Week of March 18, 2013
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

For a weekend rather light in graded stakes action, it was by no means a boring one. Two older mares thrilled us, a lightly-raced 4-year-old set a world record on turf, and a wily veteran trainer moved to the top of the rankings with his Derby contenders.

Four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas has been on a roll this year, with 11 winners in 68 starts thus far. Although it’s been 14 years since he last won the Derby, Lukas has two colts currently ranked in the top six in the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system: Grade 2 Rebel Stakes winner Will Take Charge (1st, 60 points) and runner-up Oxbow (6th, 36 points).

Off his dominating win in the Grade 3 LeComte and narrow fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star, Calumet Farm’s Oxbow went to post as the 7-2 second-choice, but it was his high-priced, well-bred stablemate who made a late charge, catching him at the wire and winning by a head. The 6-5 favorite Super Ninety Nine finished a distant fifth, perhaps proving that his breathtaking victory in the sloppy Grade 3 Southwest was more about him relishing the off-track than simply being that much better than his competition—which, incidentally, included Will Take Charge, whose distant sixth-place finish in that affair doubtlessly contributed to his 28-1 odds in the Rebel.

Both Lukas horses are bred to get the Derby distance. A half-brother to last year’s Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, Will Take Charge is out of multiple-Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady who ran second in the 2002 Kentucky Oaks, while Oxbow’s dam Tizamazing is not only a full-sister to two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow, but also to the unraced Tizso, dam of Belmont Stakes runner-up Paynter. For Will Take Charge, either the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby or Grade 1 Blue Grass (both on April 13) beckons, while his stablemate Oxbow will likely run in whichever race Will Take Charge doesn’t. Rebel third-place finisher Den’s Legacy could return for the Arkansas Derby as well, while Todd Pletcher’s injured last-place finisher Delhomme is off the Derby trail.

As for Lukas, watch for his Tiznow colt Titletown Five in the coming weekend’s Grade 3 Sunland Derby, with jockey Gary Stevens aboard. He’s another one who should be able to run all day, given that his dam D’Wildcat Speed—a seven-time Grade 1 winner in Puerto Rico—won the 9-furlong Grade 2 Rampart Handicap at Gulfstream Park by six lengths.

How exciting was it to see trainer Larry Jones and jockey Rosie Napravnik invade Santa Anita on Saturday, taking out the Santa Margarita Stakes with first-time Grade 1 winner Joyful Victory? After her dominating victories in the Grade 3 Honeybee and Grade 2 Fantasy in 2011, she was the obvious favorite for the Kentucky Oaks, but could only manage a fourth-place finishing. She did finish second in the Grade 1 Mother Goose that year—and ran second in the Grade 1 Zenyatta at Santa Anita last fall. Her Santa Margarita win was a thing of beauty, as Napravnik took her to the lead, masterfully mustering her energy with a controlled ride, only to accelerate and pull away from the field rounding the final turn. It was four lengths back to runner-up More Chocolate, and five lengths more back to Brushed by a Star who had run second to Joyful Victory in the Houston Ladies Classic earlier this year. For Joyful Victory, a light racing schedule may be in the cards, but the long-range plan is to bring her back to Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup this fall.

If everything goes as planned, one of her toughest distaff competitors may be Tiz Miz Sue, another hard-knocking mare still looking for her first Grade 1 victory. On Saturday, the 6-year-old daughter of Tiznow captured her second-straight Grade 3 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn, patiently tracking and then passing the in-form Don’t Tell Sophia who had come into the race on a three-race win streak. However, the post-time favorite was My Miss Aurelia, runner-up behind Royal Delta in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic and narrow third-place finisher in her last race, the 7-furlong Grade 1 La Brea in December. Without some bottom in her this year, she tired late and finished third.

Running for the first time for new owners after being sold on February 11 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Mixed Winter Sale, favored Golden Mystery also failed to impress with her last-place effort in the 7-furlong Grade 2 Inside Information Stakes on Sunday. Instead, it was Grade 1-placed Aubby K who returned victoriously off a nearly seven-month layoff; with regular rider Edgar Prado aboard, she pulled away to win by three lengths over Spectacular Sky and Emma’s Encore, the latter being the winner of last year’s Grade 1 Prioress.

Since she’s switched to turf, Centre Court has been a monster, finishing either first or second in all eight starts, including a runner-up finish in last October’s Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland. In her 2013 debut, she proved much the best in winning the Grade 2 Honey Fox by nearly two lengths over her erstwhile rival Samitar in stakes-record time. Both are apparently now headed in the same direction, the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland on April 13.

The most scintillating performance of the weekend occurred on turf, with Bright Thought demolishing a talented field of turf routers in the 12-furlong Grade 2 San Luis Rey Stakes at Santa Anita. Off his nicely-closing runner-up finish to Slim Shadey in the Grade 2 San Marco last out, Interaction was the post-time favorite, but the Argentine-bred could only manage a fourth-place finish after being kept a little too far back early on. Slim Shadey battled Bright Thought for the lead throughout, but weakened in the stretch, finishing fifth. It was the third-place finisher in the San Marcos, All Squared Away who found the best position, ending up a distant second, 3-1/4 lengths behind Bright Thought, and nearly one length ahead of Fire With Fire.

In his victory, Bright Thought not only established a new stakes and track record, but also a new world record for 1-1/2 miles (2:22.72). For his next start, his connections are not considering stretching him out even farther in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano, but instead are likely to supplement his entry for the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Kentucky Derby day—a race that is shaping up to be an outstanding event, with likely participants Little Mike, Point of Entry, Optimizer, Wise Dan and perhaps even Animal Kingdom.

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

Last Week’s Races

2013 Cicada Stakes Replay
Elghayoor takes down the favorite, Highestmaintenance.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Honey Fox Stakes Replay
Centre Court takes center stage.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Azeri Stakes Replay
Tiz Miss Sue continues her upset domination at Oaklawn Park.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

2013 Rebel Stakes Replay
Will Take Charge did just that.

Video courtesy of Partymanners

Download Brisnet.com Results Charts
2013 Azeri Stakes Chart
2013 Cicada Stakes Chart
2013 Honey Fox Stakes Chart
2013 Inside Information Stakes Chart
2013 Rebel Stakes Chart
2013 San Luis Rey Stakes Chart
2013 Santa Margarita Stakes Chart

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

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Charts and PPs provided by Brisnet