The Saturday Special – April 6

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Fountain of Youth winner Dornoch looks to punch ticket to Kentucky Derby in Saturday’s Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Gulfstream Park Photo.

Now we’re getting serious. Just four weeks until the 150th Kentucky Derby and with three key preps on the slate this weekend the makeup of the field figures to take shape. The Saturday Special previews those preps – from New York, Kentucky and California – recaps last weekend and offers some handicapping advice for those playing on or off track. Here’s The Special for Saturday, April 6.

By the Numbers
119: Winners at the Gulfstream Park Championship Meet for jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who defended his title and took home leading rider honors for the fifth time in the last six seasons.

66: Wins at the Gulfstream meet for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., who also successfully defended his title.

17.1: Percentage increase in all-sources handle for the 50-day winter-spring meeting at Turfway Park. The track reported more than $170 million, nearly $25 million more than 2023.

5: Winners that trainer Linda Rice and jockey Jose Lezcano teamed for on Thursday’s card at Aqueduct.

Names of the Day
Batten Down. Keeneland. Race 1. Juddmonte’s homebred is out of the great Close Hatches.

Pirate. Keeneland. Race 2. The Peter Blum-bred 3-year-old is by Omaha Beach out of Treasure.

Timeout. Keeneland. Race 3. Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider’s homebred is out of Lull. Of course.

I Am The Game. Gulfstream Park. Race 5. Big shoes to fill. The first I Am The Game was a Maryland star back in the 80s.

Worth Repeating
“It seems like the more times you watch it the more impressive it looks.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher on Fierceness’ blowout Florida Derby victory last weekend

“Normally when you get beat 13 lengths, you won’t be too happy, but we were beaten, obviously, by a special horse. I thought there were some good horses that finished behind him, so that’s what makes me feel like he ran well.”
Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. on Florida Derby runner-up Catalytic

“It’s surreal. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not normal to do it once, [but] twice in back-to-back years to win this race and go in with the Kentucky Derby favorite? As you guys know from the past, a lot can happen from now to post time, but we saw something pretty special today.”
Owner Mike Repole after Fierceness’ victory

“It is a privilege to have any horse run at Keeneland but to have one in such a historic race is really a privilege. Keeneland is like the royalty of horse racing in America.”
Trainer John Ennis, who will send out Icicles in Saturday’s Grade 1 Madison at Keeneland

“He was flat today. I’m afraid he ran too hard last time and it looked like he bounced. He was very nervous before the race too and that’s not usually him.”
Jockey Florent Geroux on Saudi Crown, 12th in last weekend’s Godolphin Mile

“He brings it every time, he ran a really good race. He might have started his run a little early trying to catch Laurel River and maybe that cost us a placing. Hats off to Laurel River, he freaked on everybody there.”
Trainer Todd Fincher on Dubai World Cup third-place finisher Senor Buscador

“I’ve had a few four-win days, a lot of three-win days, but not five in one day. It is pretty exciting. The races went for me. Did I think we’d win five? No, not necessarily, but I knew we would have a good day.”
Trainer Linda Rice after her big day Thursday

Handicapper’s Corner
Double duty for the team this week with handicapping from Aqueduct and Keeneland. The Wood Memorial and Blue Grass take top billing at those respective tracks, but a strong undercard for each packs a punch. Here are the picks:

Keeneland

John Shapazian (20/74):
1-Batten Down, Banned For Life, El Magnifico.
2-Scatify, Pirate, Bledsoe.
3-Discreet Mischief, Time Out, Carnitine.
4-Surveillance, Miles Ahead, Night Time.
5-Thornbury, Artempus, Cyber Attack.
6-Minnesota Ready, Here Mi Song, Wico.
7-Kairyu, Pounce, Guchu.
8-Vahva, Sterling Silver, Red Carpet Ready.
9-Mischief Magic, Arzak, Panther Island.
10-Dornoch, Just A Touch, Be You.
11-Running Bee, Dominican Pioneer, Master Piece.

Tom Law (17/74):
1-Batten Down, Banned For Life, Bourbon Society.
2-Scatify, Pirate, Guanare.
3-Discreet Mischief, Timeout, Counter Attack.
4-Miles Ahead, Prevalence, Night Time.
5-Stop The Press, Thornbury, Artempus.
6-Raise Cain, Minnesota Ready, Wico.
7-Pounce, Kairyu, Buchu.
8-Alva Starr, Sterling Silver, Red Carpet Ready.
9-Mischief Magic, Arzak, Front Run The Fed.
10-Dornoch, Be You, Just A Touch.
11-Running Bee, Kitodan, Mastaer Piece.

