Award-winning BloodHorse senior correspondent Steve Haskin presents his Derby Dozen for the week, which offers an opinionated overview of leading contenders for the 144th Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 5.
Last weekend, Flameaway held on to win the Sam F. Davis Stakes over favored Catholic Boy in the only Kentucky Derby points race on the schedule. Three more races are on tap for the upcoming holiday weekend schedule: the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford at Fair Grounds and the $100,000 El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, both on Saturday; and the Grade 3, $500,000 Southwest Stakes on President’s Day at Oaklawn Park.
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1. Good Magic
He continues to pick up the tempo in the morning. Working in company with the classy Economic Model and breaking off on the inside, he got away a bit slowly in front of his workmate, tossing his head around a bit and allowing Economic Model to pass him before leveling off and establishing a neck advantage, which he never relinquished. He dug in and seemed to get his competitive juices flowing, refusing to let Economic Model get his head in front. After five-eighths in 1:01 2/5, the pair galloped out strongly with Good Magic maintaining his neck advantage, while appearing to do everything effortlessly. This was an excellent sharpener, even with the Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes several weeks away. This colt is such an efficient mover and already looks fit. If he continues to be this competitive and focused, there is no doubt he will be sharp and dead-fit for his 3-year-old debut, something he will need to be, having only two starts planned this spring leading up to the Kentucky Derby.
2. Bolt d’Oro
His string of solid works continued with a half-mile in :47 4/5, in which he ran up behind a pair of other workers at the top of the stretch, forcing him to go about six-wide turning for home. He appeared to be going smoothly down the stretch under no urging at all, finishing just behind the other two workers. With the San Vicente Stakes run this past weekend, he definitely was missed, especially with the abundance of speed in the race and how the winner won. As everyone knows by now, that was his intended debut, which very well could have earned him the No. 1 spot, but a pulled muscle altered his plans and he now will have to wait until the March 10 San Felipe Stakes. It is interesting to note that although he was beaten 5 ¼ lengths by Good Magic in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, he ran a half-point faster than the winner on Thoro-Graph and 3 ¼ points faster than runner-up Solomini. He also is the only 3-year-old to have run a negative number, which came in the FrontRunner Stakes. To his credit, he still ran a big number in the Juvenile, despite his wide trip and regressing slightly off his previous huge effort. Javier Castellano, who also rides Instilled Regard and Audible, has the mount, and a victory in his return will make for some interesting decisions. Bolt d’Oro has the looks and the pedigree, and gets one of the best riders in the country. He has won Grade 1 stakes at seven furlongs and 1 1/16 miles and his only defeat was a complete toss, so there is little not to like.
3. Catholic Boy
Although some may be down on him following his half-length defeat in the Sam F. Davis at 7-10 odds, and are surprised he’s still ranked this high, I feel, with only two Derby preps scheduled, it was more important for him to get a lot out of the race than actually win, and this should set him up well for the March 31 Xpressbet.com Florida Derby or wherever he goes next and put some bottom and toughness into him. Remember, he had only four easy breezes since winning the Remsen Stakes, two of them at Bridlewood Farm, so he can be excused for coming up a bit short against a horse, Flameaway, who has proven himself to be a tenacious, gutsy competitor on the lead who had a good sharpener on the grass in January. Flameaway broke the stakes record in the Sam Davis, so this race was legitimate. Catholic Boy, on the other hand, was coming off the 1 1/8-mile Remsen, a race that I believe can dull a horse, and he needed this kind of race to sharpen him up and get him fit. In addition, he didn’t have an ideal trip, making a right-hand turn coming out of the gate from the outside post, going four-wide into the first turn, and then forced to make an early move down the backstretch, still on the outside, to reach contention. He accelerated smoothly around the turn to eyeball the winner, but couldn’t get by him, tiring just a bit in the final sixteenth, run in a shade under :06 2/5. We all know how quirky Tampa Bay Downs can be, and this track seemed to be favoring horses on or just off the pace. He needs a setup like he used to get on the grass, where he can sit back longer and save something for the stretch. Although third-place finisher Vino Rosso was closing in one him at the finish, he was giving Vino Rosso six pounds and had done all the dirty work, going after and battling with the winner. So, all in all, this was a good prep. Trainer Jonathan Thomas, who originally had planned on the Sam Davis and Florida Derby, now says everything is in play. I would like to see two more starts for some cushion, but it looks like he’ll have only one more start, which would rule out the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby on March 10, as making that your final prep is way too early to train up to the Kentucky Derby.
