Wow, what a weekend of racing. We provided our weekly Saturday Special, previewing 38 races in 1,410 words. Cumbersome to write – perhaps worse to read – we covered most of everything Saturday. But then there was Sunday…
Here’s what you need to know from a weekend of Cheltenham clues, Derby additions (and subtractions) and coast-to-coast action.
Sean watched it all – Annie and Miles left town and it snowed – here’s what he saw.
Rest Assured. Sire De Grugy is back. The highest rated 2-mile chaser performed flawlessly last year, winning the Queen Mother at Cheltenham and everything else. This year, it looked like he had a hangover from all his panache. An early injury put him on the shelf and then he did a belly flop into a cereal bowl in his return at Newbury. I wrote him off. Then trainer Gary Moore woke up Monday morning and entered him for a handicap chase at Chepstow on Saturday – 18 days before Cheltenham. I started singing, “Desperado” and tried to find a winner in the four-horse Rifles Handicap Chase. There is contrarian and there is stupid. Sire De Grugy looked like he drank six V8s, hangover gone, as he jumped with verve and ran with vibrancy. See you at the Festival.
Belted. Beltor improved his hurdle record to 2-for-2 with a facile score in the juvenile hurdle at Kempton. Trained by Robert Stephens, Beltor cost 30,000 from Sir Mark Prescott’s yard at Tattersalls October sale. He pulled hard early and pulled clear late. Stephens is just starting his career, a Cheltenham winner would certainly boost it.
Chasing Saint. Jumping like butter across hot toast, Irish Saint crushed four rivals in the Pendil Novices’ Chase. Veteran Melodic Rendezvous proved yet again he’s a hurdler.
Days of Wins. French-bred Days Of Heaven won the Dovecote in a scrap. Nicky Henderson said he won’t go to Cheltenham…this year.
The Rock. Paul Nicholls timed it perfectly with Rocky Creek. The champion trainer waited until after the weights were published for the Grand National and then polished the 9-year-old in the Grade 3 chase at Kempton. Stablemate Easter Day went out early, American-bred Tap Night unshipped Richard Johnson early and the rest was left to Rocky Creek who decimated a game Le Reve and Bally Legend. On to Aintree.
There is life after Saratoga. Jockey Jack Doyle spent the summer with Elizabeth Voss’ stable at Saratoga. He won here. He’s winning in England. Doyle partnered veteran Shammick Boy to win a handicap hurdle and looks like he could have an outside chance in a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham.
There isn’t life after Belmont. Favorite Grandeur, who ran hard at Belmont Park last year, tamely folded into fourth in the Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield. Grendisar continued to impress.
Kick. Punch. Drop. The Eider Chase at Newcastle looked like a Jackie Chan movie as favorite Shotgun Paddy fell and seven others departed. Milborough kept to the task winning the 4-miler (plus a furlong) through tenacity and dourness. Local trainer Ian Duncan doesn’t have many horses in his yard and jockey Graham Watters doesn’t get many opportunities. They made it count Saturday.
Father. Trainer. “He developed the horse and the trainer,” is what I texted a potential owner after House Rules won the Rampart at Gulfstream Park. Always extolling the brilliance of Allen Jerkens, I loved watching House Rules win for his son Jimmy. Allen trained her for her first eight starts – just missing in the Grade 2 Davona Dale and Gulfstream Park Oaks – before sending her to Jimmy, who’s now won four races with her. Come on, people, send some horses to The Chief.
Rent Paid. Condo Commando made it 4-for-5 with another romp, cruising to win the Busher, one of three wins on the Aqueduct card for jockey Junior Alvarado.
Goodbye. We hate to see Irish Mission go. The 6-year-old mare won the The Very One before going to Lexington to meet leading stallion Tapit. John Velazquez improved to three for his last three aboard Irish Mission, stalking a dawdling pace in another subtly brilliant ride.
House horse. Bet Seattle won again for owner/trainer Hugh Robertson. The 6-year-old son of Seattle Fitz improved his record to six for his last seven with a front-running spin in the Duncan F. Kenner. Jockey James Graham faced a hard call here; he had won his last two with Delaunay and his last four with Bet Seattle. He picked Delaunay and wound up second on the 18-time winner.
Winning Hand. Who does it better than Fred Brei’s Jacks or Better Farm? Homebred C. Zee, by Elusive Bluff (go look him up), won the Gulfstream Park Sprint Handicap for Stanley Gold. Favorite Mean Season ran like a Black Friday shopper, breaking slowly, rushing up and fading fast.
Surprise. Jockey Corey Lanerie guided favorite Good Deed through everybody, keeping his head down and pumping like Chris McCarron teaches at his jockey school. At the wire, Lanerie looked up and over, only to see longshot Jewel Of A Cat hanging tough on the outside in the Ladies Turf Sprint at Gulfstream Park. The winner drifted like a cloud but hung on for a half-length score.
And that makes five. Main Sequence made it five wins from five starts since returning to America for Flaxman and Graham Motion. Freshened since winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the champ ran about 100 yards of the 11-furlong Mac Diarmida, blowing past Twilight Eclipse for the fifth time. Funny game. If Main Sequence could have kept his career on track in England, the runner-up would have won the United Nations, Turf Classic and Mac Diarmida and finished second in the Sword Dancer and Breeders’ Cup Turf. Sorry, West Point Thoroughbreds, Main Sequence has cost you $811,480 (if our math is correct).
