lengths back in fourth. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up He’s Had Enough ran fifth, earning no additional points towards a place in the Derby field.

After the race, it was detected that Violence, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity, suffered a fractured right front leg and is off the Derby trail. Orb’s next race is not yet known, although the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30 is a logical choice. This Malibu Moon colt is beautifully bred for the distance, hailing from the same damline as the magnificent (and tragic) mare Ruffian, not to mention 10-furlongs Grade 1 Travers winner Coronado’s Quest and 9-furlongs Grade 1 Wood Memorial victor Private Terms.

It wasn’t all about the boys this weekend. The 3-year-old fillies also provided some outstanding efforts in support of their Kentucky Oaks aspirations, led by—what else—a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro. As the sire of two recent Oaks winner, Rachel Alexandra and Plum Pretty, he looks to have another contender in Grade 2 Davona Dale Stakes winner Live Lively. The Mark Henning trainee went straight to the lead and never looked back, easily turning back odds-on favorite Dreaming of Julia. The well-bred Private Ensign finished third, nearly eight lengths back of the winner. For Live Lively, there’s no place like home, so the March 30 Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks will be her next start.

At the Fair Grounds, jockey Rosie Napravnik recorded her third stakes winner of the day when favorite Unlimited Budget easily won the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra Stakes by nearly four lengths over two long-odds challengers, 20-1 turf sprint stakes winner Promise Me More and Larry Jones’s 12-1 maiden winner Blue Violet. Jones’ other entry, Dancinginthecircle was the second choice of bettors, but after jumping out to the early lead, faded to finish fifth. While no decision has been made regarding Unlimited Budget’s next race, both the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 30 and the Grade 1 Ashland on April 6 are on the runner-up’s radar.

Napravnik also won the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap aboard Mark Valeski, runner-up in last year’s Risen Star who, after his Grade 2 Peter Pan victory in mid-May, was sent to the sidelines for most of 2012. He was narrowly beaten in his first start this year, the non-graded Louisiana Handicap, but would not be denied a win after being boxed in as the Mineshaft field entered the home stretch. Allowance winner Cool Street finished strong, gaining second in his first stakes effort, while last year’s Grade 1 Travers winner Golden Ticket hung on for third. Both Mark Valeski and Cool Street will match up again in Grade 3 New Orleans Handicap on March 30.

Soft turf led to the defection of more than half of field for the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap, but the winner was no surprise. A son of English Channel, Optimizer has found his calling as a turfster, challenging the Grade 1-placed Willcox Inn early and then holding on for the win over Bim Bam and widely-raced Two Months Rent, as Willcox Inn faded to fourth. In the weekend’s other major turf race, favored Data Link made it look easy in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream. After last year’s third-place finish in this race, he won the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark at Keeneland; trainer Shug McGaughey has indicated he’ll follow the same plan this year.

The week’s only graded sprint stakes, the Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes at Santa Anita, featured several Grade 1-quality horses, including Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up The Lumber Guy, Alfred G. Vanderbilt runner-up Justin Phillip, Cash Call Futurity winner Comma to the Top, and Del Mar Futurity winner Drill. Still, last-out Grade 2 Palo Verdes winner Sahara Sky didn’t entirely surprise bettors, and he ran well late to win by nearly a length over Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint champion Capital Account. Comma to the Top held on for third, while The Lumber Guy disappointed as the favorite, fading to finish next-to-last. For Sahara Sky, the Grade 1 Met Mile may be a goal.

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

Last Week’s Races

2013 Davona Dale Stakes Replay
Live Lively pulls a front-running upset.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Rachel Alexandra Stakes Replay
Unlimited Budget remains undefeated.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 Fountain of Youth Stakes Replay
Orb lives up to the hype.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Risen Star Stakes Replay
Ive Struck a Nerve closes from out of the clouds for a massive upset.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 Canadian Turf Stakes Replay
Data Link connects at the wire

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Fairgrounds Handicap Replay
Optimizer has no problem with the soft turf.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 Mineshaft Handicap Replay
Mark Valeski returns to his winning ways.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

Download Brisnet.com Results Charts
2013 Canadian Turf Stakes Chart
2013 Davona Dale Stakes Chart
2013 Fairgrounds Handicap Chart
2013 Fountain of Youth Stakes Chart
2013 Mine That Bird Derby Chart
2013 Mineshaft Handicap Chart
2013 Rachel Alexandra Stakes Chart
2013 Risen Star Stakes Chart
2013 San Carlos Stakes Chart

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

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Charts and PPs provided by Brisnet