You have to love the way he is progressing. He was sharp in his five-furlong work in 1:00 1/5, third fastest of 53 works at the distance at Santa Anita Park. He settled a length behind his workmate and had his head cocked to the outside at the head of stretch, but switched leads smoothly, quickly leveled off, and was just gliding down the stretch, then galloped out strongly. He is just a beautiful-moving colt, and I love the way he carries his head. It was once said of Bob Baffert, “I had never seen Bobby so disheartened. Cavonnier’s loss (in the 1996 Kentucky Derby) haunted him for a year. It ate at him and ate at him. When he came back the following year and walked out of the Derby Museum after seeing the slide presentation, he had tears in his eyes. He said to himself, ‘I’ve got to win this race.’” It is 21 years later, and Baffert has gone on to win four Kentucky Derbys – and now he attempts to win it with a horse named after the person who said those words, Brad McKinzie, who died last August and who Baffert’s mother used to call the “fifth and nicest Baffert brother.” When Baffert won his first Derby with Silver Charm, he looked down and saw his best friend “crying like a baby.” You can bet when Baffert saddles McKinzie on the first Saturday in May he is going to be thinking, “I’ve got to win this race.” But this time not for himself.
The strong Santa Anita works continued with his six-furlong drill in 1:13, as he prepares to ship back to Fair Grounds for Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford, where he drew post 5 in the field of 10. This should be a tougher test than the Lecomte Stakes with some new faces, like Noble Indy, and an improved and more experienced Principe Guilherme, who gets an eight-pound weight shift in his favor. But if he takes another step forward and actually improves off the Lecomte, he is going to be very tough to beat once again, especially with his perfect running style, laying just behind the pace and using his high cruising speed to run his opposition into the ground. And his breeding says the farther the better, so we’re expecting big things from him over the next few months. In his latest work, he leveled off beautifully right from the start and was being pushed along pretty good in the stretch, where he was reaching out with great extension. Like McKinzie, he has a smooth, efficient stride and is a pleasure to watch in action. His Thoro-Graph number did not improve much from the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity to the Lecomte, but there is plenty of time to push the digits up a few points.
In his latest half-mile work in :48 2/5, he broke off inside his workmate, a half-length in front. He seemed to get competitive on the turn, then drifted off the rail turning for home. He again was carrying his head a bit high and was climbing for a few strides while still on his left lead. But he was much smoother once he switched to his right lead, and finished up well. He kept going full-out past the wire, with the rider throwing several crosses on him. This appeared to be a good learning experience being inside his workmate. He still has some rough edges to smooth out, as he has shown in his last two works and in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity, but he looks to be coming along well since missing some time with a fever. The key is for Bob Baffert to get the kinks worked out before the first Saturday in May. No doubt the talent is there, as is the pedigree; he just has to find a rhythm and a running style in which he’s comfortable. He and McKinzie most likely will split up, with one going in the San Felipe Stakes and the other heading to Baffert’s playground in Hot Springs, Ark., where he has already struck this year with Mourinho.
