Another big weekend in the books and a monster one coming up with a boutique 2-year-old sale, Grade 1 steeplechase and the most significant South Florida Kentucky Derby prep of the season.
First things first though as there’s a bit of business to recap from this past weekend, which saw the start of the American steeplechase season, two Derby preps and a little of this and a little of that. We recap it all in this week’s edition of The Monday Special, which if you’re scoring at home is issue No. 9. Enjoy.
Two new names were added to the list of Kentucky Derby contenders after Saturday’s Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and the Grade 3 Sunland Derby at Sunland Park.
Noble Indy moved to No. 1 on the Road to the Kentucky Derby series thanks to earning 100 points for his win in the Louisiana Derby. Equipped with blinkers for the first time – which jockey John Velazquez said made him a little keen on the backstretch, causing some concern – Noble Indy won a three-way photo with Lone Sailor and My Boy Jack.
A WinStar Farm homebred – with Mike Repole as a partner – and son of Take Charge Indy, Noble Indy was third in the Grade 2 Risen Star last month in his first appearance at Fair Grounds. He’s one of four top Derby contenders now for WinStar, which also campaigns Tampa Bay Derby winner Quip and Florida Derby-bound Audible and the 2-for-2 Justify in various partnerships.
Noble Indy also gave Pletcher victories back-to-back Saturdays in the marquee Derby prep, after winning the Grade 2 Rebel a week ago with Magnum Moon. Pletcher also trains Audible.
Need new names to follow on the Derby Trail, or at least some that aren’t as familiar? How about Todd Fincher, Joe Peacock and Runaway Ghost, winners of Sunday’s Sunland Derby?
Fincher trains the homebred son of Ghostzapper for Peacock, who is 86 and has been involved in racing for five decades according to various published reports. Peacock bred Runaway Ghost, who now has 50 points and basically a guaranteed spot in the Derby field, out of his Desert Gold mare Rose’s Desert. Fincher trained Rose’s Desert, too, and she won 10 of 15 starts racing at Sunland and Zia Park from 2010 to 2013.
No doubt that will be one of the feel-good angles in the lead up to this year’s Kentucky Derby May 5 at Churchill Downs.
Easter weekend brings just one domestic Derby prep with the $1 million Xpressbet Florida Derby on tap Saturday at Gulfstream Park.
A field of nine is expected to be drawn for the race that’s produced three of the last five winners of the Kentucky Derby. Audible and Promises Fulfilled, winners of graded stakes at the Gulfstream Championship Meet, are the top draws with Catholic Boy, Speed Franco, Mississippi, Tip Sheet, Storm Runner and Millionaire Runner expected.
All eyes here and abroad Saturday will be on the Dubai World Cup card that features the $10 million headliner and $2 million UAE Derby. Also overseas is Friday’s Burradon Stakes at Newcastle, a race expected to draw Phoenix Thoroughbreds’ Gronkowski
Before the Florida Derby goes down South Florida hosts the Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream selected 2-year-olds in training sale Wednesday. The sale’s under-tack show was Monday and Wednesday’s auction starts at 3 p.m. in the paddock. Watch the under-tack show live on Youtube.
Quick-fire steeplechase report
The opening of the American steeplechase season in the books and familiar name atop the trainer standings.
Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard, the NSA’s leading trainer 25 times and most recently when tied for Jack Fisher in 2013, sent out three of the six winners at the Aiken Spring Steeplechase meeting to zip out to a quick lead.
Sheppard’s big day started in the second race, the 1 1/4-mile James W. Maloney Training Flat when KMSN Stable’s Inverness and Keri Brion won by 1 3/4 lengths over Show Court. Brion also rode Dr. David Richardson’s Kilronan to victory in the opener, the W. C. Jackson maiden training flat, for trainer Arch Kingsley Jr.
Sheppard kept it rolling in the third as Riverdee Stable’s Bite The Bit and Jack Doyle took the $25,000 G. H. Bostwick maiden hurdle by 2 1/2 lengths over Go Get The Basil. Bite The Bit was one of two winners for Doyle, who also rode Sue Sensor’s Street Passage to victory in the $15,000 Ford D. Conger maiden claiming hurdle two races later.
Sheppard’s final came in the last when Kieran Norris rode KMSN Stable’s Able Archer to victory by 10 1/2 lengths in the $20,000 Budweiser Imperial Cup 2-mile ratings handicap hurdle.
