Aqueduct’s $250,000 Gotham Stakes (Grade III) last produced a winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) when the legendary Secretariat took both races in 1973, but David J. Lanzman’s homebred I Want Revenge made another sweep of those races seem to be at least possible when romped to an 8 ½-length victory Saturday in New York’s first major prep for the “Run for the Roses.”
The well-named son of Stephen Got Even had been chasing West Coast leader Pioneerof the Nile in California races run over synthetic surfaces, but trainer Jeff Mullins and 19-year-old jockey Joe Talamo believed that the colt might move forward if given the chance to run on conventional dirt. It was clear at the head of the Aqueduct stretch that their evaluations were perfect as I Want Revenge put away favored Mr. Fantasy following a spirited early duel and easily drew clear. Imperial Council, who was far back early, rallied to edge the favorite for second as I Want Revenge hit the finish in strong time of 1:42.65 over a “fast” track.
The California invader notched the biggest win of his career and emerged from his journey East as a major contender for the Kentucky Derby on May 2 at Churchill Downs. The career record for I Want Revenge now stands at 2-1-4 in seven races with earnings of $366,000.
Lanzman said I Want Revenge would be pointed to the Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct on April 4, which would be his final prep for the big race in Louisville.
“He struggled on the synthetic, and we always thought he’d run better on the dirt,” said Lanzman. “He’s staying here for the Wood…New York has always been good to us.”
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was pleased with the effort by beaten favorite Mr. Fantasy, a previously unbeaten New York-bred colt who made his stakes debut. And McLaughlin was impressed by the winner’s run.
“They’ve got good races on the West Coast. Why didn’t he stay out there?,” he said. “We were second-best, even if we didn’t get second. If that horse doesn’t ship east, we win by five.”
Masala finished fourth, and was followed past the finish line by Russell Road, Axel Foley, Naos, Haynesfield and Giant Ryan.
The biggest disappointment in the Gotham was Haynesfield, a Steve Asmussen-trained colt that had won three consecutive stakes races over the winter at Aqueduct and was one of the individual betting interests in last month’s opening pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Haynesfield never threatened as he managed to beat only 82-1 shot Giant Ryan.
SOUTH/OLD FASHIONED SHARP IN REBEL WORK
Fox Hill Farm’s unbeaten Old Fashioned, winner of the Southwest (GIII) and the favored individual horse in Pool 1 of Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Future Wager, was sharp in his final tune-up for Saturday’s Rebel Stakes (GIII) as he worked a swift five furlongs on Sunday at Oaklawn Park.
The Larry Jones-trained son of Unbridled’s Song ran into some unexpected traffic on the track during his move, but still finished the work in a quick :59 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12. The work under jockey Terry Thompson was the fastest of 18 at the distance.
“We had some unexpected company along the way, but Terry did a good job of handling that and Old Fashioned worked well,” said Jones. “He doesn’t have to train real hard, and he just does everything easy.”
Jones will saddle two favorites in major Kentucky Derby preps this weekend. Along with Old Fashioned in the Rebel, he will send Risen Star (GIII) and Lecomte (GIII) winner Friesan Fire into Saturday’s Louisiana Derby (GII) at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds.
There was another strong work by a Rebel candidate at Oaklawn on Sunday as Wise Kid zipped four furlongs in a “bullet” :47.60. Wise Kid will make his stakes debut in the Rebel. The colt is trained by Tim Ritchey, who also trained Afleet Alex, the third-place finisher to Giacomo in the 2005 Kentucky Derby who came back to romp in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the final two jewels of the Triple Crown.
WEST/PIONEEROF THE NILE STRONG IN WORK FOR SAN FELIPE
Zayat Racing Stable’s Pioneerof the Nile, the current leader among California contenders for the Kentucky Derby, displayed every sign of being sharp of Saturday’s San Felipe (GII) as he turned in a fast five-furlong workout Sunday at Santa Anita.
