MIAMI, Jan. 10, 2013--It doesnât take long for Kentucky Derby season to pick up momentum. From now through May, barely a weekend will go by without a noteworthy 3-year-old stakes.
General a Rod and Noble Moon have enhanced their candidacies with wins in the Gulfstream Derby on New Yearâs Day and Jerome at Aqueduct last weekend, respectively.
A new sophomore or two to keep an eye on will likely identify himself in Saturdayâs Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. Only six will go, but short fields are the norm for this early season event. Nonetheless, a lot of quality has come out of this stakes. The mile race hasnât produced a Classics winner but future Breedersâ Cup winners have emerged from the last three renewalsâGoldencents, Secret Circle and Tapizar. Secret Circle was also a Breedersâ Cup winner going in. So despite its early placement on the calendar, the Sham is not a race to be regarded lightly.
As often is the case this time of year, the field is dominated by newly turned 3-year-olds coming off impressive maiden wins, two in their career debuts. But the most intriguing of the bunch, Ontology, took eight starts to find the winnerâs circle.
However, give the son of Tapit a big asterisk. After running second in his MSW debut, he was thrown into deep water in six straight stakes on dirt, synthetics and turf. Nevertheless, he managed seconds in the Oak Tree Juvenile and Hollywood Juvenile. He also has plenty of two-turn experience, a factor never to be under-estimated when assessing this type of race.
Thanks to the presence of first-out winners Top Fortitude and Midnight Hawk, he might be a bit of a price. Midnight Hawk, another Bob Baffert bullet, might have a little more to offer since his runaway win came at the demanding 7 Â˝ furlong distance at Hollywood, after a rough start and racing greenly. Top Fortitude won his debut by almost three lengths at 6 Â˝ furlongs.
Caveat emptor: Both victories were on Hollywoodâs Cushion surface.
Kristo broke his maiden for John Sadler on Santa Anitaâs dirt track.
Doug OâNeillâs Iâll Wrap It Up has missed the board only once in five tries.
Jerry Hollendorfer, who somehow was overlooked by Eclipse voters, sends out the only two-time winner, Life Is a Joy, a minor stakes winner at Fresno and second in the Cal-bred King Glorious.
Back east, Gulfstream has a pair of highly competitive Saturday stakes, the Grade 2 Fort Lauderdale, a mile and a sixteenth on turf, and the Grade 3 Halâs Hope, a one turn mile on dirt. But an allowance race early on the card with a connection to last yearâs Derby might prove to be most noteworthy event.
Revolutionary, third in the 2013 Kentucky Derby, returns to the races for the first time since a fifth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes. Prior to the Triple Crown, he had wins in the Withers and Louisiana Derby, so he could be a serious presence in 2014.
The regally bred offspring of War Pass and the AP Indy mare Runup the Colors will be attempting to return to his winning ways in the second race, a high caliber optional claimer at a mile, which could turn into a prep for the Feb. 8 Donn Handicap.
Revolutionary is not being given a âgimme.â The seven-horse field also includes Honorable Dillon, who won the 2013 Hutcheson, and Reveron, winner of the 2012 Gulfstream Derby and runnerup in the Florida Derby. However, the latterâs two most recent efforts off an 11-month layoff havenât been close to that quality. Then again, thereâs the third race off a layoff angle to be considered.
Defending champions are back in both the Fort Lauderdale and Halâs Hope.
Mucho Mas Machoânot to be confused with the similarly named MMM horse, who is expected back in next weekâs Sunshine Classicâupset last yearâs edition at 41-1. Having not won since, he could be almost that price again.
Favoritism could come down to Summer Front, back from the West Coast after missing by a nose to Silentio in the Citation, or Slumber, who won back-to-back races at Saratoga a year apart, then came up short in a pair of Grade 1âs to end his 2013 season.
Without much pace, Howe Great, who loves the Gulfstream turf, is an interesting price opportunity. The Team Valor representative wired the Palm Beach Stakes (with Dullahan and Csaba in his wake) on this lawn a couple of years ago.
The Halâs Hope brings back the last two winners, Csaba (2013) and Jackson Bend (2012). Csabaâs affection for South Florida is renowned and Jackson Bend has fired Grade 1 winning efforts around one turn.
But this is a race in which it might pay to shop. Marty Wolfson has Simmstown gunning for three in a row and four out of five. When Wolfson gets them good, they stay good and he's lethal any time there's added money on the line in Florida.
Strike One makes his stakes debut for under-rated Brendan Walsh off a pair of Churchill wins.
Neck ân Neck, a leading 3-year-old in 2012, is third off a layoff for Ian Wilkes.
Uncaptured, who left Kentucky in the fall of 2012 as one of the Derby horses to watch, didnât live up to that billing but did get home first in a leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
Not to be overlooked is Lea, whose connections canât seem to figure out his best surface. His last three have been on synthetic, dirt and turf. But he opened his season with a solid win on a wet main track (there has been a lot of rain this week in the Miami area) and heâs first time Bill Mott. Deuces have been spent less wisely.