An impressive victory in the 98th running of Fair Grounds’ signature race would strengthen Mucho Macho Man’s credentials as a contender for the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 7.
The Risen Star victory at 1 1/16-miles on Feb. 19 restored some luster to the colt’s star that was lost when he finished fourth to Dialed In as the favorite in the Jan. 10 Holy Bull Stakes (GIII) at Gulfstream Park. Trainer Kathy Ritvo’s colt faded after pushing the pace that day at Gulfstream’s one-turn mile distance, but made an impressive return to form when he stretched out to the two-turn 1 1/16-mile distance of the Risen Star.
“I know some people were disappointed, and maybe to some extent I was, too,” said Jim Culver,president of Dream Team. “(But) when we looked back on it we never really thought that was going to be his race. He’s definitely a distance horse – two turns, a mile and eighth or more.”
Other major contenders in the Louisiana Derby include the Neil Howard-trained Machen, who suffered his first loss in a fourth-place finish in the Risen Star; the Howard-trained Wilkinson, winner of the Lecomte (GIII); and Elite Alex, who finished third in the Southwest Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park in his most recent start.
Calvin Borel has the mount on Elite Alex, a son of the 2005 Preakness (GI) and Belmont Stakes (GI) winner Afleet Alex.. Borel has ridden an unprecedented three of the last four Kentucky Derby winners.
Louisiana Derby Odds and Ends: Five weeks from the Kentucky Derby a year ago, the Louisiana Derby is situated six weeks away this year because the final day of their season is Sunday. For many years, it was carded eight weeks from the Derby before moving to seven weeks out in 2009. … The purse is worth $1 million for the first time (a $250,000 boost from last year). … This will be the second straight year that the race will be run at 1 1/8 miles. … The race has produced three Derby winners: 1924 winner Black Gold, 1996 winner Grindstone and 2003 third-place finisher Funny Cide … Two horses exited the race last year to run in the Derby: winner Mission Impazible (ninth in the Derby) and fourth-place finisher Discreetly Mine (13th in the Derby) … Record of Louisiana Derby starters in the Kentucky Derby since 1985: 44-2-0-2 … Clev Er Tell (1977) holds the stakes record of 1:48.80 … Mighty (2000), Peace Rules (2003) and High Limit (2005) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figures (105); Line In The Sand (1992) and Dixieland Heat (1993) recorded the lowest (93).
MIDWEST (Illinois, Kentucky) / POSITIVE RESPONSE STRONG CHOICE IN TURFWAY’S SPIRAL – Northern California-based Positive Response dominated the home team when he shipped to Northern Kentucky’s Turfway Park last month, and Saturday he’ll bid for the biggest win of his career when he enters the starting gate to face eleven rivals in the $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (GIII) at the Florence, Ky. track.
That first race in Kentucky for Positive Response was a seven-length romp in the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes over Turfway’s synthetic Polytrack surface. It was the third win in four races for the gelded son of Pomeroy who is trained and co-owned by Billy Morey, and all of those wins have come in stakes events over synthetic surfaces. The only setback during that streak was a solid third-place run behind Silver Medallion in the El Camino Real Derby (GIII) at Golden Gate Fields.
Positive Response has yet to compete on traditional dirt, the surface over which the Kentucky Derby will be run at Churchill Downs, but Morey said a big effort on Saturday could earn his star a shot at America’s greatest race.
“In the Battaglia, he showed his stuff,” Morey said. “We’re almost in a must-win situation as far as the Derby goes, with graded earnings. If we get lucky, he has that possibility.”
Julien Couton will ride Positive Response, who will break from post two and has been installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite for Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile race.
Others in the Vinery Racing Spiral include Decisive Moment, who finished fifth in the Battaglia; King Congie, who was disqualified last time out from a victory in the Hallandale Beach (GIII) on grass at Gulfstream Park and tries a synthetic surface for the first time; Animal Kingdom, who also makes the move from grass to synthetic; John Battaglia runner-up Taptowne; and Twinspired, a troubled fourth in that race but a winner in his previous outing in Turfway’s WEBN Stakes.
The Vinery Spiral undercard includes the $100,000 Rushaway, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds that attracted nine horses. Calder Race Course-based Swift Warrior, third on grass in the Tropical Park Derby and runner-up in the Foolish Pleasure on dirt, will face recent allowance winners Crimson China, Disfraz and St. Ivan in that race.
Vinery Racing Spiral Odds and Ends: Race was formerly known as the Jim Beam, Furnituregallery.com and Lanes’ End. … The race, which was inaugurated in 1972, has produced just one Derby winner: Lil E. Tee, who won both races in 1992. .… Record of starters in the Kentucky Derby since 1985: 50-1-4-3. … Record of starters in the Kentucky Derby since the race was first run over Polytrack in 2006: 8-0-1-0 (the Derby runner-up was 2007 winner Hard Spun). … The race produced one Derby starter last year: winner Dean’s Kitten, who finished 14th in the Derby. … Hard Spun (2007) holds the Polytrack stakes record of 1:49.41. … Hansel (1991), the beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby but winner of the Preakness and Belmont, ran the fastest on dirt with a time of 1:46.70. … The filly Serena’s Song (1995) and Event of the Year (1998) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figure (114); With a City (2006) recorded the lowest (87).
