Monday Morning Trainer: Strong Statements

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Fast and furious action over the weekend before everyone became obsessed with – or at least felt like sharing every little opinion that came to mind via social networking channels – Sunday’s action at the Grammy Awards and lack of action at the Pro Bowl.

Full disclosure, this writer didn’t watch a minute of the former and only a play of the latter and it doesn’t seem like much was missed.

If you missed what transpired on the racetrack this weekend you missed plenty.

Saturday’s statement races started early, or at least early here in the U.S. if you were tuned into the simulcast feed from Doncaster and caught the white-faced Valdez prepping for a possible spin in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase in March at Cheltenham. Read more from the Racing Post about what’s next for Valdez.

Gulfstream picked up the torch from there – as outlined in last week’s Saturday Special – and on cue Todd Pletcher sent out another first-time starter by Tapit to victory as Anchor Down overcame a bit of trouble in the gate at the start to win a swift 6-furlong maiden heat.

The next statement race of the day came a half hour later as Top Billing, yet another Shug McGaughey-trainee to benefit from training at Payson Park to blitz the opposition after about a two-hour drive down I-95. The jury might be out on the other six he left in tatters, but a good-looking win for a colt with a classic pedigree is nothing to scoff at with January about to expire.

William S. Farish, master of Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Kentucky, is certainly no stranger to the Triple Crown and is the co-owner of Top Billing with frequent and longtime partner E. J. Hudson Jr.

Farish bred last year’s Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice – the fourth winner of that race he bred either solely or in partnership – and he’s bred or co-bred the winners of the other two spring classics. As an owner, however, his lone win came more than four decades ago when Bee Bee Bee upset Riva Ridge and others in the 1972 Preakness.

Of course the two-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding breeder almost always sells the best colts he either bred or co-bred at public auction (see A.P. Indy, Summer Squall, Lemon Drop Kid, Charismatic and Palace Malice to name just a few), so it’s pretty unfair to knock his 0-for records in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont.

Farish could change that this year thanks to Top Billing and Honor Code, a son of the aforementioned A.P. Indy who is also under the watchful eye of McGaughey assistant Robbie Medina at Payson Park.

Lexington attorney W. Craig Robertson went on an enjoyable ride to the Kentucky Derby with Soldat in 2011 with partners Harvey Clarke, Paul Braverman and Terence Murray’s and Jack Conley’s Namcook Stables and he could be in for another thanks to the powerful effort put in by their Cairo Prince in the Grade 2 Holy Bull later on Saturday’s card.

Second to Honor Code in the Grade 2 Remsen in late November at Aqueduct while giving that rival six pounds, Cairo Prince made quick work of the Holy Bull field and won by 5 3/4 lengths under Luis Saez. Watch Cairo Prince’s big win here. …

We mentioned the Ladies Handicap in the Saturday Special, noting the lack of a potential superstar to follow in the footsteps of some of the race’s marquee winners from days gone by and not knowing that one could emerge. It needs the “could” because a win over the field assembled didn’t quite conjure up thoughts of Shuvee or Maskette, but Teen Pauline easy win was pretty strong nonetheless. …

Saturday’s Sunshine Millions California Cup at Santa Anita Park didn’t produce a single winning favorite from the five races restricted to Cal-breds and yielded a few hefty payoffs. Susans Express led that charge, winning the California Cup Oaks and returning $132.40 and Wewinnin followed suit two races later winning the California Cup Turf Classic Stakes and returning $44.80.

What would a weekend be without a stakes win from a Ramsey-owned and bred by Kitten’s Joy? It nearly happened Saturday, until Admiral Kitten got up in time to win the $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston. Admiral Kitten was a third of the Grade 1-winning trio for the Ramseys in mid-August and was coming off a second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby.

Read about Ramsey’s three Grade 1s, including Big Blue Kitten’s in the 2013 Sword Dancer.