He’s certainly been the most dynamic of the 3-year-olds seen so far, the way he soundly defeated Free Drop Billy and crushed Tiz Mischief and Enticed in the Holy Bull Stakes, but his pedigree still raises concerns about distance. However, he has turned in some impressive closing fractions in his last two starts, so that is a big positive. In his allowance race, he came home his last two quarters in :24 3/5, and in the Holy Bull he came home in :23 4/5 and :06 flat. So we know he can motor home and pull away from his opponents. He sure came a long way from an off-the-turf allowance race against three opponents to dominating some of the best 3-year-olds in the country in the Holy Bull. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess. Off his 99 Beyer Speed Figure and 15-point jump, his nearly three-point improvement on Thoro-Graph, combined with two runaway victories, one would think in these speed figure-conscious times they might consider passing the Fountain of Youth Stakes and wait for the Florida Derby, but we will see if Audible has other ideas and tells them he needs to run back. The truth is, we really have no idea at this point what we’re dealing with.
His connections were thrilled with his second-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes, considering it was his first start since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile debacle and he was giving six pounds to the victorious Audible, earned a 90 Beyer speed figure, and finished far ahead of Tiz Mischief and Enticed. Dale Romans does not crank his horses up early in the year, so the best should be yet to come. This is a colt who loves to train and loves to race and just does everything the right way. Between his solid effort, in which he raced close to the pace, and his fast works, it seems obvious this is a much sharper horse. For those who hold the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile against him, he’s already come back and run big, just as other top horses have done who ran inexplicably bad races at Del Mar, like Unique Bella, Accelerate, and Giant Expectations – and even Stellar Wind ran much better in the Pegasus World Cup after finishing dead-last in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff. What I love about his pedigree in relation to the Derby is that his sire Union Rags was fast enough to win stakes at 6 ½ furlongs and one mile, and also win at 1 ½ miles. His dam placed in stakes from 1 1/16 miles to 1 3/8 miles; his second dam was a Grade 1 winner at seven furlongs; his broodmare sire was exceptional at a mile to 1 ¼ miles; his great-grandsire, Fappiano, is a tremendous influence at a mile to 1 ¼ miles; his great great-grandsire, In Reality, is a tremendous influence at a mile to 1 ¼ miles, which was his strength as a racehorse. Furthermore, Free Drop Billy traces back to Prince John and Dr. Fager, both tremendous influences at a mile to 1 ¼ miles, with Dr. Fager breaking records at both distances. So, this is a pedigree that is made for the Kentucky Derby, one that is inundated with mile speed and the ability to carry it 1 ¼ miles with no problem.
9. Vino Rosso
Two weeks ago, I devoted four paragraphs to him because I was impressed with everything I saw in his first two starts. He seemed to have all the tools, despite not running off the screen. Now he has proven himself to be a legitimate Derby contender following his strong third-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. He gained a lot experience, racing in second between horses early, then being passed by Catholic Boy, dropping back to fifth. Around the turn, he didn’t seem to be going anywhere and didn’t respond when John Velazquez went to an early left-handed whip. But many Todd Pletcher horses often look dead in the water on the turn, only to find a second wind or second gear after turning for home. Even in the stretch, he seemed to be plodding along in third, four lengths behind Flameaway and Catholic Boy, and not making a dent on those two despite a series of left-handed whips. But when Velazquez stopped hitting him and switched the whip to his right hand at the sixteenth pole, he took off and was gobbling up the ground with long powerful strides, running through the wire, as they say. He was beaten 1 ¼ lengths, but was 1 ½ lengths in front shortly after the wire. What I also liked is that he was four lengths in front of Hollywood Star at the eighth pole and 8 ½ lengths ahead of him at the wire, so the margin was him powering forward rather than the first two coming back to him. This was an important race for him because he had been playing with his opponents in his first two starts, winning by just as much as he had to, but now against far better company he got a much needed wake-up call and became a Derby horse at the sixteenth pole. And the best is yet to come.
