Saturday, March 30, 2013
Derby Horses Get To the Point
Photo by Toni Pricci
Ciao Bella, the first of Pletcher's three filly stakes winners.
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 31, 2013—When the most important weekend of Kentucky Derby prep races began a half world away in the United Arab Emirates early this day, 10 three-year-olds had a minimum of 30 qualifying points for the big dance.
Of course, the qualifying standard has varied along with the speculation, most believing that 30 or more points might be enough to get those last four or five horses into the Louisville starting gate.
After the UAE Derby, there were nine spots left as Lines of Battle, a Joe Allen homebred now owned in partnership with the Coolmore gang, is coming to America. “That was the plan all along,” said winning trainer Aidan O’Brien.
In the Florida Derby, Orb, owned by Stuart Janney III and the Phipps Stable was already in and a victory by him would still leave the door open for another. Four horses needed the points badly. Itsmyluckyday earned 40 points for finishing second, giving him a total of 50 and the ability to carry on if his handlers deem it so.
But if the 24 points that Shanghai Bobby own isn’t enough to get him to Kentucky, then he’d have to be disqualified on style points, or lack thereof. After sitting under wraps behind dueling leaders, he offered nothing when the real running began.
Frac Daddy, the horse with all the trouble in the Holy Bull, had a clear trip but didn’t run well enough. He went in with four points, needing a second-place finish to continue on the road to Louisville. See you in Baltimore, perhaps.
In NOLA, four more three-year-olds needed qualifying points. Revolutionary, who only earned 10 points for his broken field exploits in the Withers, punched his ticket with a game victory, winning this one by making the lead in midstretch and holding off a late running rival late. Revolutionary won; he’s in.
So is runnerup Mylute, but the suddenly white hot sire, Midnight Lute. Trainer Tom Amoss, a perennial Fair Grounds leader, had his colt ready and the runnerup effort was good enough for 40 points, bringing his total to 42. It’s there if he wants it.
It did appear that Palace Malice and Code West ran themselves right out of the starting gate. Twenty and 10 points, respectively, will not get it done and off their efforts each would have been prudent to take a pass.
Note that Palace Malice deserved a lot more fortune than he got in Louisiana’s Derby.
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Orb finally settles down and is all business for the 64th Florida Derby.
In the final analysis, we need to view several more replays of the Louisiana Derby but, at this writing, there are 13 three-year-olds with 30 + qualifying points.
Orb showed a handier dimension, able to show a little zip when the pace scenario demanded.
But you have to wait on his final run because he will wait on his competition in the stretch, according to Johnny Velazquez.
Speaking of Orb’s rider, who is also Verrazano’s rider, Velazquez said that Orb’s people understand the situation and there is an understanding that Johnny will ride in the Wood next week, see how Verrazano performs, and how both horses come out of their races and then make a decision.
Shug said afterward that he has plenty of options after Johnny, who said “they’ll be jumping out of the woods to get this mount.”
Bets n’ Pieces:
If time counts for more than just a stretch behind bars, the filly Dreaming of Julia raced the same nine furlongs in 1:48.97, compared to the 1:50.87…Velazquez won five races on the Gulfstream card, four stakes…
Todd Pletcher won six stakes on the day, three at Gulfstream, as well as the Fair Grounds Oaks with undefeated Unlimited Budget, the New Orleans Handicap with Graydar and, of course, the Louisiana Derby with Revolutionary.
Alonzo Mourning Moved Too Soon
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Rosie Napravnik, Travelin Gal
The former All-Pro center and Georgetown grad Alonzo Mourning always timed himself on his timing, swiping away shots with abandon.
Mourning is a Gulfstream regular and was on hand for the Florida Derby program where he presented the trophy to Steven Ciccarone, the winning owner of Orchid winner Regalo Mio.
Had he waited one more race, he could have presented the trophy to Jake Ballis and Rashard Lewis, a current member of the Miami Heat who would have received the hardware from a former member of the current world champions.
Meanwhile, jockey John Velazquez had perfect timing, stalking embattled leaders from the 3-path on the backside before moving to command shortly after reaching headstretch, giving Cigar Street his third victory of the meet and third since Bill Mott took over the training.
It was Velazquez's fourth win of the day and the victory doubtlessly took a little sting out of Royal Delta's disappointing World Cup performance for winning trainer Bill Mott.