WEST (Arizona, California, New Mexico) / ASTROLOGY RETURNS IN SUNLAND PARK DERBY – Stonestreet Stable and George Bolton’s Astrology, a son of A.P. Indy who won the Iroquois Stakes (GIII) last fall at Churchill Downs, returns from a long stay on the sidelines in Sunday’s $800,000 Sunland Park Derby (GIII) at New Mexico’s Sunland Park.
Astrology has not started since a narrow loss to Santiva in the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at the Louisville track in late November. Trainer Steve Asmussen said he had planned to start the colt in the San Felipe (GII) at Santa Anita on March 12, but passed on that race after Astrology lost some training time due to an illness.
“I think the main thing is I feel very good about the health and condition of the horse right now,” Asmussen said. “We’re very excited for Sunday, but I think a lot of our questions will be answered then.”
Astrology will break from the outside post in the field of 11 entered in the 1 1/8-mile race over traditional dirt. Julien Leparoux, who will ride in Dubai on Saturday, will be in New Mexico on Sunday to ride Asmussen’s colt.
Other major players include Fusa Code, who scored his first career victory in Sunland’s Borderland Derby on Feb. 26, and Beer Meister, a former claiming horse who scored an upset win in the Turf Paradise Derby.
Sunland Derby Odds and Ends: Inaugurated in 2003, the race is famous for producing 2009 upset Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who finished fourth in the Sunland Derby. … The race has produced four Derby starters overall. The others: 2005 third Sort It Out (17th in the Derby), 2009 fifth Advice (13th) and 2010 runner-up Conveyance (15th). … No Sunland Derby winner has ever run in the Derby. Last year’s winner, Endorsement, was withdrawn from Kentucky Derby consideration when a non-displaced condylar fracture of the right front leg was discovered on the morning of the post position draw. … Received Grade III status in 2010. … Will be run six weeks out of the Derby for the first time; was positioned five weeks out 2003-06 and ’09-10, and seven weeks out 2007-08. … Endorsement (2010) holds the stakes record of 1:48.46. … Song of Navarone (2007) posted the highest winning Beyer Speed Figure (102); Kelly Leak (2009) recorded the lowest (85).
DUBAI / FILLIES LOOK TOUGH IN UAE DERBY – Dubai’s top prep for the Kentucky Derby has never been won by a female, but that could change on Saturday as a trio of accomplished fillies will battle males in the $2 million UAE Derby (GII) at the spectacular Meydan Race Course.
Mahbooba and Reem are Australian-bred fillies from the barn of trainer Mike de Kock, while Khawlah will carry the distinctive blue racing colors of Dubai-based Godolphin Racing.
Saturday’s 1 3/16-mile race over Meydan’s synthetic Tapeta surface serves as a return match between Khawlah and Mahbooba. The Godolphin filly upset the heavily favored Mahbooba in the in the Feb. 24 UAE Oaks.
Reem earned her shot at the UAE Derby when she dominated males in the Al Bastakiya on March 3.
Godolphin will also send out Splash Point, a son of Street Cry who won the UAE Two Thousand Guineas.
A late arrival from the United States to compete in the UAE Derby is Sweet Ducky, who chased Dialed In home in Gulfstream Park’s Holy Bull. Sweet Ducky was recently purchased by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.
Three entrants are coming off runs behind Pluck in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs: Master of Hounds (sixth), Utley (seventh) and Mantoba (tenth). Master of Hounds is trained by Irish training king Aidan O’Brien, who will also saddle Alexander Pope.
UAE Derby Odds and Ends: Now positioned six weeks from Kentucky Derby 137, the UAE Derby was previously situated five weeks from the first Saturday in May in 2003-04, ’07-10 … Received Group 2 status in 2002 … Race was inaugurated in 2000 and has produced seven Kentucky Derby starters: 2000 winner China Visit (6th in the Derby), 2000 third Curule (7th), 2001 winner Express Tour (8th), 2002 winner Essence of Dubai (9th), 2003 fourth Outta Here (7th), 2009 winner Regal Ransom (8th) and 2009 runner-up Desert Party (14th) … Each year, the winner has been saddled by either trainer Saeed bin Suroor (six wins) or Mike de Kock (five wins) … The race has been won by a Southern Hemisphere 3-year-old (considered age 4 by U.S. standards) on five occasions … After the first 10 runnings at Nad Al Sheba, this will mark the second year that the race will be run at Meydan Racecourse at 1 3/16 miles over the synthetic Tapeta surface … Musir-AUS (2010) holds the stakes record of 1:57.44 for the lone running over the surface and distance … Musir-AUS (2010) also recorded the race’s highest published Racing Post Rating (122); Discreet Cat (2006) was the lowest (114) … The distance between Churchill Downs and Meydan Racecourse is approximately 7,400 miles.
FLORIDA / DIALED IN SIZZLES IN FLORIDA DERBY WORK – Robert LaPenta’s Holy Bull winner Dialed In tuned up for the $1 million Florida Derby (GI) on April 3 with a sharp half-mile work at Palm Meadows training center that left two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Nick Zito beaming.
The son of Mineshaft, coming off a loss in a Gulfstream Park on March 8, worked four furlongs in :47.55 – the fastest of 19 moves at the distance. Zito timed Dialed In’s final eighth of a mile in :11 flat.
“He’s just an amazing horse,” Zito said. “I’ve felt strongly about a lot of the horses I’ve trained, but there’s something about this horse that stands out. He’s been a gift from God.”