Monday Morning Trainer: The great dig

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The Northeast, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic is close to being done digging out from last week’s monster snowstorm, warmer breezes are back in South Florida and Southern California and just about everyone is thinking about spring.

It’s still a ways away – anywhere from three to six to eight weeks depending on where you’re reading this from – but it never hurts to dream about sitting on the back deck spatula in one hand, cold drink in the other, and without a heavy coat, wool socks and boots, mittens and gloves for a change.

John Sadler’s thinking about spring and specifically thinking about the Kentucky Derby after Kobe’s Back turned in an eye-catching victory in the Grade 2 San Vicente Sunday at Santa Anita.

The San Vicente was only 7 furlongs, certainly a long way to go before it’s safe to see the Flatter colt getting the 12 furlongs of the Derby, but he did it the way a legitimate contender is supposed to in mid-February. Kobe’s Back came from off the pace, won in fast time and won by open lengths.

Sadler, who seemingly can do no wrong of late on the West Coast, could take his show on the road next and run Kobe’s Back in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in about a months’ time at Oaklawn Park.

Kobe’s Back could meet whoever emerges from Monday’s Southwest Stakes in Hot Springs in the Rebel, which carries plenty of points to secure a spot in the Derby field. The Grade 3 Southwest attracted a dozen entries and goes at 6:09 p.m. ET Monday.

The first three finishers and the fifth-place finisher from the Smarty Jones – Tanzanite Cat, Walt, Coastline and Fire Starter – are back for the Southwest. Joel Rosario rode Kobe’s Back at Santa Anita Sunday and gets the mount on the comebacking D. Wayne Lukas-trained Strong Mandate in the Southwest.

Strong Mandate, mentioned as a top classics contender by his ever-confident conditioner and other pundits, hasn’t been out since his close third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. (Watch Strong Mandate win the Grade 1 Hopeful last summer at Saratoga)

Tapiture, second to Strong Mandate in one of the better maiden races last summer at Saratoga, also makes his 2014 debut in the Southwest for Steve Asmussen. He won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club as a maiden when last seen in the afternoon. …

The crowd that turned out for Saturday afternoon’s racing at Gulfstream was treated to a good show that included victories by classy vets Twilight Eclipse and Initimable Romanee.

Twilight Eclipse, whose rags-to-riches story is well documented even if embellished a bit, was anything but raggedy winning the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida and his 1-length win over Amen Kitten kicked off a lively winner’s circle party by the large group of West Point Thoroughbreds’ partners on hand.

Inimitable Romanee showed her victory in the Grade 2 Long Island was no fluke with a win in the The Very One, although she didn’t do it on the front end again like she did in her native New York. She came from off the pace this time, wearing down Aigue Marine under a well-time ride from Alan Garcia. (Read more about the consistent mare.)…

Oaklawn’s not the only live game in town Monday thanks to the President’s Day holiday and for many East Coast tracks it could feel like a veritable homecoming as they resume following multiple cancellations. Aqueduct lost three days, including the entire weekend, and runs a 10-race card that includes the Hollie Hughes for older state-breds. Laurel lost its weekend, including Saturday’s Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie, but returns with 10 races Monday led by the Grade 3 General George. Good cards on tap at Gulfstream and Santa Anita, too, with the latter running the Grade 2 Buena Vista for fillies and mares on turf.