HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 13, 2022 – For those of us who love traveling down the Triple Crown Trail, yesterday was entertaining and enlightening.
In Northern California, MacKinnon and Blackadder put on quite the ding-dong battle. And to think that in midstretch it looked like MacKinnon was going to be the re-al thing. Then Blackadder surged and grabbed him right at the line.
Bob Baffert’s impressive Juvenile Champion Corniche may or may not be on his way to Louisville, with or without Bullet Bob, but his Blackadder has him given him a free ride to Baltimore. Rombauer redux?
MacKinnon was one of 10 rivals Blackadder defeated Saturday and, say this for him; was very professional. Racing mid-pack and able to save ground throughout, he rallied off early fractions of 23.46 and 47.77, solid splits on synthetic footing.
At headstretch, jockey Edwin Maldonado found a seam as the two SoCal shippers left the competition behind. Initially it appeared that MacKinnon had it on lock but in the end an early aggressive move approaching the eighth poll may have taken its toll.
The final Tapeta time was a solid 1:50.34, Blackadder making his winning move in a final furlong that took 12.38 seconds to complete with both horses doing their best. That final eighth would win a lot of Derbies.
“[At headstretch], there were too many horses outside of me, so I had to wait,’ said Maldonado. I noticed that Mackinnon got the jump on me but I was able to get through and [Blackadder] got it done.”
Indeed, the waters are about to get a lot deeper.
In Northern Florida, several things became clear in one of the most, if not the most contentious Sam F Davis in 42 years.
Given the depth of this field plus future achievements, HRI would not be surprised if the 2023 Davis were elevated to Grade 2. But that’s for another day. What we know from Saturday is Classic Causeway has made the developmental transition from 2 to 3.
No one needed the Davis to show that Classic Causeway had talent and class. You don’t break maiden on debut by 6-1/2 lengths at 7 furlongs in Saratoga without those attributes, underscored later by money runs in both Keeneland’s G1 Breeders and Churchill’s G2 Jockey Club.
As for the Jockey Club, the trifecta horses that finished behind protem divisional leader Smile Happy, runnerup Classic Causeway and show finisher White Abarrio, have returned to win their sophomore debuts in impressive fashion by open lengths.
Trainer Brian Lynch did excellent work getting Classic Causeway ready for his first run in 77 days, with old school six- and seven-furlong preparation into the race. Naturally fast, Irad Ortiz Jr. rode with confidence, allowing speedy Little Vic to chew on him throughout.
At the end, the 8-5 favorite raced 1 1/16 miles over a fast main track in 1:42.80, missing Flameaway’s stakes record by .36 seconds. Classic Causeway currently tops this year’s Derby qualifier with 16 points. The 50-point preps begin on Saturday with Fair Grounds’ Risen Star.
Ortiz made good use of his cozy draw to secure inside lead position on the first turn, albeit hounded almost immediately by a drawn-in Little Vic, who eventually pressured him through strong splits of 22.66 and 46.67.
Despite pressure, Ortiz was unfazed and didn’t ask the question until after straightening away. It wasn’t so much what he did, but showed a devastating turn of foot the farther he ran. He did some snaking down the lane, but still drew off by 3-3/4 lengths with a final sixteenth in a worthy 05.96.
“The fractions had me a little bit worried, but his body language, the way his ears were twitching down the backside, gave me the feeling that [Ortiz] had plenty of horse,” Lynch said post-race. And how.
The next four finishers ran well to varying degrees. Shipsational finished sensationally in the final strongly run furlong from well off the pace to gain second, lengthening stride late with every step forward, given excellent preparation by trainer Eddie Barker.
“I thought he ran giant,” said Barker. “There were a lot of question marks going in – whether he could get the distance… two turns… and it was his first time going against open company. He was training like a real professional… I’m staying right here [for the Tampa Derby].
By definition, Volcanic ran evenly to finish third but that doesn’t do his effort justice. He saved ground at no time, forced to race 3-4 wide throughout, the result of his high draw.
Fourth finisher Strike Hard did extremely well to finish fourth, albeit non-threatening. His wide draw outside Volcanic left him with impossible position at headstretch. We still don’t know how he managed to finish fourth.
Fifth finisher Golden Glider showed his inexperience. He ran only in spots through the stretch and, like Strike Hard, materialized late to finish fifth. The fourth and fifth finisher are not yet elite level but there’s much room for improvement as there’s talent there.
The Davis, with an undercard featuring Minaret winner Drop A Hint, Pelican winner Bank On Shea [Baby Yoda may he been best], and Suncoast winner Nest, along with strong supporting races, produced striking all-sources handle of $12.1 million.
Speaking of Kentucky Oaks hopefuls, Nest’s dominating win was on a par with Classic Causeway’s. Also ridden by Ortiz Jr., she lengthened stride dramatically with a late-stretch blowout, getting stronger with every step. Ortiz did little more than shake the reins.
Other results worthy of note were Gladys, who ran off the screen going 1-1/16 miles in a turf allowances, and well-bred Chad Brown maiden Bahamian Club winning on grass and on debut, and happened to top a $194.10 50-Cent trifecta for the HRI Faithful, a nice bonus.
If this day was intended as a Tampa Bay Derby day prep, one can hardly wait until March 12.