The silks were worn by Ramon Dominguez as he guided the mighty Alpha to his next step on the road to Louisville, or Boynton Beach, whichever comes first. He will visit either location, or both, via last Saturday's completely professional and dominating victory in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.
His 3-1/4 length victory in 1:44.23 for the mile and a sixteenth wasn't particularly fast nor was the manner of it particularly flashy. But it didn’t need to be.
The only ones needed impressing, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and jockey Dominguez, were happy with what they got it and, at this point, isn't that all that matters?
Dominguez wanted to see a forward move from his Count Fleet win and he got it. McLaughlin, also wanting to remove the bad taste left by Consortium’s mud-bath in the Holy Bull, got that and a little more. He wanted to see further development and shipped into Gotham to saddle the Bernardini colt himself.
He will continue to prep in New York and It would be folly to move him off a surface he clearly loves. And they won’t move him providing he runs in both the Gotham and Wood Memorial. If he runs in just the Wood, McLaughlin would have the colt shipped to Palm Meadows for some up close and personal training.
Given the success of Palm Meadows-prepared colts in recent years, that tack would make sense. But Alpha will need to keep moving forward. He’s not near the top of the class yet but is banging loudly on that door. The problem is much of the competition is likely will keep moving forward as well.
A funny thing happened to Battle Hardened on the way to his maiden Gulfstream victory. Trainer Eddie Kenneally headed up the Turnpike instead, and picked up $120,000 in graded earnings for his trouble by taking the G3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs.
He beat 10 rivals, did so in his surface debut--by no means a given—stalked comfortably from fairly close range, and displayed smooth action, a good turn of foot and the power to keep the surge going. Make no mistake, this is a nice colt and his future appears bright at this point on the prep calendar.
In the process, Battle Hardened took the measure of two talented colts, Prospective, and the accomplished winner four straight, Raveron, and the issue never appeared in serious doubt after Julien Leparoux stepped on the gas leaving the five-sixteenths pole.
He outran the surging Prospective at that point, set sail for Raveron, who had simply cruised up past State Of Play and Cox Rules and briefly appeared a winner until Battle Hardened was set down earnestly by Leparoux.
Prospective has some quality based on what he's shown thus far but will need to put a complete package together; maybe blinkers are an answer. Ravelo’s Boy, who exited Raveron’s Gulfstream Park Derby, finished fastest onf the 11 at 69-1, failing to earn second money by two noses.
Neck n’ Neck finished behind Ravelo's Boy while rallying 7 paths wide, a promising Tampa debut in which he was beaten less than three lengths. That experience and the added sixteenth of the Tampa Derby figure to help if trainer Ian Wilkes decides to continue prepping on the same surface.
Meanwhile, Mike Maker spent his three-year-old free time between the Holy Bull and Fountain Of Youth by saddling two runners to finish one-three in the WEBN Stakes at Turfway Park, a surface that brought Animal Kingdom to the 2011 Kentucky Derby the right way.
Despite a mile in a moderate 1:39.18 over a rain-tightened synthetic surface, especially impressive was the fact Mr. Prankster made two distinct moves; one to establish closer contact with the leaders halfway down the backstretch, the second when he set sail past a gritty Phantom Fury at headstretch. From there, he opened the winning margin to 7-1/2 lengths at the end.
Should he jump forward in subsequent dirt starts, he’ll deserve to be mentioned prominently in future Derby discussions.
My first instinct was to dismiss the results of the G2 Robert B. Lewis Memorial out of hand: The horses exiting last year’s G1 Cash Call Futurity were all so disappointing. Perhaps, before Liaison was sandwiched in midstretch, unseating Rafael Bejarano, he did come into the race too fresh. The same may be said for stablemate Sky Kingdom, too. Or maybe they are Cushion Track specialists.
However, second favorite Rousing Sermon, who owned a previous win at Santa Anita, was simply awful, showing no forward gear after overcoming a minor skirmish on the first turn and stalking the pace comfortably thereafter. When the real running started, Rousing Sermon moved sideways instead of forward.
But all this would lessen the considerably surprisingly very good effort of longshot winner I’ll Have Another. Away since a Saratoga run last September, he made his two-turn debut at 3 a memorable one.
After being forced wide on the first turn, I'll Have Another stalked pacesetting Isn’t He Clever comfortably, took the lead at headstretch, and drew off with authority to win by 2-3/4 lengths in a sprightly 1:40.84 for 1-1/16th miles.
By Flower Alley from the Arch mare Arch’s Gal Edith, Paul Reddam’s colt is in the capable hands of Doug O’Neill and deserves classics consideration until either better rivals or added distance stops him. As for the well regarded Liaison, he'll need to regroup and quickly if he’s to be taken seriously going forward.