Charles Bedard (12/74):
1-Elephants Ear, Batten Down, El Magnifico.
2-Guanare, Scatify, Pirate.
3-Discreet Mischief, Availability, Counter Attack.
4-Miles Ahead, Surveillance, Classier.
5-Artempus, White Palamino, Chasing Kitty.
6-Minnesota Ready, Wico, Raise Cain.
7-Kairyu, Pounce, Living Magic.
8-Alva Starr, Vahva, Big Pond.
9-Mischief Magic, Coppola, Panther Island.
10-Sierra Leone, Dornoch, Epic Ride.
11-Master Piece, Running Bee, Dominican Pioneer.

Rob Whitlock (12/62):
1-Banned For Life, Batten Down, Eusebius.
2-Pirate, Guanare, Scatify.
3-Bookie Brent, Discreet Mischief, Carnitine.
4-Miles Ahead, Prevalence, Surveillance.
5-Stop The Press, Artempus, Cyber Attack.
6-Bo Cruz, Minnesota Ready, Simply In Front.
7-Kairyu, Pounce, Living Magic.
8-Vahva, Alva Starr, Red Carpet Ready.
9-Mischief Magic, Arzak, Eamonn.
10-Dornoch, Lat Long, Sierra Leone.
11-Master Piece, Running Bee, Kitodan.

Jessica Paquette (16/74):
1-Batten Down, El Magnifico, Banned For Life.
2-Pirate, Ballal, Scatify.
3-D’oro Unbridled, Timeout, Carnitine.
4-Prevalence, Surveillance, Classier.
5-White Palomino, Artempus, Thornbury.
6-Wico, Raise Cain, Manny Wah.
7-Living Magic, Pounce, Kairyu.
8-Vahva, Red Carpet Ready, Sterling Silver.
9-Arzak, Mischief Magic, Coppola.
10-Dornoch, Seize The Gray, Just A Touch.
11-Running Bee, Master Piece, Ocean Atlantique.

Aqueduct

John Shapazian (20/74):
1-Supremacy Clause, Two Tons Of Fun, Aleah Aleah.
2-Krakow entry, Kazmike, Fortune’s Nephew.
3-Digital, Krakow entry, Candy Tycoon.
4-Post Time, Super Chow, Petulante.
5-Focus Pocus, Five To Two, Al’s Ruby.
6-Fingal’s Cave, Hot Fudge, Ain’t Broke.
7-Bendoog, Vespucci, Lucency.
8-Life Talk, Carmelia, Gin Gin.
9-Proprietary Trade, Maximus Meridius, Classic Joke.
10-Deterministic, Resilience, Tuscan Sky.
11-Peony, Better Be Smart, Ariana Rye.

Tom Law (17/74):
1-Supremacy Clause, Laser Sharp, Arteta.
2-Sharpaz, Fortune’s Nephew, Laurel Valley.
3-Candy Tycoon, Digital, Striking Speed.
4-Post Time, Whittington Park, Super Chow.
5-Focus Pocus, Five To Two, Calling An Audible.
6-Fingal’s Cave, Hot Fudge, Ain’t Broke.
7-Bendoog, Vepucci, Summer Cause.
8-Life Talk, Where’s My Ring, Whocouldaskformo.
9-Maximus Meridius, Classic Joke, Proprietary Tale.
10-Elysian Meadows, Tuscan Sky, Deterministic.
11-Peony, Better Be Smart, Ariana Rye.

Charles Bedard (12/74):
1-Laser Sharp, Two Tons Of Fun, Piccata Prince.
2-Kantamaci entry, Persistent Danger, Fortune’s Nephew.
3-Digital, Kantamaci entry, Wild Banker.
4-Post Time, Castle Chaos, Petulante.
5-Focus Pocus, Calling An Audible, Al’s Ruby.
6-Hot Fudge, Apple Picker, Ain’t Broke.
7-Mistical Curlin, Vespucci, Bendoog.
8-Life Talk, Whocouldaskformo, Where’s My Ring.
9-Proprietary Trade, Maximus Meridius, Shea D World.
10-Tuscan Sky, Deterministic, Resilience.
11-Peony, Better Be Smart, Mary Union Ave.

Rob Whitlock (12/62):
1-Laser Sharp, Guild, Arteta.
2-Kantarmaci entry, Laurel Valley, Graywing.
3-Candy Tycoon, Clem Labine, Kantarmaci entry.
4-Petulante, Super Chow, Whittington Park.
5-Focus Pocus, Calling An Audible, Dunabawi Wowi.
6-Shidabuti, Ain’t Broke, Fingal’s Cave.
7-Bendoog, Vespucci, Lucency.
8-Life Talk, Carmelina, Regulatory Risk.
9-Proprietary Trade, Maximus Meridius, Classic Joke.
10-Evening News, Tuscan Sky, Deterministic. 
11-Better Be Smart, Mommasgotagun, Peony.

