Now that the dust along the Triple Crown trail has settled following last weekend’s Xpressbet Fountain of Youth and Gotham Stakes, future plans are coming into clearer focus—or not. The road to Louisville is long and winding.

Graham Motion is going to play the wait-and-see, he-will-tell-us, game with the trounced Fountain of Youth favorite, Irish War Cry. But he shouldn’t blame himself.

“Maybe I should have told Joel [Rosario] to take him back.” Maybe so, but then he shouldn’t have had to.

Personally, I’m a big Rosario fan, both for his God-given ability and my ability to cash more often than not on some of his mounts. Actually, I’m a fan of all great riders, with due respect for all who ply this dangerous trade.

But Rosario should not have had to be told to sit off Three Rules’ hip and not get into a pitched pace battle with a very gifted Florida-bred speed merchant.

For all Rosario’s gifts, which often prove the difference between victory and defeat, he can be wildly inconsistent.

It’s hard to believe that this was the Rosario who was so egregiously overconfident aboard the 2016 Woodward favorite, Frosted, yet so recklessly speed-abandoned on Saturday’s over-bet favorite.

Motion also believed that his colt regressed from his previous effort, which he clearly did given his awful finish, but we disagree that his Holy Bull was the huge move that caused it.

On both the Thoro-Graph and Pricci Rating scales, his figure-lines were tight, not huge leaps forward. All his races have been fast and that, too, takes its toll. With rare exceptions, big efforts catch up eventually.

While saying it’s easy to Monday-morning-quarterback his decision to run, the colt was telling him that he was doing very well, that there was no reason not to run. “Run them when they’re good,” said Woody Stephens, as would any old-school Hall of Famer.

The problem for Motion and his colt is what to do next. Motion is thinking that the Florida Derby is close, less than four weeks away, and he knows either the Wood or Blue Grass would give him an extra week’s recovery.

Meanwhile, Antonio Sano, new to the Triple Crown trail but not success, given over 3,000 victories in his native Venezuela, said via Twitter Tuesday morning that Gunnevera will run in the Florida Derby “in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.” Woody would agree.

When Sano was asked in the winners’ circle if the Kentucky Derby was important in Venezuela, and what winning it would mean to him, he said the Derby means something in South America’s horse culture before becoming too emotion to complete his thoughts. An interesting moment, to be sure.

Chad Brown and company has yet to decide what’s up with Saturday’s runnerup, Practical Joke. The colt raced very well over the Hallandale strip and there’s no good reason not to make his second start of the year on April’s first Saturday.

Practical Joke’s Fountain of Youth was a great effort to build on and he likes the surface, just as has proven throughout his career he doesn’t need any particular track to carry around with him.

As for the gifted Three Rules, we’re not saying nine furlongs or farther is beyond his scope, but given his style and the depth of competition at the top of the sophomore class, he could opt for the beaucoup bucks available on the Minor Derby trail; a tricky call.

Five days hence, two meaningful preps will be staged; one 4-1/2 hours north of here via Alligator Alley, the other about as long via airplane.

The overarching question is not whether the more experienced Gormley is good enough to beat season-debuting Mastery but whether Mastery is indeed all that. In his races and morning trials, he certainly appears to be. Then you have to go out and run.

The outcome in Southern California could prove a profound barometer on what we might expect to see two months from now in Kentucky.

As of Monday, seven sophomores, including the close runners-up in the Sam F Davis Memorial; Tapwrit, State of Honor and Wild Shot, will return for the Tampa Bay Derby, along with major disappointment, No Dozing.

Beasley, scratched from the Fountain of Youth, will join this group, along with Third Day and Tale of Silence. We’ll take over the total of 7-1/2 when entries are drawn Wednesday.

Speaking of disappointing favorites, a battery of three veterinarians inspected failed Risen Star choice Mo Town and pronounced him 100%. Having lost his action in midstretch, it certainly appears that he simply would not extend himself over the Fair Grounds strip.

Mo Town works Wednesday at his Payson Park base and the targets trainer Tony Dutrow is considering at the moment are the Florida Derby or Wood Memorial--the colt certainly loves the sand and loam of the Big A.

And speaking of Gotham, J Boys Echo finally put it all together, taking advantage of very favorable dynamics as El Areeb and True Timber pulled no punches on the front end.

"It was a pretty good move, and he saved a little more for the next spot,” said winning trainer Dale Romans. “He's coming around at the right time, and the right way.”

The late developer could return for the Wood Memorial but is more likely headed to the Blue Grass. Either way, the pressure’s off. He just needs to be going in the right direction at the finish.

BETS ‘N PIECES:
“Championship Meet” business continues to boom. Last Saturday’s stakes-ridden program set a handle record for the day of $26.6-million. The previous mark of $24.2-million was set last year… Julien Leparoux, pictured above with trainer In Wilkes, put a cherry on top of a terrific winter season with four winners Saturday, including three graded stakes. With the confidence he’s displayed, his good fortune is likely to continue at least through Florida Derby, April 1…

Heart to Heart was much the best in his repeat G3 Canadian Turf victory. He broke running and was in command throughout, albeit on a slightly pressured pace. It was his fourth win in five Gulfstream turf starts. Credit Leparoux and his trainer, Brian Lynch…

As disappointing as Joel Rosario was aboard Irish War Cry, he was as brilliant guiding three-year-old Ticonderoga to victory in the G3 Palm Beach for Chad Brown. Last time out he was an excellent fourth in the BC Juvenile Turf from a wide post. Again breaking from the extreme outside in a field of nine, Rosario had his mount comfortably gliding in the 2-path as the field rounded the first turn.

After swinging wide into the stretch, Ticonderoga flashed an excellent turn of foot to get his job done. “If he can go a mile and a quarter, [the Belmont Derby] is what we want to do,” Brown said. With further development, there does appear to be a Grade 1 in his future somewhere.

Juddmonte Farms' Suffused was an impressive winner in the G3 The Very One beneath Jose Ortiz, also having a great meet. “I wanted to see how she would do at this trip because it gives us some options up the road,” said trainer Bill Mott of possible long-range targets. “I’d like to think she is good enough for a race like the Beverly D or the Diana...” Saturday’s Suffused would be good enough for either of those Grade 1 events…

image
Marylou Whitney’s maturing Bird Song keeps progressing for Ian Wilkes, gamely staving off stretch bids from stablemates Realm and Tale of S’avall to take the G3 Fred W. Hooper going a flat mile. “He’s a Grade 3 winner and that’s a start, said Wilkes. The goal is to get a Grade 1 for [Marylou Whitney]. She’s a special lady.” All of Saratoga agrees.

Two excellent three-year-old turf fillies hooked up in the G3 Herecomesthebride and put on a great show, too, as John C. Oxley’s Dream Dancing rallied to catch the gallant favorite, Coasted, at the line. Covered up and looking hopelessly trapped, Leparoux found an inside seam in deep stretch and got up to win by a neck. “It cost her some momentum,” said Mark Casse. “She has turned out to be a pretty good horse; I think the further the better.”

Celestine
won her seasonal debut for new connections with a classy performance in the $100,000 Sand Springs. Ortiz set the pace in the one-mile turf route and won by two lengths over classy returnee Catch a Glimpse. “She’s a top-class mare,” said trainer Christophe Clement. “She came to me in very good condition and trained very well. When you get a five-year-old from Billy Mott, you know you’re going to be OK.”

Photo by Toni Pricci

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, March 7, 2017