10. Avery Island
If you are a Beyer Speed Figure pundit, and you don’t like horses running monster numbers early and possibly peaking too early, you will like his progression of 51, 79, 81, 83, and 87, the last coming in his Withers Stakes win. But not only does he need to get faster on Beyer, according to Thoro-Graph figures, the Withers was a slow race and he needs a big jump next time just to get within range of the top horses. If he does continue to improve and starts getting up into the serious numbers, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be peaking at the right time. He doesn’t have a big turn of foot and seems to be more of a grinder with one pace, but that one pace is a strong one that should allow him to maintain a good position in all his races and just keep going. A horse like this can adapt much easier to any kind of pace, whether it’s a very slow pace that allows him to be on or near the lead or a stronger pace that will allow him take back a bit farther. He does not possess sprint speed as he demonstrated in his career debut at six furlongs, but was handy enough to press a solid pace in the one-turn mile Nashua Stakes and draw off to an authoritative win. What I would like to see from him now is the ability to come home a bit quicker, otherwise he will be susceptible to horses with a big late kick, as he was in the Remsen when he was unable to match strides with Catholic Boy.
He seems to be Bob Baffert’s forgotten horse, with most of the attention on McKinzie and Solomini. But if you watch his works, you have to think he is right up there as a Baffert Derby contender. Following his sharp six-furlong work in 1:12 2/5 last week, he came right back with an equally impressive seven-furlong work in 1:26. Baffert certainly isn’t taking his training lightly and is really turning the screws. He broke off three lengths behind workmate Show Time Rocket, closed in approaching the top of the stretch, switched leads on cue, and was under only mild urging in the stretch, while Show Time Rocket was being hard ridden. Inside the sixteenth pole, Mourinho kicked into another gear and charged past his workmate, crossing the wire 1 ½ lengths in front, then continued to be ridden around the turn. He is scheduled to run in the Southwest Stakes next Monday, with jockey Drayden Van Dyke back aboard, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t improve off his impressive score in the Smarty Jones Stakes. But can he top his brilliant 99 Beyer Speed Figure in that race?
There is no doubt this colt is a fighter, but I had to rank him below the two horses he defeated in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, mainly because he had an advantage being allowed to control the pace, he was precocious enough last year to debut at 4 ½ furlongs, he wasn’t nominated to the Triple Crown, and trainer Mark Casse was unsure about putting him on dirt. It was owner John Oxley who asked to give it a try. Some may feel that Scat Daddy, a son of speed influence Johannesburg, may compromise him at 1 ¼ miles, but Scat Daddy came from off the pace to win the Champagne Stakes, Fountain of Youth Stakes, and Florida Derby (but never made it past the Kentucky Derby). Flameaway’s broodmare sire Fusaichi Pegasus won the Kentucky Derby and his female family is a virtual “Who’s Who” of European classic and Group 1 winners. His second dam, Rose of Tara, is a half-sister to the great filly Salsabil, winner of the English 1,000 Guineas and Oaks and Prix Vermeille, and who became the first filly in 90 years to win the Irish Derby. Rose of Tara’s sire, Generous, won the English Derby, Irish Derby, and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, while her dam, Flame of Tara, won the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and was second against the boys in the Champion Stakes. Flame of Tara is by Artaius, a son of Round Table, who won of the Eclipse and Sussex Stakes and was second in the French Derby and Benson and Hedges Gold Cup. Generous’ sire, Caerleon, won the French Derby and Benson and Hedges Gold Cup. And Flameaway’s fourth dam, Welsh Flame, is by Welsh Pageant, champion older horse in England. In addition to all that, Flameaway is inbred top and bottom to the great Nijinsky II, the last winner of the English Triple Crown. So, we know why he is adept on both grass and dirt and can carry his speed a distance. And he is two-for-two on sloppy and muddy tracks. We just don’t know how he’ll do if he has to come from off the pace and isn’t given a chance to fight back on the lead when challenged, as he’s done in his last two starts. What we do know is that you don’t want to get into a dogfight with this guy.
