Saturday proved a top day for Kenny McPeek at Gulfstream Park with two wins from his two runners on a stellar card in South Florida.
Both of McPeek’s winners are owned by a group spearheaded by Harold Lerner - Harvey Wallbanger in an optional claimer and the “Horse to Watch” from The Monday Special of Feb. 3, Mister Candy Ride, in a maiden race. The latter earns the Maiden Winner of the Week title for March 2.
“It’s always great [to win multiple races], both those horses Harold has been real patient with,” McPeek said. “Harvey Wallbanger kind of returned to the scene of his biggest victory and we knew he liked it down there. The other colt has a lot of upside.”
Mister Candy Ride hasn’t been an easy project for McPeek, breaking slowly in both of his races even with gate schooling. McPeek thinks that it’s just something to be expected from the 3-year-old son of Candy Ride at this stage as part of his running style, though he isn’t sure if issues the colt had last year also contribute.
“As a 2-year-old he had a lot of hind end problems,” McPeek explained. “He wasn’t 100 percent early in his 2-year-old season and we had to turn him out for an extended period of time because of it. He just wasn’t all there behind and maybe there’s something to that. I don’t think you can force [him breaking quickly], if that’s his style, that’s his style but maybe he’s got a reason he does that, too. We’re not going to argue, he runs well the way he’s running so it is what it is.”
With Kentucky Derby fever sweeping the nation this time of year, Mister Candy Ride’s connections would be forgiven if they decided to send him to one of the prep races for his next start. McPeek isn’t ready to throw him to the wolves just yet.
“His plans are an allowance race, I’m not looking to go further than that right now,” he said. “We’ll look for something for him in April. I want to run him two turns in the worst way, I think he’s begging for more distance. He’s a really nice horse. Maybe later in the year, he’ll run in a race like the Travers or something like that. Let’s see if he can jump through the next couple of hoops. We’ll probably run him in an allowance race or Grade 3 and kind of go from there.
“I love winning for Harold and always seem to be coming up with pretty good horses for him and the people he works with. Hopefully we keep it going.”
Race of the Week: A new year meant a new beginning for Maximum Security, who put last year’s Kentucky Derby behind him with a win Saturday in the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup.
Making his first start of 2020, Maximum Security was happy to sit just to the outside of the pace setting Pegasus World Cup winner Mucho Gusto. There was a moment of panic for his connections when Luis Saez had to get after the colt on the turn while Mucho Gusto looked to be cruising but that quickly changed.
Maximum Security and Saez played a guessing game as Mucho Gusto wandered in the closing stages but it gave them the perfect opportunity to run up the leader’s inside. He passed Mucho Gusto and held off a late charging Midnight Bisou to win by three quarters of a length and take his earnings to $11,801,900.
“Really, that horse has got a lot of heart, he is some horse, he is amazing,” winning trainer Jason Servis said. “It’s got to be some vindication. He ran hard, I thought he was creased up in behind. He was really doing good. I am a bit superstitious and didn’t want to over-talk him but the last three days … I was really feeling good the last few days.”
Servis indicated on Luck On Sunday that Maximum Security came out of the race tired and will likely skip the Dubai World Cup later this month.
“I may not get his ‘A’ race,” Servis told Nick Luck. “Nothing has been finalized but right now it’s doubtful we’ll make Dubai. I don’t think it’s fair to Max to wheel him back in the 28 days after the way he ran, and then he runs fifth. Then you’re like, ‘What was I thinking about?’ ”
Two others who earned plenty of buzz were second- and third-place finishers Midnight Bisou and Benbatl.
Midnight Bisou put up arguably the best performance of her career in her first try against males and nearly made it a winning one when racing up the rail. Like Maximum Security, Midnight Bisou will reportedly also skip the Dubai World Cup.