The son of Empire Maker covered the distance over Santa Anita’s synthetic Cushion Track surface in :58.80. Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez was aboard the colt for trainer Bob Baffert, who is seeking his fourth victory in the Kentucky Derby.
“He went really nice,” said Baffert. “All systems are go.”
Pioneerof the Nile is expected to face few opponents in the San Felipe, Santa Anita’s final prep for its Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 4.
SOUTHEAST/AL KHALI GIVES PLETCHER ANOTHER PLAYER
Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher did not appear to have a major Kentucky Derby contender in his barn when the New Year arrived, but it’s now early March and he is caring for at least two-late developing hopes for America’s greatest race.
The first to emerge was Dunkirk, a $3.7-million sales purchase who has romped to easy wins in two starts this year at Gulfstream Park. The second is WinStar Farm’s Al Khali, a Peruvian import who won two of three races in the Southern Hemisphere last year and rallied to defeat a solid field in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race on Friday at Gulfstream Park.
The Kentucky-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro rallied in the stretch in his U.S. debut to defeat Stately Character by three-quarters of a length. Atomic Rain was a nose back in third. Favored Chef finished fourth. The winner covered the distance in 1:51.39 over a “fast” surface.
WEST/CHAMPION STARDOM BOUND WINS SANTA ANITA OAKS – BUT BARELY
Champion Stardom Bound kept an impressive winning streak alive, but she did not put her nose in front until the final stride as she rallied late to win Saturday’s $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks (GI).
Although she won, the effort could have ended the dream of the filly’s owners – IEAH Stables and partners – to run the champion against males in the April 4 Santa Anita Derby (GI) and, perhaps in the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) at Churchill Downs.
It was her fifth consecutive triumph in Grade I stakes competition – a string that includes the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and this year’s Las Virgenes – but it was by far her closest call of the winning streak. The daughter of Tapit – the odds-on 2-5 favorite under jockey Mike Smith – had only one horse beaten a the head of the stretch and closed seven-wide down the lane to edge 35-1 shot Third Dawn by a slim nose in a three-horse photo finish. Hooh Way finished a nose back farther back, and it was another head back to fourth-place finisher Nan.
“She won on heart and courage today, but I don’t think it was her best race,” said IEAH Stables’ Michael Iavarone. “I think we got to really look at her and evaluate her and see where she belongs at this point…I just don’t think this race beats the boys.”
IEAH Stables, the majority owner of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, purchased Stardom Bound for $5.7 million at Keeneland’s November Sale.
Stardom Bound covered 1 1/16 miles on the synthetic Cushion Track surface in 1:43.62.
SOUTH/RACHEL ALEXANDRA PREPS FOR FAIR GROUNDS OAKS
Leading Kentucky Oaks contender Rachel Alexandra completed her preparation for Saturday’s Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) with a four-furlong work on Sunday at Oaklawn Park.
The Hal Wiggins-trained daughter of Medaglia d’Oro covered the distance over a “fast” track in 49.20 under jockey Calvin Borel. She galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.40.
“We wanted a nice easy work with her, and that’s what we got,” said Wiggins. “We wanted her to go about :48 or :49, and Calvin did just that.”
Rachel Alexandra, the winner of last fall’s Golden Rod (GII) at Churchill Downs, is expect to face a handful of rivals in the Fair Grounds Oaks. She ships to New Orleans on Wednesday.
The only Kentucky Oaks Future Wager pool of 2009 is set to open Thursday, March 12, and continue through Sunday, March 15. Betting on the pool of 23 individual horses and a mutuel field, or “all others,” opens at noon Thursday and continues through 6:30 p.m. on Sunday (all times EDT). … Brereton Jones’ Proud Spell, winner of the 2008 Kentucky Oaks, makes her 2009 debut for trainer Larry Jones in a Wednesday allowance race at Oaklawn Park. Her first major target of the year is Oaklawn Park’s Apple Blossom (GI) on April 6.