Said Mott assistant Ken McCarthy: "It was a little rough for us watching Dubai earlier and then some of our horses here today didn't perform up to expectations. This helps."
Mentor 3-Student 1
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Stuart Janney III and Dinny Phipps keeping it all in the family.
When Michelle Nihei was Todd Pletcher's lead exercise rider, many observers thought she'd be very effective going out on her own. Today that opinion was validated once again when Regalo Mio parlayed her victory in the Sunshine Milllions Turf earlier at the meet into a Grade 3 score in the Orchid 12-furlong marathon.
With Luis Contreras replacing Javier Castellano, in New Orleans with a handful of high profile mounts, Regalo Mio underscored her likeing for the Hallandale surface when she swept to command with a wide run off the turn and won going away, her third victory in four starts on the local course.
Aided by tough trips suffered by the two favorites; Starformer between horses much of the way but empty when it counted and Aigue Marine, who moved wide and prematurely approaching the stretch turn, it was still a performance that was notable in that Regalo Mia reached another level.
"Winning this one is really special," said Nihei. "I always thought she would go any distance because of her style. She was a small filly last year and had a lot of bad luck getting nosed out a couple of times in stakes. She's matured."
Contreras concurred. "She kicked very hard at the end, just exploed.,"
* * *
From Preps Mighty Oaks Grow
Or words to that effect.
When last they met, Live Lively was taking advantage of her natural speed and led Dreaming of Julia on a merry chase. Actually, it was kind of reminiscent of the Holy Bull when Shanghai Bobby was making his season's debut and Itsmyluckyday had all the recent conditioning.
So between the speed and conditioning edge, Dreaming of Julia was up against it. Not yesterday when the Pletcher-trained filly came out of the paddock breathing fire.
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Leona and Johnny Velazquez celebrate Orb's Florida Derby
At the three-eighths pole, Johnny Velazquez asked Julia for run, and her almost-immediate response was to inhale Live Lively before drawing off to win by almost a sixteenth of a mile. "The difference this time was that she was much more ready than the first time she ran, which made it easier," Velazquez agreed.
This, like the colts, is a strong division: Mr. Baffert has the wonder filly, Midnight Lucky, out west. If both fillies continue to do well leading up to the Kentucky Oaks, racing people will look forward to the event with only a tad less anticipation. Oh, then there's the juvenile filly champion Beholder, and Pletcher's Unlimited Budget and...
One more factoid: Over a track that was anything but a speed highway, a fair, honest surface, Dreaming of Julia won the Gulfstream Oaks in 1:48.97 for the 9 furlongs, galloping under the wire a mere 21-3/4 lengths in front of Live Lively who held second, four lengths in front of Cue the Moon who made a great appearance and ran to her looks in a promising 3-year-old debut.
The Oaks was Pletcher's third stakes win of the day and a riding triple for Velazquez.
* * *
Derby Winner Saved His Best for Last
For his last race in which he represented strictly American interests, Animal Kingdom put his imprimatur on what has been a glorious career.
Looking like split silk on the television monitor, the 2011 Kentucky Derby ran to his looks, biding his time beneath a confident Joel Rosario, seizing the lead soon after entering the straight and drove clear to a comprehensive victory in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race.
Now it's on to Great Britain, where trainer Graham Motion will very likely saddle him for one more run at Ascot, then from there, it's on to Australia for another possible race before entering the Southern Hemisphere breeding season.
What a long, wonderful trip it's been for the popular American entrant, a strong favorite in U.S. betting pools, but a skeptical 11-2 in the European tote.
* * *
Derby Battle Lines Drawn in Dubai
Here it is, not even close to 11 a.m. as this is written, and we've already got a hundred point qualifier via the United Arab Emirates and he's all set for the Kentucky Derby.
"That was the plan along," Aidan O'Brien told an international television audience after Lines of Battle won the Grade 2 UAE Derby as the well meant second choice. O'Brien trains the horse for the powerful Magnier, Tabor and Smith triad and America's Joe Allen, who bred the colt.
Tactically placed throughout by Ryan Moore, the colt accelerated in midstretch and held sway despite losing focus and drifting. Longshot Elleval was second and Street Number, who might have been best as the race was run, made a strong, sustained rally way out in the middle of the track to finish third.
Street Number, making only his third lifetime start in the Derby, paid for that inexperience and no longer is undefeated. He'll have another run in Great Britain and reportedly is being pointed to the Epsom Derby. If you own an international Horses to Watch list, he belongs on it.