A top turf horse, Benbatl came into this race with some questions. While he had easily won his dirt debut last out in Dubai, Benbatl faced a much tougher field in the Saudi Cup and showed that first win wasn’t a fluke. Trainer Saeed Bin Suroor said after the race they are still thinking about running Benbatl in the Dubai World Cup – a race his connections won with Thunder Snow the last two years. With the top two Saudi Cup placers out of the race, it looks like it may be Benbatl’s to lose at the end of the month, though fourth-place Mucho Gusto is also likely to run in Dubai.
Trainer of the Week: It was a busy weekend for Steve Asmussen’s barns across the country but it paid off for the operation with 10 wins across three tracks from Friday to Sunday, including four wins Saturday at Oaklawn Park. The big weekend adds to what has already been a strong year for Asmussen with 74 wins from 410 starts for an 18 percent win rate.
The trainer’s year looks to get even better in coming months with Kentucky Oaks favorite Finite in his barn in addition to Kentucky Derby hopefuls Gold Street and Silver Prospector.
Sire Of The Week: There was arguably no better sire in the world than Frankel this weekend with the Juddmonte flag bearer represented by stakes winners on three continents. Australian 2-year-old Hungry Heart, who earned a spot in the Golden Slipper with a victory in the Group 2 Sweet Embrace, led the way while Frankel’s Farooq added another win to his sire’s Australian record when visiting the winner’s enclosure at Morphettville in a non-stakes race.
Less than 12 hours later, Frankel joined the Saudi Arabia history books when not only siring Longines Turf winner Call The Wind but also the second-place finisher Mekong. To complete the three-continent trifecta, Frankel sired Grade 3 The Very One winner Elizabeth Way at Gulfstream.
A fitting end to Frankel’s big weekend came in Japan with his first Group 1 winner. Soul Stirring had put the sire on the map with his first 2-year-olds in 2016 and was making her final start in the Group 2 Nakayama Kinen. The mare didn’t end her career with a win but did end it with a third in the race to give Frankel four wins and two placings from seven runners over Saturday and Sunday.
Horse to Watch: Hidden Scroll hasn’t had an easy path since finishing sixth as the favorite in last year’s Grade 1 Florida Derby. Running third in an allowance on the Kentucky Derby undercard, Hidden Scroll missed the rest of the year and was scheduled to return in January. However, the Hard Spun colt had other ideas and was forced to scratch behind the gates when he acted up.
Entered in an allowance the day after the Fountain of Youth where he made his stakes debut last year, Hidden Scroll romped to a 12 1/2-length victory Sunday.
“He was a little tense getting to the gate. Once he got to the gate, we had a couple horses to load in there,” said jockey John Velazquez. “He got to relax in the gate and that was it. He broke well, I put my hands down and just let him get his own stride, and by the half-mile pole he was in the long stride, rolling.”
While Hidden Scroll has a long way to go to live up to his 3-year-old hype, he could prove to be an interesting addition to this year’s handicap division.
Quote Of The Week: “My girl always runs her race and I can’t fault her. It’s just a very different trip and the surface was too deep for her.” – Jockey Ryan Moore on Magic Wand
Aidan O’Brien’s decision to try Magic Wand on the dirt didn’t work out well in the Saudi Cup with the mare finishing ninth. Known for his short, impersonal quotes post-race, Moore gave us a hint about one of his Ballydoyle favorites.
Moore and Magic Wand are a familiar team around the world with Moore up for 15 of Magic Wand’s 24 starts, including a Group 1 win in Australia last year.
Bits and Pieces: The Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth headlined Saturday’s card at Gulfstream and trainer Patrick Biancone added a second Kentucky Derby hopeful to his string when Ete Indien pulled off a 8 1/2-length romp. Second to Tiz The Law in early February, Ete Indian gives Biancone a few different options moving forward. The Frenchman isn’t sure if Ete Indien will continue down the Kentucky Derby path with the colt needing to improve to head to the Florida Derby. Biancone’s other prep winner, Sole Volante, is scheduled to run in Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby. … Zulu Alpha stuck to his winning ways in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida, making it look like his 7-year-old campaign may be his best one yet. Closing from nearly last, the former claimer barreled down the stretch to win by a length for his second straight Mac Diarmida victory.