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

The quest for Derby glory claimed yet another victim this weekend, while the future wager favorite solidified his position with an impressive win.

On Saturday morning at Fair Grounds, Keith Desormeaux-trained Grade 2 Risen Star victor Ive Struck a Nerve fractured a sesamoid in his left front, a non-life-threatening injury that will sideline him until autumn. Two weeks ago a similar injury befell Violence during his second-place performance in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth; this week it was announced he has been officially retired to Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms, although he will not stand stud this year.

On Saturday at Tampa Bay, the beautifully-bred Verrazano bobbled at the start, grabbing a quarter, but recovered promptly enough to win the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby by 3 lengths. Java’s War, a 32-1 War Pass colt most handicappers wrote off as a turf-synthetic specialist, came running hard late to get up for second. It was another 4-1/4 lengths back to third-place finisher Falling Sky, last-out winner of the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes. Dynamic Sky, who finished ahead of Java’s War in last October’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, fleshed out the superfecta.

The options for Verrazano are wide-open according to trainer Todd Pletcher, including the March 30 Grade 1 Florida Derby, the April 6 Grade 1 Wood Memorial, or the April 13 Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Runner-up Java’s War will likely aim in a different direction, either the March 30 Grade 2 UAE Derby in Dubai, or the April 13 Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes—both over synthetic surfaces.

On the West Coast, an early speed duel cost both Flashback and Goldencents in the end, as third-choice Hear the Ghost prevailed in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes. For the Ghostzapper gelding, it was his first time stretching out beyond 6 furlongs, but the way he came roaring late, passing previously undefeated Flashback for the half-length win, was not only visually impressive, but also highly suggestive that he can stay the Derby distance. The Santa Anita Derby on April 6 should be next on his radar. A similar path should also be followed by the late-closing Tiz a Minister who got up for third and just ran out of room or he would have beat Flashback as well.

For Kentucky Oaks-bound fillies, the Grade 3 Honeybee has been a critical stepping-stone in recent years, not to mention a real test of quality. Oaks future wager favorite Flashy Gray had never stretched out beyond a sprint before, but that didn’t stop her backers from sending the lightly-raced miss postward at 2-5 odds. As it turned out, the more experienced Rose to Gold benefited greatly from a jockey change to Calvin Borel, and took it to the field, easily winning in wire-to-wire fashion. Nearly 3 lengths back of the winner, Flashy Gray was much the best in second, finishing 10-1/4 lengths in front of third-place American Sugar.

Also at Oaklawn on Saturday, the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap produced a bit of an upset when recent allowance winner Cyber Secret repeated his performance in defeating Golden Ron and Atigun. Last year’s winner Alternation went off as the 2-1 favorite, but could only manage a fifth-place finish off his 5-month layoff.

As expected, in the weekend’s other graded stakes race for older horses, Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned went off the short-priced favorite in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap. Unexpectedly, he stumbled badly at the start, falling on his head and losing his jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. While he may have looked like Secretariat blowing past the entire field along the rail, the riderless Fort Larned was obviously disqualified. The winner Discreet Dancer was making only his second start after nearly a year off, but the one-time Pletcher Derby contender looks ready to seriously contest the older horse division this year. The top two finishers from the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship—Fort Loudon and Swagger Jack—hit the board too, although in reverse order, with Swagger Jack outlasting Fort Loudon for second-place.

She may have come up empty in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, but Rumor is back in form after a game victory over recent Grade 2 Santa Monica winner Teddy’s Promise in Sunday’s Grade 3 Las Flores Stakes. Making only her second start after missing all of 2012, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint runner-up Shumoos contested the pace early, but faded to third, a clear 2 lengths ahead of Santa Monica runner-up Sugarinthemorning.

A multiple-Group 1 winner in Brazil, Old Tune continued her successful U.S. foray, winning the Grade 3 Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay. In a blanket finish, French Group 1-placed Forces of Darkness got up late for second, just a head in front of Grade 1 Spinster runner-up Mystical Star who just got her head in front of Grade 3 My Charmer winner Kya One.

The American invasion of Dubai didn’t go so well on Saturday. Dullahan was a non-threatening 11th (of 14 runners) in the UAE-Group 3 Burj Nahaar going one mile over Meydan’s Tapeta surface—admittedly probably not his best distance, and perhaps only useful as a warm-up for the upcoming Group 1 Dubai World Cup. Not to make excuses, but he’s never liked racing on the inside, and that’s very much the ride Kieran Fallon gave him. When he won the Grade 1 Pacific Classic in track-record time, he did so by sweeping around the field and passing Game on Dude (and the rest of the field) on the outside. His stablemate Little Mike did only a bit better, finishing 8th (of 13 runners) in the UAE-Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3, after leading for a time in his synthetic debut.

Arguably the most impressive performance of the weekend did not occur in a graded stakes, but in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at Fair Grounds. Last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can took the lead and never looked back, making mincemeat out of her competition. With loyal rider Rosie Napravnik aboard, she may have not beaten much, but the way in which she did so indicates she’s ready for tougher. She may get her chance next in the Grade 2 La Troienne on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. Summer in Saratoga and the Breeders’ Cup awaits her.

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

Last Week’s Races

2013 Gulfstream Park Handicap Replay
Fort Larned dumps his rider coming out of the gate and finishes first while Discreet Dancer is the official winner.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Tampa Bay Derby Replay
Verrazano makes it look easy.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 Hillsborough Stakes Replay
Brazillian import Old Tune makes it 2-2 in the U.S.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 Honeybee Stakes Replay
Rose to Gold takes them all the way.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 Razorback Handicap Replay
Cyber Secret noses Golden Ron for the win.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 New Orleans Ladies Stakes Replay
Believe You Can has a paid workout.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 Burj Nahaar Replay
Dullahan missed the break and was never in contention while African Story wins the race for the second year in a row.

Video courtesy of Dubai Racing

2013 Al Maktoum Challenge Replay
Little Mike couldn’t sustain a bid while Hunter’s Light emerges on top.

Video courtesy of Dubai Racing

Download Brisnet.com Results Charts
2013 Gulfstream Park Handicap Chart
2013 Hillborough Stakes Chart
2013 Honeybee Stakes Chart
2013 Las Flores Stakes Chart
2013 New Orleans Ladies Stakes Chart
2013 Razorback Handicap Chart
2013 San Felipe Stakes Chart
2013 Tampa Bay Derby Chart

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

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