* * *
Pletcher's Day Off to Fast Start
You were expecting something different, perhaps? After Travelin Man repeated his victory in last year's SIr Shackleton sprint stakes beneath travelin woman Rosie Napravnik, apparently warming up for her ride on Shanghai Bobby in the Florida Derby [scheduled post time is 6:19 p.m.], Ciao Bella dominated the pace and the finish to take the G3 Rampart by 4-1/2 lengths over stablemate Authenticity.
"With the slow fraction, Johnny [Velazquez] was able to dictate the race," said the winning trainer. "The other mare ran a good race after getting bottled up behind the slow pace." No Word on where or when either filly would appear next.
Written by John Pricci
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
Derby Preps: Threes Gone Wild
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 27, 2013—If good things come in threes, then the favorites for the centerpiece Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park and centennial running of the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in New Orleans are in good shape.
Itsmyluckyday drew post position 3 and was installed the 2-1 early line favorite for the Florida Derby.
Shanghai Bobby, the 2012 Champion Juvenile which finished second to the local star in track record time, was rated 5-2 second choice by respected linemaker Chuck Streva and will break from the rail with Fair Grounds leading rider Rosie Napravnik coming East for the assignment.
Orb, a late striding, late developing revelation in South Florida this winter that won with the G2 Fountain of Youth with an impressive late run will break from post 6 as the 3-1 third favorite with Johnny Velazquez.
“Any one of these colts would be a rightful favorite,” Streva said, “but Itsmyluckyday has been the most accomplished of the three this winter and has run faster than the other two.
“But because of the connections [Napravnik and trainer Todd Pletcher] and possibly needing the race last time, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shanghai Bobby was the favorite at post time.”
In New Orleans, meanwhile, another Pletcher trainee, broken-field running Withers hero Revolutionary, was made a tepid 3-1 favorite over 13 rivals in the 100th Louisiana Derby and will break from slip 3 beneath Javier Castellano.
Code West, from the well-stocked Bob Baffert barn, is the early line second choice at 9-2 with Martin Garcia and will break from post 8. Code West was beaten by a nose in the Risen Star, the main prelude to the La. Derby.
The third choice at 5-1, breaking from post 2 with new rider Edgar Prado, is another Pletcher trainee, Palace Malice, who finished third to Code West by a half-length in the Risen Star. That effort was his season’s debut and first ever around two turns.
However, the Florida and Louisiana features are not the only Derbies run in the world on Saturday. Derby #3, another 170-point Kentucky qualifier, is the Grade 2 UAE Derby on the Dubai World Cup undercard.
That 1-3/16 miles on the Tapeta surface, a half furlong farther than its American counterparts, drew a field of 12 including two U. S. shippers.
He’s Had Enough (15-1), representing the 2012 Derby-winning team of Doug O’Neill and Mario Gutierrez and was most recently fifth in the Fountain of Youth, and Dice Flavor (10-1), winner of the G3 El Camino Real on the Tapeta surface last out for Paddy Gallagher and rider Jose Valdivia.
The early line favorite is the top rated Secret Number (5-2), trained by Saeed bin Suroor and ridden by Silvestri De Sousa. Secret Number defeated four of Saturday’s rivals when he took the Al Bastakiya prepping for this last out.
Meanwhile, a horse that already has won the Kentucky Derby will be racing on Saturday, too. Animal Kingdom will be breaking from a tough post--12 of 13 starters--in the $10 million Dubai World Cup beneath Joel Rosario for trainer Graham Motion.
Two other Americans are in the cast; Dullahan for Dale Romans and recently unretired Gary Stevens, and dual Champion race mare Royal Delta, breaking from slip 8 for Bill Mott with regular rider Mike Smith.
Presumably, Motion got a ray of hope after speaking with jockey Ramon Dominguez who told Motion that he really didn’t want to be caught down inside with him. Then Motion recalled “after all, he won the Derby from post 16.”
Written by John Pricci
Saturday, March 23, 2013
World Record Eclipsed at Gulfstream
HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 23, 2013—Must be because both racetracks reside in lands of sunshine, as in “the Sunshine State” or “the Golden State.” Maybe it’s only global warming, who knows?
What is known is that world records are falling like dominoes in California and Florida turf marathons. Last week it was Bright Thought who raced a mile and a half in 2:22.72, setting a new world record in the famed San Luis Rey.