Knocking At the Door
Although Firenze Fire has run a couple of solid Thoro-Graph numbers in his career, his number in the Withers Stakes was a significant decline from the Jerome Stakes, perhaps because he came back in three weeks off a pretty hard race. Now, like Avery Island, he needs to make a big move forward against what promises to be tougher competition. With others emerging on the scene and showing great promise, there is no choice but to take a wait-and-see attitude. I am still a big fan of his, but as we get closer to the Kentucky Derby I need to see a sign that he is fast enough to keep improving at 1 1/8 miles. We do know that he is going to give 100 percent every time, and I would love to see him prove he could be a legitimate contender on the first Saturday in May.
Speaking of Thoro-Graph numbers, I do not like relying too much on speed figures in general, especially this early in the year, but if you do follow Thoro-Graph and base a lot of your handicapping on those numbers, then it is worth noting that Good Magic, Bolt d’Oro, McKinzie, and Audible are far ahead of the most of the others when it comes to speed. The two who are right there with them are Mask, who is sidelined, and Noble Indy, who makes his stakes debut next Saturday in the Risen Star Stakes. The others have improving to do. But some are at least on a good trajectory. Speaking of Noble Indy, his Thoro-Graph numbers in his two career starts indicate this is a very fast horse who is coming off a very fast allowance race at Gulfstream Park, in which he scored by a hard-earned three-quarters of a length over a talented horse in Mississippi, who finished 6 ½ lengths ahead of the third horse. Noble Indy’s time of 1:42 2/5 was the same as Flameaway’s in the Sam F. Davis. He has had issues at the starting gate and Todd Pletcher had John Velazquez work him before his last start, and he seemed to be better. He still does have a tendency to wait on horses once in front, and Pletcher has been working on that as well. A victory in the Risen Star will no doubt catapult him way up on the Top 12. I’m just not quite ready to put a third Pletcher horse up there until he proves himself against quality stakes horses. But he surely is one to watch.
Trainer Brad Cox has High North razor sharp for the Risen Star following solid five-furlong works in 1:00 flat and 1:01, and a :48 1/5 half. The son of Midnight Lute had a ton of trouble early in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last fall, having steady going into the first turn and dropping way off the pace, back in 12th. He closed fast to finish a good fourth, but his backers will have to hope he fares better than the first two finishers of that race, Enticed and Tiz Mischief, who came back and were well beaten in the Holy Bull Stakes.
One new face who might be worth keeping an eye on in the Risen Star is the Mike Stidham-trained Supreme Aura, who is undefeated in two sprints, winning at Delaware Park last year and Fair Grounds this year, scoring by 4 ¾ and 3 ½ lengths. The son of Candy Ride has been working super at Fair Grounds, breezing five furlongs on a good track in 1:00 2/5 and following that up with a strong six-furlong breeze in 1:12 2/5. It will be interesting to see how he stretches out against such a strong field.
D. Wayne Lukas has entered recent allowance winner Bravazo in Saturday’s Risen Star, but he also intends to enter him in Monday’s Southwest Stakes just in case the race is split. Lukas also has last year’s Hopeful Stakes winner Sporting Chance sharp and ready for his comeback race at Oaklawn, and would prefer to run Bravazo at home as well if he can separate the two horses. Sporting Chance tuned up for the Southwest by working five furlongs in 1:00 2/5.
