Ciao Bella, the first of Pletcher's three filly stakes winners.
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.

Orb finally settles down and is all business for the 64th Florida 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

Rosie Napravnik, Travelin Gal
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."

Stuart Janney III and Dinny Phipps keeping it all in the family.
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Stuart Janney III and Dinny Phipps keeping it all in the family.
Mentor 3-Student 1

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.

Leona and Johnny Velazquez celebrate Orb's Florida Derby.
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.