Week of March 4, 2013
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor

An impressive example of race riding by Mike Smith punctuated a dominating performance by Game on Dude in winning the legendary Big ‘Cap. In doing so, he joined the ranks of John Henry, Milwaukee Brew and Lava Man as the only two-time winners of Santa Anita’s most important handicap race.

No one was surprised that the 6-year-old gelding went to the lead, but the manner in which Smith sharply guided him from his outside 9 post to the rail, physically intimidating young jockey Mario Gutierrez and his mount Handsome Mike, the only other horse with early speed, won the race before it barely began. Never threatened, Game on Dude made it look all-too-easy, as Smith merely shook the reins in the stretch and he drew off to win by nearly eight lengths—the greatest margin of victory ever in Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. It was revealed afterwards that he, in fact, lost a shoe during the race. Clubhouse Ride repeated his runner-up effort in the Grade 2 San Antonio Stakes, this time just nosing out Called to Serve.

What’s next for Game on Dude? Much to the delight of East Coast fans, a possible start in the April 20 Grade 2 $1.5 million Charles Town Classic has been mentioned by trainer Bob Baffert.

Santa Anita’s other two Grade 1 events this weekend included the Frank E. Kilroe Mile on turf and the Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. In the former, multiple-Argentinean Group 1 winner Suggestive Boy earned his first U.S. Grade 1 victory, holding off a late-charge by the lightly-raced Grade 2 winner Silentio. In his first turf effort, the Giant’s Causeway colt Fed Biz hung on for third over an unlucky Mr. Commons, last year’s Kilroe Mile runner-up. Rather than come east and take on the top turf milers (likely including 2012 Horse of the Year Wise Dan) in the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland on April 12, Suggestive Boy will stay in California and contest the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on June 29.

In the one-mile Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies victress Beholder returned to her winning ways—and re-established herself as one of the Kentucky Oaks favorites with a dominating wire-to-wire effort. A half-sister to Grade 1 CashCall Futurity winner Into Mischief, Beholder has yet to prove her stamina beyond 1-1/16 mile, but now healthy, no West Coast filly appears quick enough to challenge her. In the Las Virgenes, she finished nearly four lengths ahead of last-out Grade 3 Santa Ysabel winner Fiftyshadesofhay, daughter of Santa Anita Oaks runner-up Quiet Kim. In a race resplendent with Grade 1 pedigrees, the third-place finisher was Scarlet Strike, half-sister of King’s Bishop winner Visionaire. For many of the fillies, including Beholder, the April 6 Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks beckons.

A mere seven days after his narrow third-place finish in the Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes at Santa Anita, California-based Comma to the Top shipped east to contest the Grade 3 Tom Fool Handicap at Aqueduct—and the result was perhaps the weekend’s gutsiest performance. Okay, so it wasn’t the toughest field of sprinters that he faced, but when passed in the stretch, the 5-year-old gelding fought back, getting up to defeat Saturday’s Charm. In-form veteran 7-year-old Head Heart Hoof got third, a neck in front of Godolphin’s lightly-raced Consortium.

Second-up off a nine-month layoff due to a chipped knee, last year’s Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks runner-up Summer Applause made her debut for trainer Chad Brown a winning one in the Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap. Last-out winner of Aqueduct’s Affectionately Stakes, Twice the Lady held on for second over a late-charging former claimer Sunny Desert.

The weekend’s only official Kentucky Derby prep race was the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes. Given that his sire’s half-sister Beholder later captured the Las Virgenes at Santa Anita, it seems fortuitous that Vyjack kept his unbeaten streak alive, closing from the clouds and winning the Gotham by 2-1/4 lengths. At nearly 34-1, few gave West Hills Giant a chance, but the son of Frost Giant nearly pulled off a wire-to-wire upset, only yielding late but staying on for second. Shadwell’s well-bred maiden winner Elnaawi did well in his graded stakes debut, finishing third; son of Derby winner Street Sense, Elnaawi is a half-brother to multiple-Grade 1 winner To Honor and Serve. Grade 2 Jerome runner-up Siete de Oros fleshed out the nearly $22,000 superfecta, as post-time favorite Overanalyze could only muster a fifth-place finish. Next up for at least the top three finishers: the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 6.

With his victory, Vyjack gained some backers in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 2 which closed on Sunday, dropping from his morning line 30-1 and becoming the 11-1 third choice. All Other Three-Year-Olds remained the 3-1 favorite, with the lightly-raced (but highly-regarded) Verrazano the 9-1 second choice. Verrazano’s reputation was franked by the performance of Gunderman in race 4 at Gulfstream on Saturday. That 9-furlong allowance race was won by the son of Birdstone in late-closing fashion over Indy’s Illusion, a colt who previously ran third behind Grade 2 Fountain of Youth winner Orb.

The road which horses follow to get to the Kentucky Derby has obviously been clarified by this new points system, but that doesn’t mean a late-developing colt or gelding won’t take a less conventional path this early in the year. That’s why it would be wise to pay attention to sprint races like the 7-furlong Grade 3 Swale Stakes, won by Clearly Now whose connections have indicated if they try him long again it may be in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 30. In recent years, Dullahan and Paddy O’Prado have used the grassy 9-furlong Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes as a launching pad for their third-place Kentucky Derby finishes. Thus, if Sunday’s race follows suit, we can expect big things from the Medaglia d’Oro colt Rydilluc who easily won by 3-1/2 lengths over favorite Charming Kitten, a full-brother to 2011 Palm Beach runner-up Queen’splatekitten. Well-bred, Rydilluc hails from the damline family of Grade 1 Cigar Mile victor El Corredor and 9-furlong Grade 1 Haskell winner Roman Ruler. Trainer Gary Contessa has indicated he’s game to try the turf-to-synthetic-to-dirt angle en route to the Derby, beginning with either the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway on March 23, or the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 13. How good would it be to have veteran Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado with a Derby mount, seven years after the tragic Barbaro?

Prado is certainly enjoying a bevy of stakes winners this winter. In addition to Rydilluc’s win on Sunday, Prado guided Kitten’s Point to victory in the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride Stakes for Graham Motion on Saturday. That 3-year-old filly may be aimed for the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 6, indicating (perhaps) a Kentucky Oaks run. Given their breeding, the others in the Herecomesthebride are likely to remain on turf. Runner-up Tokyo Time is a half-sister to multiple-Grade 1 placed turfster Hungry Island, while disappointing fifth-place finisher Caroline Thomas is the first offspring of Grade 1 QE II turfster Bit of Whimsy.

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

Last Week’s Races

2013 Top Flight Handicap Replay
Summer Applause is easily the best.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Tom Fool Handicap Replay
Comma to the Top flies in to show them how it’s done.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Gotham Stakes Replay
Vyjack has a great closing kick.

Video courtesy of NYRA

2013 Herecomesthebride Stakes Replay
Kitten’s Point emerges victorious.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Swale Stakes Replay
Clearly Now!

This video must be viewed at YouTube

2013 Palm Beach Stakes Replay
Rydilluc is much the best.

This video must be viewed at YouTube

Download Brisnet.com Results Charts
2013 Gotham Stakes Chart
2013 Heresomesthebride Stakes Chart
2013 Kilroe Mile Chart
2013 Las Virgenes Stakes Chart
2013 Palm Beach Stakes Chart
2013 Santa Anita Handicap Chart
2013 Swale Stakes Chart
2013 Tom Fool Handicap Chart
2013 Top Flight Handicap Chart

Check probable starters at Horse Racing Nation’s Stakes Tracker

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