Favored Dunkirk, a star in the sales ring well before he made it to the races, lived up to his considerable advance billing with a powerful 4 ¾-length victory in a strong 3-year-old allowance race on Thursday at Gulfstream Park. The emphatic win stamped the lightly-raced colt as a serious contender for the 135th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade 1) at Churchill Downs on May 2.
The gray son of Unbridled’s Song, a $3.7 million purchase as a yearling in Keeneland’s 2007 September Sale, overcame a wide journey around the first turn in the 1 1/8-mile contest, grabbed the lead at the top of the stretch and drew clear to turn back runner-up Warrior’s Reward and eight other 3-year-olds. Sincero, a 48-1 longshot, finished third and More Than Willing was fourth.
“I was very pleased with the way he ran,” Pletcher said. “It was a lot to ask to go from one seven-eighths race to a mile-and-an-eighth against a stakes-quality field, and then he got carried very wide in the first turn. But he overcame it all with no problem.”
Dunkirk is expected to take another significant step by moving into stakes company in his next outing. Pletcher said the Florida Derby (GI) on March 28 would probably be the colt’s next objective.
“He’s here and he’s two-for-two over the track,” he said. “That would be my choice right now.”
Dunkirk has the pedigree to succeed at Churchill Downs as his dam, Secret Status, won the 2000 Kentucky Oaks (GI). He was bred in Kentucky by William S. Farish, James Elkins and Temple Webber Jr.
WEST/HIDDEN BOUNTY, INVADER MAYOR MARV HEAD TURF PARADISE DERBY
Local hope Hidden Bounty and Southern California invader Mayor Marv top a field of seven 3-year-olds entered in Saturday’s $100,000 Turf Paradise Derby at Arizona’s Turf Paradise.
Hidden Bounty comes into the 1 1/16-mile race off easy victories in a pair of stakes races at the Phoenix track. Mayor Marv represents owner Mike Pegram and trainer Bob Baffert, the team that won the 1998 Kentucky Derby with Real Quiet. He is coming off a maiden race at Santa Anita last time out, but Mayor Marv’s two previous outings were runner-up finishes in maiden events to San Rafael (GII) winner The Pamplemousse and Robert B. Lewis runner-up Papa Clem.
Meanwhile, Baffert’s main Kentucky Derby hope – Robert B. Lewis (GII) and CashCall Futurity (GI) winner Pioneerof the Nile, is scheduled to work this weekend at Santa Anita in preparation for a start in the San Felipe (GII) on March 14.
FOUR DERBY PREPS SET FOR FEB. 28
While this weekend’s schedule of Kentucky Derby preps is light, four Derby preps are set for Saturday, Feb. 28. Heading those preps are the $250,000 Fountain of Youth (GII) at Gulfstream Park and the $200,000 Sham (GIII) at Santa Anita. Also on the schedule are the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park and the $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park.