Jessica Paquette (16/74):
1-Laser Sharp, Supremacy Clause, Two Tons Of Fun.
2-Sharpaz, Little Luca, Laurel Valley.
3-Striking Speed, Comedy Tycoon, Digital.
4-Petulante, Post Time, Whittington Park.
5-Pampaloma Red, Focus Pocus, Al’s Ruby.
6-Fingal’s Cave, Aint Broke, Apple Picker.
7-Lucency, Bendoog, Summer Cause.
8-Whocouldaskformo, Carmelina, Barbratina.
9-Proprietary Trade, Augustine Red, Maximus Meridius.
10-Uncle Heavy, Resilience, Deterministic.
11-Peony, Find Your Joy, Better Be Smart.

Jockey of the Week
“This is why we are here. This is what we work for, for opportunities like this. It’s exciting,” said Hall of Famer John Velazquez after winning the Grade 1 Florida Derby in record setting fashion aboard 2023 champion Fierceness. Velazquez also posted wins in the Grade 3 Ghostzapper and the Appleton Stakes leading the panel of racing experts to vote Velazquez Jockey of the Week for March 25-31.

The weekly award recognizes jockeys for riding accomplishments and who are members of the Jockeys’ Guild, the organization which represents more than 1050 active, retired and permanently disabled jockeys in the United States.

Riding for trainer Antonio Sano, Velazquez was aboard Il Miracolo for the first time in the Ghostzapper. Velazquez settled the four-year-old Gun Runner colt in third just behind the leaders through the first quarter. The duo split horses rounding the far turn, with Il Miracolo continuing to fight gamely along the rail down the stretch to just nail the favorite Tumbarumba at the wire.

In Race 13, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey gave a leg up to Velazquez on Smokin T in the Appleton. Breaking from post nine in the field of 10, Smokin T raced along the rail in mid-pack. Velazquez angled Smokin T out to the seven path on the far turn while in traffic and behind a wall of horses. With seemingly nowhere to go, Velazquez found room late taking the lead in the final strides to win by a head.

“There was some room there, I poked his head through there and I got after him and he responded,” Velazquez said.

The question of the day came in Race 14, would the real Fierceness show up in the $1 million Florida Derby after his disappointing third place finish in the Grade 3 Holy Bull. That question was answered most emphatically. With regular rider Velazquez in the irons, the reigning juvenile champ posted a record-setting 13 3/4-length triumph in 1:48.22 for the 1-1/8 miles over a fast track. It was the sixth Florida Derby win for Velazquez and the eighth for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.

“When he broke, I was very confident in what he was doing,” Velazquez said. “I was expecting this out of him. I was just thinking he can’t be lying to me, the way he works. He showed up today and did it today.”

Next stop, Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May as the likely favorite in the Kentucky Derby.

Other nominees for Jockey of the Week were Daniel Centeno who won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, Juan Hernandez with two graded stakes wins including the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, Brian Hernandez Jr., who won the Grade 2 Fantasy at Oaklawn and Irad Ortiz Jr. with two stakes wins including the Grade 3 Orchid as well as earning the leading jockey title at Gulfstream Park.

As for the races …
Auteuil. Race 5. 8:15 a.m. Perhaps, the most dynamic chaser in the world. Il Est Francais returns for his first start since an electric win in the Kauto Star at Kempton over Christmas. The 6-year-old towers above five rivals, including stablemate Gallipoli, in the Grade 2 Murat Chase.

Kempton. Race 2. 9:05. Mystic Pearl returns from a busy winter in the Dubai. The 4-year-old filly faces nine rivals, including listed winner Many Tears, in the Snowdrop Stakes.

Kempton. Race 3. 9:40. Fresh off his 4-year-old winning debut, Intinso steps into the Roseberry Handicap for John and Thady Gosden.

Uttoxeter. Race 3. 9:45. Harry Cobden keeps his foot on the floor in pursuit of his first jockey championship. The leader over Sean Bowen rides Blue Beach for Melanie Rowley in the filly and mare hurdle and a bumper for James Owen to finish the card. Bowen counters with rides in the fourth and sixth for Olly Murphy.

Curragh. Race 3. 9:55. Group 2 winner Crypto Force returns in the Grade 3 Alleged Stakes.

Aqueduct. Race 1. 11:30. Wood Memorial Day starts early with 6 1/2-furlong maiden for 3-year-olds.

Aqueduct. Race 4. 12:51 p.m. First stakes on the card, the Grade 2 Carter Handicap presented by NYRA Bets. Post Time brings his quirky personality to New York for the first time off three straight stakes wins at Laurel for Brittany Russell. He’s deserving favorite in field that also includes Super Chow, Petulante, Whittington Park and Castle Chaos.

Keeneland Race Course. Race 1. 1:00. One of racing’s crown jewel days, Blue Grass Day in Lexington. Kick it off with a 1 1/16-mile maiden for 3-year-olds worth $100,000.

