Saturdays Fair Grounds program, featuring six stakes races, has been billed Kickoff to the Kentucky Derby Saturday. The 11-race program drew 111 entrants; obviously an attractive wagering card.
Although it has no official billing, Santa Anita hosts After The Deluge Saturday which, in addition to the San Rafael, includes the rescheduled San Pasqual and G2 San Fernando. That 11-race card has a special post time of 11:45 a.m. WST and has drawn 108 entries overnight.
But the focus will be on the newly turned three-year-olds and, if you believe this is all about the hype, theres a revealing poll on the Daily Racing Form web-site in which fans were asked to vote on which of last weekends eight stakes races were the most exciting.
Do you think it a coincidence that the Hutcheson and Count Fleet, the only two stakes for Derby-aged runners, finished 1-2, and attracted 32% and 16% of the response, respectively? Me neither.
Parenthetically, it was unknown at posting whether or not the polling had been conducted in the state of New Hampshire.
The Lecomte attracted a field of nine, in which Texas Fever (7-2), Z Fortune (5-1) and Blackberry Road (6-1) figure to reap the most pari-mutuel support.
Texas Fever is a tepid morning line favorite. Leaving from post position one, he was beaten 3-˝ lengths when last seen in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf. Previously he won the G3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park on Polytrack, earning an Equiform performance figure of 69.25, slow on the speed scale.
Making his sixth start, and first in 11 weeks, it will be his dirt debut, which he seems to like if recent workouts are the measure. Four of his last five have been best of the day moves and his five-eighths in 1:00 4/5 on New Years Eve, termed breezing, was best of 58 at the distance.
Hard to tell if Steve Asmussen is simply lowering expectations or is trying to tell us something about the undefeated New York-bred, Z Fortune. He talks about him being long and leggy with lots of developing to do, but his figures belie that assessment.
Z Fortune received a 73 winning his 7-furlong debut, with excellent energy distribution, then earned a soft but good 70.5, winning his two-turn debut and showing improved late energy and strength. That 73 is among the fastest figures in the race and Asmussen has won six of the 10 stakes run at Fair Grounds, four in one day.
Blackberry Road is interesting. In a six-race career his two best efforts have been around two turns, the scenario here, and he has been seasoned by four graded stakes. Following a good third behind Texas Fever at Turfway, he was a fast finishing second behind well regarded Anak Nakal in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill.
His 72.5 last time out was a lifetime best but hes had seven weeks to recover. Trainer David Carroll won with two of his last five Fair Grounds runners and is 4-for-14 at the meet. The colt has gotten stronger with each recent start. Calvin Borel rides.
The big three out west are El Gato Malo, Massive Drama and Indian Sun. Throw in recent impressive maiden-sprint winner Talk Of A Cat for Todd Pletcher and Garrett Gomez and youre likely to get a pretty good show.
El Gato Malos next loss will be his first. After a dazzling open lengths romp in 1:09 on Hollywoods Cushion Track, he shipped north to Golden Gate and was no less effective over the Tapeta track. What really impressed was that El Gato Malo was wrestled back off a slow two-turn pace, made a strong turn move, continued somewhat greenly approaching midstretch before drawing away to win by nearly five.
El Gato Malo ran fast in his debut, obviously, then earned a soft win two-turn figure of 71.5 while going from a pull to a drive, showing improved energy distribution; not easy for a young horse. David Flores replaces suspended Patrick Valenzuela and note trainer Craig Dollase is 40% effective with horses making their second start around two-turns.
Massive Drama is a logical favorite. After winning the G3 Hollywood Prevue, he was a game change-of-pace third in the G1 Cash Call Futurity behind promising Into Mischief and Colonel John. Since the Cash Call, Massive Drama worked yet another bullet five furlongs, in :59 3/5, best of 58 at the distance.
The Bob Baffert colt has the best route figure in the race at 72.75, showing improved late energy. The mini turn-back to a mile figures to help, as does the switch to speed savvy Rafael Bejarano. He does, however, come back a little quickly in three weeks time.
Indian Sun finished well too late from far back in the Cash Call, placing him less than two lengths behind Massive Drama. Considering it was his first start on synthetic dirt following three starts on turf, it was a sneaky good effort. Showing good late energy, he earned a highly competitive performance figure of 72.
Although hes never been two turns with only a maiden sprint win to his credit, Talk Of A Cat has impressed. After finishing third to well regarded Racecar Rhapsody in his debut, he shipped cross country and stopped the timer in 1:14 2/5 at 6-˝ furlongs. Thats rolling, even over the rapid Hollywood Cushion.