Kentucky-born trainer Larry Jones has been in an enviable spot throughout the winter while caring for a pair of stars in early Kentucky Derby (Grade I) favorite Old Fashioned and up-and-coming Friesan Fire in his barn, but the pecking order in the Jones stable could have changed in the space of just over an hour on Saturday afternoon
Shortly before Old Fashioned suffered his first loss in the Rebel Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park, Friesen Fire turned in the strongest effort of his career with a 7 ¼-length victory in the 96th running of the $600,000 Louisiana Derby (GII) over a “sloppy” track at Fair Grounds.
Then surged past that rival at the head of the stretch and quickly drew off under jockey Gabriel Saez. Friesen Fire scored his third consecutive win and became the first horse in 16 years to sweep the major races for 3-year-olds at the New Orleans track. But his earlier wins in the Grade III Lecomte and Risen Star did not come close to matching his dominance on Saturday.
“He was awesome the way he was going so smooth early,” Saez said. “He made me so confident. When I asked him to go – he did it so easy I can’t explain it.”
Papa Clem, who made his debut on conventional dirt, edged Terrain by a head for the second, with Giant Oak two lengths back in fourth. The winner covered the distance in 1:43.16.
Owned by Vinery Stables and Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm, Friesen Fire won for the fourth time in seven career starts and boosted his career earnings to $603,265.
PREVIOUSLY UNBEATEN OLD FASHIONED LOSES SHOCKER IN REBEL
The run in Saturday’s $300,000 Rebel Stakes (GIII) by Fox Hill Farm’s Old Fashioned, an unbeaten colt trained by Larry Jones and estimated by most to be the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, appeared to be more of a coronation than a serious test along the road to Churchill Downs.
But as a familiar racing adage goes, races are run on the track and not on paper. And as 28,240 fans at Oaklawn Park looked on, they saw a 56-1 shot named Win Willy run past the 2-5 favorite in the final eighth of a mile on his way to a stunning upset. Old Fashioned had chased a brisk pace set by Silver City (:46.07 for the half-mile and six furlongs in 1:11.67) and had little left to hold off the winner, who rallied from last in the field of nine 3-year-olds.
“It’s hard to say what happened,” said Jones, who watched Old Fashioned lose for the first time after notching four consecutive wins, “The track was heavy, and with those kind of fractions, it was bound to catch up with him.”
Poltergeist finished third, eight lengths behind Old Fashioned.
Win Willy, ridden by Cliff Berry, covered the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1: 44.41 over a “fast” track. The winner is not nominated to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown.
WEST/PIONEEROF THE NILE HANGS ON IN SAN FELIPE
The leader of the moment among California-based Kentucky Derby contender notched his third consecutive stakes victory on Saturday, and three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert liked what he saw as Pioneerof the Nile held on to win the $200,000 San Felipe (GII) at Santa Anita.
The son of Empire Maker grabbed the lead heading into the far turn and turned back Feisty Suances and four others to win by 1 1/4 lengths. It was the third straight stakes win for Pioneerof the Nile, whose next race will come in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 4.
“He’s becoming very professional,” Baffert said. “He was a May foal, so he’s not even three year. He’s going to change a lot in the next 60 days. I like what I saw today.”
Pioneerof the Nile, who was ridden by Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez, has won four of seven races and Saturday’s victory boosted his career earnings to $784,200.
SOUTHEAST/MUSKET MAN SURPRISES IN TAMPA BAY DERBY
Musket Man rallied to edge 35-1 shot Join the Dance in Saturday’s $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs.
Jockey Daniel Centeno got the victory aboard Musket Man as favored Hello Broadway faded to eighth and General Quarters, winner of the Sam F. Davis (GIII) at Tampa Bay, was fifth.
Owner Eric Fein admits to suffering from a strong dose of “Kentucky Derby Fever” when his Big Truck won the Tampa Bay Derby a year ago. That colt traveled to Churchill Downs and finished 18th behind Big Brown in the “Run for the Roses.” But Musket Man is not nominated to the Derby, although a late nomination deadline looms on March 28.
“We’re going to have to do some soul searching after last year,” said Fein. “I think Musket Man is a fresher horse…a gamer horse.”
Musket Man finished had third in his previous start in the Sam F. Davis.
EUROPE/FIELD SET TODAY FOR FIRST KENTUCKY DERBY CHALLENGE, WINNER GETS GUARANTEED SPOT IN KENTUCKY DERBY
A field of 14 3-year-olds will be set today for Wednesday’s first running of the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Britain’s Kempton Park.
Twenty-three horses were entered last week in the 1 1/8-mile race over Polytrack. The winner gets the guaranteed spot in the starting gate for America’s greatest race and a $100,000 bonus if the horse runs in the big race at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
The entire six-race card from Kempton Park will be simulcast at select wagering outlets nationwide, including Trackside at Churchill Downs. First post is 2:50 p.m. EDT. The Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes is scheduled Kempton’s third race at approximately 3:50 p.m. New Churchill Downs announcer Mark Johnson will provide commentary for the Derby Challenge.
GALLOPING OUT – Trainer Scooter Dickey said Smarty Jones winner Flat Out may train up to the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GII) on April 11. A bruised hoof knocked the colt out of Saturday’s Rebel. … Trainer Chris Block said Giant Oak, fourth in the Louisiana Derby, appears unlikely to point for the Kentucky Derby. “Right now, I just don’t consider him a Kentucky Derby horse,” said Block. “I’m not going to chase down that road and ruin a horse just to say I had a horse in the Kentucky Derby.” … Trainer Al Stall Jr. said Terrain, third in the Louisiana Derby, is on the Kentucky Derby trail and would likely run next in the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) or Coolmore Lexington (GII) at Keeneland. “That was a nice comeback race for him,” said Stall.