The other winner on the day was Change Of View in the $15,000 Charles S. Bird III maiden claiming hurdle for trainer Katherine Neilson and six-time leading NSA owner Irv Naylor.
Two of the three ST Handicappers fared well as Joe and Sean picked three winners on the day – each tabbing Kilronan, Bite The Bit and Street Passage. Tom barely avoided the donut with the winner of the finale, Able Archer, to go with three seconds.
By the Numbers
4: Louisiana Derby wins for Todd Pletcher after sending out Noble Indy to win this year for Repole Stable and WinStar Farm. The others are Circular Quay (2007), Mission Impazible (2010) and Revolutionary (2013).
40: Nominations for Aqueduct’s Grade 2 Wood Memorial next weekend, including champion Good Magic, Firenze Fire and Free Drop Billy. If any of those three Grade 1 winners show up the purse would increase from $750,000 to $1 million.
999: Winners for trainer Rudy Rodriguez after sending out Lezendary to victory in Sunday’s $100,000 Cicada at Aqueduct. Rodriguez, who rode 221 winners as a jockey, will have to wait until at least Friday to make a run at 1,000 with six runners entered at Aqueduct.
“He’s a pure racehorse.”
Riley Mott said on Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap winner Good Samaritan
I’m not going to get spiritual about this thing, but I’ll tell you this – I really felt Mr. Benson was with us today.”
Trainer Tom Amoss after Lone Sailor narrowly lost the Louisiana Derby for the late Benson’s G M B Racing
Tweet of the Week
@TravisStone: “It’s a good thing Noble Indy started his career on December 3 and not 28 days later or else the Apollo “curse” would have him too!”
(Editor’s note: One of our favorites and a former intern at The Special, Stone later joked he was “trolling the Apollo crew.”)
Sad news from the weekend that Art Preston, who owned champion and 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop and champion Groovy with his brothers Jack and J.R., passed away Sunday at age 88 after suffering a head injury the day before.
Preston, who raced with his brothers under the Prestonwood Farm and Prestonwood Racing banners, campaigned two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out in recent years and we were fortunate to catch up with him back in 2013 following his victory in the Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont Park. He and his brothers also owned two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Da Hoss.
Preston loved horses and loved the game. In a feature we wrote titled “Flat Out a true throwback,” he talked about the challenges of getting a good one.
“It’s so hard to come along with one of these kind of horses. When you do you better enjoy it,” said Preston. “I call it the Alysheba story. My friends from Texas, when they owned him they knew what it was like. He was such a classy good horse. Predictable.
“I was talking to [trainer Jack] Van Berg one day and he said he was sound, not a pimple on him. I looked it up a few weeks later and they retired him. I’m sure they were thinking they’ll get another one of those horses. Then they waded in there with those babies, trying to get another good one, and it’s tough. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes you can’t buy ’em, you just have to have some luck. And after you’ve had one, you just want to enjoy it.”
The Best of The Saturday Special
We wrote: Fair Grounds. Race 4. 2:51. Last Bad Habit, son of Arch out of stakes-winning Summer Squall mare, should appreciate the added ground in second start for Al Stall Jr. in 1-mile and 70-yard maiden
Last Bad Habit relished the added ground and won by 2 lengths under Joel Rosario. Hope you bet, he paid $10.80.
The Worst of The Saturday Special
We wrote: Fair Grounds. Race 6. 3:45. Gladyousawme, Ready Prospector, Grand Luwegee, Gracida, Pound For Pound. Throw those names in a hat and you’re sure to have the winner of the $75,000 Crescent City Derby. How’s that for expert advice?
It was terrible advice, considering the winner wasn’t one of the five mentioned in the field of nine. Battle At Sea won it under Jose Ortiz, returning $17.40. Pound For Pound fared the best of our group, second at 9-2 with Gracida third at nearly 7-2.
Stable Tour archives
Back in 2015 we wrote in John Terranova’s Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour: Monte Man: “Long Lake Stables owns him, too. He’s by Custom For Carlos. Eddie Kenneally had Custom For Carlos a few years ago, good sprinter, by More Than Ready. He stands in Louisiana and this is his first crop. Both him and Flying Point are pretty forward, look like they have a bit of talent right now. He looks like an older horse. He came up here and went way forward in a week.”
He’s changed hands a bit since then – he was claimed three times in 2017 – but Monte Man has been unbeaten in four starts for Ron Faucheux and won the $60,000 Costa Rising Saturday at Fair Grounds.