The same weekend the field for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament was set, racing held its own version of Selection Sunday for one of the biggest events on the North American racing calendar.
The selections, which aren’t really selections at all since there’s no committee to make picks, came in the form of the three winners from the 50-point Kentucky Derby prep races run Saturday and another highly regarded colt who won Sunday to bolster his already high stock.
We’ll cover those races and more in this week’s edition of The Monday Special, which comes out the day before the Cheltenham Festival opens in England and a few days in advance of more classic preps at Oaklawn, Turfway and Laurel. There’s now less than eight weeks until the Kentucky Derby, so everything from here on out is extra serious.
Preps, preps, preps
Three preps were run Saturday for the Kentucky Derby and one easily stole the show – and owned the internet – after strong performances by the top two finishers and a very debatable decision by the men upstairs.
The San Felipe delivered on the pre-race promise as McKinzie and Bolt d’Oro, considered two of the best 3-year-olds on the West Coast, made it a two-way battle from the quarter-pole to the wire. McKinzie and Mike Smith got the better of Bolt d’Oro and Javier Castellano at the finish but were disqualified for a two alleged incidents at the top of the stretch.
Watch it for yourself below.
The day’s other prep races went to Godolphin Racing’s Enticed, winner of the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct; and WinStar Farm’s, China Horse Club’s and SF Racing’s Quip in the Grade 2 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs.
The points earned by those three winners – and by McKinzie for his adjudged runner-up finish – put those four in the top 6 on the Derby points list.
Here’s the top 10: Bolt d’Oro (64), Enticed (63), Bravazo (54), Promises Fulfilled (52), Quip (50), McKinzie (40), Good Magic (34), Flameaway (30), Firenze Fire (29) and Free Drop Billy (24).
Justify showed he’s a serious colt Sunday at Santa Anita with a victory in allowance company. Compared by jockey Mike Smith to “Easy Goer way back in the day,” the son of Scat Daddy added a 6 1/2-length win to his Feb. 18 maiden score. He’s now 2-for-2 for his high-profile connections that include four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert.
Bettors liked the win, too, and he closed Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager as the second wagering choice and the individual at 6-1, only behind the “All others” option at 4-1.
Bolt d’Oro and McKinzie were the third and fourth choices at 7-1 and 9-1, respectively.
Watch the San Felipe and Gotham (and suggest to Tampa Bay Downs they start a Youtube channel).
“I wish it would’ve just been the two horses running straight in the race. We were the best two horses in the race. I just want to see who the better horse is.”
Javier Castellano, who rode adjudged winner Bolt d’Oro, on the San Felipe disqualification
“Javier had a better story, I guess.”
Bob Baffert after disqualification of McKinzie in San Felipe
“The ‘clean-faced’ plan worked out well.”
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin on his and Junior Alvarado’s plan to keep Enticed on the outside in the Gotham
By the Numbers
2: Grade 1 wins for City of Light after Saturday’s Triple Bend at Santa Anita. The Mike McCarthy-trained son of Quality Road also won last year’s Malibu at Santa Anita.
5: Wins for Manny Franco Sunday at Aqueduct from seven mounts
28: Races scheduled for the four-day Cheltenham Festival. Now that’s a boutique meeting. Check out some other numbers from our friends at Birmingham Live.
58: Cheltenham Festival winners for trainer Nicky Henderson heading into this year.
541: Home runs hit by David Ortiz, a visitor to the Gulfstream Park jockey’s room late week to film a segment for his reality show “Big Papi Needs a Job.”
$394,763: Total handle for Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, up 5.7 percent from last year
Sad news out of Oaklawn Park
Sunday’s barn notes from Oaklawn Park included a piece on trainer Tom Howard, who passed away Saturday night from complications of cancer at his Hot Springs, Ark., home. Here is the piece:
Trainer Tom Howard Passes
Trainer Tom Howard, best known for developing multiple stakes-winning sprinter Ivan Fallunovalot, died from complications of cancer Saturday night at his Hot Springs home. He was 70.
Howard was diagnosed with liver cancer earlier this year and died just hours after Ivan Fallunovalot, a former claimer owned by longtime client Lewis Mathews, finished third in Oaklawn’s $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes to increase his career earnings to $998,903.
Mathews said Howard had hoped to watch the Hot Springs from a golf cart parked on the south grandstand apron (he did that for the $125,000 King Cotton Stakes Feb. 3), but his body was too weak following a recent round of chemotherapy.
“He had been struggling the last few weeks,” said Mathews, a Bismarck, Ark., businessman who had horses with Howard for 14 years. “He was just living for Ivan’s next race, and Ivan has been such a storybook story. I was really concerned that after the race, regardless of how it turned out … I didn’t know if it would be the same day. It was not totally unexpected. Unfortunate, but not totally unexpected.”
A former assistant under six-time Oaklawn training champion Cole Norman, Howard had 148 victories from 1,122 starters and purse earnings of $3,848,116 since 2003, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.
In addition to Ivan Fallunovalot, an 8-year-old gelded son of Valid Expectations, Howard’s best horses included Grade 3 winner and Oaklawn-raced Rocket Twentyone for prominent Arkansas businessman Frank Fletcher and Oaklawn stakes winners Heart Appeal, Stormin Suzy and Ain’t He a Pistol.
Rocket Twentyone captured the $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes (G3) in 2011 at Arlington Park before running in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) in her next start.
Howard’s wife, Kathy, a former jockey, is Fletcher’s racing manager.
“He trained for me for many years,” Fletcher said. “I loved him as a man and a trainer.”
The Mathews-owned Ain’t He a Pistol won the inaugural Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes for Arkansas-bred sprinters at the 2009 Oaklawn meeting. Howard and Mathews also teamed to win two races at the 2009 Oaklawn meeting with the popular Commander Buck. The gelding recorded his biggest career victory in the $75,000 Independence Handicap in 2006 at Louisiana Downs.
“We had 14 years, had a good run,” Mathews said. “I grew up around horses and I’ve said he was the finest caretaker of horses I’ve ever seen. To me, he was the throwback to the old gentlemen trainers of 50, 60 years ago. He was laid back, low key. You had to push him a little bit, but I trusted him completely. It was a great partnership.”
On behalf of Mathews, Howard claimed Ivan Fallunovalot for $25,000 in March 2014 at Oaklawn. The Texas-bred gelding flourished under Howard’s care, winning Oaklawn’s King Cotton Stakes in 2015 and 2016, the $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3) in 2016 at Laurel and the last four runnings of the David M. Vance Sprint Stakes at Remington Park.
Ivan Fallunovalot also ran ninth in the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) in 2015, when he was named the Texas Thoroughbred Association’s Horse of the Year.
According to the TTA, the state’s official breed registry for Thoroughbreds, 1987 sprint champion Groovy ($1,346,956) and Texas Chrome ($1,033,262) are the only Texas-bred millionaires.
Ivan Fallunovalot (17 of 31 in his career) could have reached seven figures by finishing first or second in the Hot Springs. He ran second in his first two starts this year, a Jan. 14 allowance/optional claimer and the King Cotton.
“I’m sick about him passing away, but he was living for that race yesterday,” Fletcher said. “I think it broke his heart when Ivan didn’t win.”
Trainer John L. Hall had been saddling Howard’s horses in his absence the last few weeks.
Howard’s father, Sam, bred and owned Moon Lark, winner of the prestigious All-American Futurity for Quarter Horses in 1978.