That took 24 years. But the record book ink was hardly dry when today at Gulfstream Park, a week after Bright Thought did his thing at Santa Anita Park, Twilight Eclipse needed only 2:22.63 to rewrite recent history.
At least the record will remain within the family of this country’s two prime-time winter venues.
Last week, Bright Thought simply overpowered his San Luis Rey rivals. Today, Twilight Eclipse, brought to tops by trainer Tom Albertrani, used the firm course much better than the “good” ground he had for the MacDiarmida.
There was that, the fact it was his second start as a 4-year-old, the three drills that his trainer put into him since the seasonal debut, and absolute pluperfect handling from Gulfstream’s leading rider, Javier Castellano.
Twilight Eclipse was Castellano's second of three wins on the day.
From post 9 in the three-turn affair, Castellano was able to save ground instantly and never got off the hedge, bursting through for the lead at headstretch before drawing off astride a very willing and ready partner.
Runnerup Ioya Bigtime was gallant in defeat, stalking the speedy Tweaks North throughout, taking over but without getting clear following the second of three turns, was ready for a battle but was no match for the turn of foot and power of the winner.
Defending Pan American champion finished third as the 17-10 favorite in his first start as a 5-year-old. Newsdad looked the part in the paddock but ran into a pair of buzz saws, finishing 1-1/2 lengths behind the runnerup and a total of 5-1/2 behind the new world record holder.
“Everything worked in our favor,” Albertrani said post-race. There was a firm turf and he got a great trip, got through on the inside and kicked and had plenty left.” Did it come as a surprise?
“I was just happy to win the race,” said the trainer. I was very surprised when I heard [it was a world record]. It’s amazing.”
Albertrani will confer with the West Point Thoroughbreds partners that own the gelding and will give the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard at Churchill Downs due consideration.
And why not? This guy just might only be getting started.
Noteworthy Performances Along the Triple Crown Trail
Three horses emerged as interesting prospects among this year’s three-year-old class; if not for the Kentucky Derby than for somewhere along the way it was is shaping up as a good season for sophomore racers.
The fact that Team Valor, the sponsor of the Turfway Park’s Rushaway Stakes, had an entrant in the Spiral Stakes sub-feature was not lost on the crowd.
Crop Report--who finished well after the fact for third in his U.S. debut on turf Feb. 23 at Gulfstream, added blinkers, went to the post with Lasix and Joel Rosario for the second time—opened at 1-5 on the tote and closed as the 3-5 favorite.
He did not disappoint.
In fact, with Rosario reprising his last run heroics last seen on Vyjack in the Gotham a fortnight ago, Crop Report, trailing by five lengths while out in the center of the track, leveled off and put in a sustained late run over a badly cuppy-out and dry surface to win the 1-1/16 miles in 1:45.66.
The final three furlongs of the two turner was run in :32.52, quite solid given the conditions, and Crop Report ran at least a full second faster than that, not a bad synthetic debut. He has yet to run on dirt, having two starts on turf at 2 and his two races this year.
After the race, in which principal owner Barry Irwin presented the winning trophy to himself, put the effort in perspective:
“I don’t know if he improved today, to tell you the truth. We’ve never had a horse like this. He’s a May 31st foal... When he’s in motion he’s as good as Animal Kingdom. But he’s so immature and so klutzy from the gate that he gives up five, seven, eight lengths at the start.
“But he’s not going to make the Derby. I don’t know about the Blue Grass, we’ll see how he comes back. I think he’s an exciting prospect for a race like the Belmont.”
Irwin may not be thinking Derby, but Kelly Breen and Mark Casse, the trainers of the first two finishers in the featured Spiral Stakes, Black Onyx and Uncaptured, respectively, are forging ahead with their Derby plans.
“He’s proven he’s a multi-talented horse,” said Breen of Black Onyx, who last won a Gulfstream allowance race in which Crop Report finished third. “He’s won on dirt, turf, and now Polytrack. His next start will be the Derby.” The colt earned himself 50 Derby qualifying points with yesterday’s win.
"I was extremely happy,” said Mark Casse of the runnerup, Uncaptured. “If all goes well we’ll go from here to the Blue Grass and then into the Derby.” Casse then was asked about the 10 furlong distance.
“You never know. But we do know one thing: he's two-for-two at Churchill Downs.” The Spiral was Uncaptured’s 3-year-old debut. As a 2-year-old, the colt won six of seven starts, including the pair in Louisville.
Written by John Pricci