Yes, the pace meltdown in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes following a scorching :44 1/5 half set it up for a closer, but that was still some striking move by Kanthaka. Now, if we only knew how far he wants to go. By Jimmy Creed, out of a Noonmark mare, there is a question mark about stamina, also due to the vastly uneven splits of :22, :22.25, :25.64, and :12.73. So Kanthaka’s explosive move came in a very slow quarter. But his final eighth was decent enough, and visually he looked like he wanted to go farther. Nothing to do now but wait until he stretches out to two turns and see if that monster turn of foot is still evident. Give credit to runner-up Nero, who was only beaten 3 ¼ lengths after pressing that brutal pace, and more importantly, finished 12 lengths ahead of the third horse. He is another we would love to see stretch out to two turns, based on the fact that he is not even bred to sprint, with plenty of stamina on top and bottom. He just needs to relax better early and not get caught up in torrid fractions. In his career debut, he blew a 2 ½-length lead at the eighth pole and was nosed at the wire, after which Bob Baffert put blinkers on and he again dueled for the lead, winning by a nose. Baffert started him out in two 5 ½-furlong races, so he apparently was looking at him as a sprinter. The question is, can he harness some of that speed and let his pedigree take him farther? There is a name in his pedigree you rarely, if ever, see. His tail-female family traces to Dancer’s Image, who despite what the history books say, won the 1968 Kentucky Derby. As for the 2-5 favorite, Ax Man, he broke slowly from the dreaded rail, was rushed up and ran into more than he bargained for on the front end.
Baffert has three solid Derby contenders, one classy sprinter looking to stretch out, and one sleeper, who I have been high on since his career debut. That sleeper is recent maiden winner Restoring Hope, who remained sharp by working a half-mile at Santa Anita in :47 3/5, fourth fastest of 101 works at the distance. All Baffert has to do is find a spot for him. The March 25 Sunland Derby could be a long-range plan for him or Nero, or a trip back East. Nero could be a good fit going a flat mile at Aqueduct, and the March 10 Gotham Stakes is exactly a month from the San Vicente, so the timing is good. Baffert also looks ready to unleash his speedball Zulfikhar, who hasn’t run since winning his debut last July going five furlongs. He is way too far behind for the Derby, but Baffert has now worked him seven furlongs in 1:26 and more recently six furlongs in 1:13 2/5, so it will be interesting to see where he brings him back and at what distance.
Jason Loutsch of the Albaugh Family Racing Stable said Dak Attack, winner of the Ellis Park Juvenile and third in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes, came out of the latter with a shin splint and has been turned out and is off the Derby trail. Another of the Albaugh hopefuls, Hollywood Star, looked to be making a serious move on the far turn in the Sam F. Davis, but started spinning his wheels at the head of the stretch. It could be that he just didn’t handle the Tampa Bay Downs surface, which has been known to happen. I wouldn’t count him out just yet, but he has a taller mountain to climb now. They way he was training, I would be surprised if he doesn’t bounce back over a different surface.
A minor throat problem will prevent the exciting Montauk from competing in the Kentucky Derby. As a result he had to be taken off Churchill Downs’ list of Future Wager betting interests, but, with only one sprint race last October and not working until late January, and with so many proven two-turn horses, I’m surprised he was even in the betting field. But he has been a much-hyped horse, and hype sells. Another horse still on the sidelines is Mucho Macho Man Stakes winner Mask, and his chances of making the Derby are appearing slimmer by the day. Trainer Chad Brown said there are no updates on him.
There were a few minor races this week worth mentioning. He Takes Charge, a $625,000 Tapit colt, had run well in all four of his career starts, and finally found the winner’s circle for Mark Casse with an impressive 2 ¼-length victory at Gulfstream over highly regarded maidens Slot, Orbed, and Locomotion. Racing between horses, he was under a full-out drive on the turn to try to catch Slot, winging out on the lead by six lengths approaching the top of the stretch. He Takes Charge was a few strides late in changing leads, but had no trouble blowing by Slot and winning with his ears pricked. It must be noted that the final fractions were a sluggish :25 4/5 and :07 1/5, but the Gulfstream surface has been hard to figure out. Another horse to watch out of that race was third-place finisher Apostle, who was flying late and galloped out strong after the wire.