Ahh Winner. Neil Howard unveiled Ahh Chocolate to win at Fair Grounds. Bred and owned by Stoneway Farm, the 3-year-old daughter of Candy Ride closed from Bourbon Street to win going away. Look out.
Arrived. Florent Geroux won three stakes at Fair Grounds Saturday, placing Eden Prairie, Chocolate Ride and I’m A Chatterbox like a mother places a newborn. The French-born jockey won his first Breeders’ Cup race in November and he’s only getting better.
Railed. Miguel Mena says International Star likes the rail. Well, the jockey made sure he found it, dropping over in the first turn of the Risen Star. Kent Desormeaux aboard War Story didn’t like it and claimed foul. Stewards allowed it. Miguel, next time, don’t look over before you do it, that’s like turning on your blinker, seeing a car and changing lanes anyway. Bettors sent Imperia off as favorite but Godolphin’s runner failed to fire, closing tepidly for fifth.
Who needs conditions? Michael Dilger shipped Street Babe to Fair Grounds for the Mineshaft Handicap. Making just his third career start and eligible for a first-level allowance, the son of Munnings upset nine rivals in the Grade 3 stakes.
Second string. Glenard made a promising debut for Graham Motion in the Fair Grounds Handicap. He’ll win whatever Main Sequence doesn’t this year.
Exacta. Larry Jones supplied the $51.40 exacta in the Rachel Alexandra when I’m A Chatterbox closed to run down Lovely Maria.
First Step. Puca ran OK in the Davona Dale, closing ground to finish fourth for Bill Mott and Joel Rosario. She finished six lengths behind front-running winner Ekati’s Phaeton but Mott is just starting to mix the paint.
Fast Step. Mott mixed paint like Picasso with Long On Value, winner of the Canadian Turf. Off since December 26, the 4-year-old could become the best turf miler in the game.
Better watch the replay. The Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth turned into a Drip of Despair for most of the finishers of the Grade 2 stakes. Frosted looked home and hosed, only to flounder. Upstart re-rallied, then drifted and took some ground from Itsaknockout who was closing, albeit slowly in the last furlong. Frammento closed late and could clunk up for a piece of the Derby in May. Gorgeous Bird should have closed and didn’t. Stewards disqualified Upstart and gave the race to Itsaknockout. Visually, it was not impressive and I still wish Luis Saez would drop his irons about three holes so he could offer strength at the end of a race. As for the disqualification, it cost me too much money in the Pick 4 to offer any semblance of objectivity.
Call the Bookie. Roger Attfield and Charles Fipke have a nice turf horse for Ontario-bred stakes – and maybe more – in Danish Dynaformer. He’ll win the Queen’s Plate.
Enough. Where’s The Moon, a 3-year-old son of Malibu Moon and Aldiza, upset Cinco Charlie in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland. Trainer Henry Dominguez is 2-for-2 with the winner who was winless in three starts in California.
Hmm. Freakin Amazing, sent off the favorite in the Arizona Oaks, faded to sixth. She’s winless in two tries since being disqualified from purse money in December.
Have horse, will travel. Why Two took the Turf Paradise Derby for Mike Machowsky and Aaron Gryder. A maiden winner at Santa Anita in January, the son of Bob And John became a stakes winner in February.
As for Sunday…
Wow. Khozan dominated allowance foes at Gulfstream Park and drove a wedge straight through the Derby prognosticators; you’re either for or against the undefeated two-time winning half-brother to champion Royal Delta. Some day a horse who has not raced at 2 will win the Derby. It might be this year.
Prayer Answered. Geroux put Prayed For on the lead in an allowance turf – just like he had done on Chocolate Ride the day before – and the daughter of Dynaformer never looked back. Cool win for trainer Alice Cohn. Remember Prayed For? She won her debut for Jimmy Jerkens at Saratoga last summer.
No Fault. Mott unveiled a dynamic first-time starter at Gulfstream when Find Fault overcame an inside post to run down Shug McGaughey first-timer Coming Attraction.
Encripted. Gulfstream hosted an allowance race that was hailed as the return of two-time winner Top Billing. McGaughey’s charge didn’t threaten, winding up fourth, while Encryption returned with aplomb, strolling away to win by eight lengths. Stoneway’s 4-year-old finished second in the Pegasus and third in the Long Branch last summer. The son of Exchange Rate could be a fresh addition to the stakes division.
Ride of the Weekend. How good is Mike Smith? He rode Ocho Ocho Ocho to win the Delta Jackpot in November. He won the race, watched third-place finisher Far Right, then hustled the mount from trainer Ron Moquett. He’s now 2-for-2 on the son of Notional. Now that’s part of the puzzle. The rest of the puzzle came with a water-always-finds-the-leaks ride on Far Right in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Smith sat lightly as Far Right stuttered away from the start, then eased him back instead of getting carried out around the first turn, then sat still as Calvin Borel blew past him on The Truth Or Else, then ducked inside three horses in the stretch, then eased off about the time when he was over-riding Far Right to win by three quarters of a length. He even gave him a right knee slap inside the furlong pole, which I’ll confess, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before. Watch the replay below – it should be offered as a clinic on how to ride a race. As an aside, congratulations to Saratoga Special graduate John Panagot who helped purchase the winner for his boss Robert La Penta.
That’s what I saw over the weekend. What did you see?
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