Keeneland. Race 2. 1:32. Stakes-caliber allowance-optional with Scatify, Pirate and Guanare in the field.

Aqueduct. Race 6. 1:53. The Grade 3 Distaff looks like good spot for Fingal’s Cave to start her 5-year-old campaign, but plenty of top threats here with Hot Fudge and Ain’t Broke leading the way.

Aqueduct. Race 8. 2:58. Spots in the Kentucky Oaks on the line here in the Grade 3 Gazelle. Interesting cast here with Southern California shipper Where’s My Ring in the field against several who wintered in South Florida, including Life Talk.

Santa Anita Park. Race 1. 3:00. Another signature American card kicks off – Santa Anita Derby Day – with Cal-bred maiden sprinting on the turf.

Aqueduct. Race 9. 3:30. Maximus Meridius shortens back up after Gotham effort and takes on Proprietary Trade, Classic Joke, Mission Beach and others in the Grade 3 Bay Shore.

Keeneland. Race 6. 3:40. The Grade 3 Commonwealth leads off the stakes portion of the card.

Aqueduct. Race 10. 4:07. The featured event of the day, the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino. Spots in the Kentucky Derby field at stakes in 9-furlong test and it’s a toss-up if you don’t like Deterministic. Plenty to like about that son of Liam’s Map, especially after his comeback victory last month on a sloppy track. A dozen others are in the mix, all carrying their connections’ Derby dreams.

Keeneland. Race 7. 4:14. The Grade 2 Appalachian presented by Japan Racing Association, a 1-mile stakes on the grass for 3-year-old fillies always proves a puzzle.

Santa Anita. Race 4. 4:30. Mirinda finished third as odds-on favorite last time and looks to make amends in $125,000 Evening Jewel for 3-year-old Cal-bred fillies.

Gulfstream Park. Race 8. 4:37. The Championship Meet ended last week but plenty of top races, horses and connections remain in South Florida, including in this allowance-optional on the grass.

Keeneland. Race 8. 4:48. New York-bred multiple stakes winner Sterling Silver returns to the bluegrass for the Grade 1 Resolute Racing Madison Stakes, where she meets Red Carpet Ready, Alva Starr, Vahva and others in strong fixture.

Keeneland. Race 9. 5:20. Switch over to the grass for the Grade 2 Shakertown going 5 1/2 furlongs. Charlie Appleby and Godolphin loom large with Mischief Magic, winner of the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at the track and trip; while Beer Can Man, Arzak and Coppola all drew well to his outside.

Oaklawn Park. Race 8. 5:27. EightArkansas-bred 3-year-old fillies line up for the $150,000 Rainbow Miss at 6 furlongs.

Santa Anita. Race 6. 5:32. Kinza stands out in Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks, which figures to be her prep for the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan since trainer Bob Baffert can’t race at Churchill Downs. Kopion, runner-up to the top pick in the Las Virgenes, skipped the Santa Ysabel and could punch ticket to the Kentucky Oaks with a good run.

Keeneland. Race 10. 5:52. The Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass seem like it’s all about Remsen and Fountain of Youth winner Dornoch and Risen Star winner Sierra Leone, but nine other contenders are in the field with eyes on the Kentucky Derby. Be You might be worth a look at a price.

Fonner Park. Race 9. 6:22. Another Saturday, another stakes in Nebraska. Here’s the $25,000 Dowd Mile featuring a field of 10 led by It’s a Wrap, Slim Slow Slider and Prayforpeace.

Oaklawn. Race 10. 6:40. Landlord looked good winning for a tag last month and takes step up against Twenty To Park, Strike Ridge and others in $150,000 Rainbow Stakes for Arkanasas-bred sophomores.

Santa Anita. Race 9. 7:09. The Grade 3 Monrovia going 6 1/2 furlongs on the downill turf course.

Santa Anita. Race 10. 7:45. Remember the days when the major Derby preps would at least be somewhat close together? Here’s the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, set for almost four hours after the Wood Memorial and more than two hours after the Blue Grass. Ah well, small problems in a racing world riddled with issues. Imagination, trained by the Derby-banished Bob Baffert, leads the field of eight that also includes his stablemate and Grade 2 Los Al Futurity winner Wynstock, Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby winner Stronghold, El Camino Real Derby runner-up Tapalo and others.

Santa Anita. Race 12. 8:46. Finish the day out West with the $125,000 Echo Eddie for 3-year-old Cal-breds on the main track.

Evangeline Downs. Race 7. 9:13. Still going strong and need a break from the Final Four? How about the $60,000 Lafayette Stakes for 3-year-olds at 6 furlongs?

Evangeline. Race 8. 9:40. Double Crowntakes his show to Louisiana for the $100,000 Evangeline Mile, which also attracts stakes winner Five Star General, Kapuna, Eyeing Clover and Strong Eagle.