The most impressive horse I saw from a visual standpoint was first-time starter Tenfold, who broke his maiden going 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn Park. Controlling the pace, but with horses hounding him, he bounded away in the stretch and was really striding out powerfully in the final furlong, winning by 5 ¾ lengths. With only one start in his life, it doesn’t seem likely trainer Steve Asmussen, with an arsenal of Derby horses, and owner Ron Winchell, will rush him. But this son of Curlin, out of a Tapit mare, is one to watch down the road. Asmussen and Winchell could team up in Monday’s Southwest Stakes with Combatant, second in the Smarty Jones and Springboard Mile, who tuned up for the race with a five-furlong breeze in 1:01 1/5. The son of Scat Daddy has seen his Beyer Speed Figures increase with every start, culminating with a strong 94 in the Smarty Jones.
At Fair Grounds on Feb. 8, a pair of longshots, 39.40-1 Cayman’s Cobra and 28.70-1 Red Right Hand, staged a virtual match race in a maiden special weight, battling the entire mile and 70 yards, with Cayman’s Cobra prevailing by a head for trainer Bret Calhoun.
Keep your eye on a mile and 40-yard allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs on Thursday, which drew Derby prospects Magnum Moon, Vouch, and Talon, the last two trained by Arnaud Delacour. A big effort could earn the winner a shot at the Tampa Bay Derby. Vouch, third in the Remsen Stakes, was scratched from the Sam F. Davis after drawing the outside post and found a good spot here. Magnum Moon, impressive winner of his only start for Todd Pletcher, sharpened up for the race with a half-mile breeze in :48 3/5 at Palm Beach Downs training center, fastest of six works at the distance.
One horse I am extremely high on, Higher Power, was sidelined with a fever following his victory in a one-mile allowance race at Oaklawn and missed enough training to force trainer Donnie Vom Hemel to skip the Southwest Stakes. But the son of Medaglia d’Oro has made a quick recovery and was back on the worktab Tuesday, breezing an easy half-mile in :50.
One of the main reasons I love this colt is the rich tradition from which he comes. He is a throwback, owned and bred by the classy Pin Oak Stud, which has been a fixture in the bluegrass for decades, and owner Josephine Abercrombie is a true sportswoman, who has led an amazing life and always does things the right way, putting the horse before everything else.
Higher Power has old school breeding, passed down from generation to generation, with Pin Oak owning and breeding the first three dams. Higher Power is a half-brother to Pin Oak owned and bred Alternation, winner of the Oaklawn Handicap, Pimlico Special, and Peter Pan Stakes, who stands at Pin Oak. His dam, Alternate, won or placed in 10 stakes and is a half-sister to Pin Oak owned and bred Peaks and Valleys, Canada’s Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old and winner of the Grade 1 Molson Million and Meadowlands Cup and the Illinois Derby, while placing in the Whitney and Saratoga Cup. This is also the family of Pin Oak owned-and-bred Broken Vow, a multiple graded stakes winner and top sire, who stands at Pin Oak. In addition, farm manager Clifford Barry has worked for Pin Oak for 30 years, and says Mrs. Abercrombie always believes in letting the horses do the talking and never rushes them. She has extreme patience when it comes to the horses and takes great pride in developing the families and contributing to the matings. If you have any sense of tradition, it’s hard not to root for a horse like this.
Higher Power was an above average-sized foal at 140 pounds, well muscled and a joy to be around, according to Barry, who added that the colt has always been extremely professional and never turned a hair, and even as a yearling he acted more like a 2-year-old. With Higher Power back on the worktab, it is hoped he can be back in top form for the March 17 Rebel Stakes.
Although the undefeated Analyze It, winner of the Cecil B. DeMille Stakes at Del Mar, has returned to the work tab, breezing 3 furlongs in :38, trainer Chad Brown said there are no plans to put the son of Point of Entry on dirt.
The more I look at Ayacara’s runner-up effort in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, the more I feel he could be a major player if he can step it up a few notches. The closing fractions over the deeper Santa Anita surface were very slow, but he did improve with blinkers, ran a respectable 83 Beyer, which he needs to improve on, and has a good blend of speed and stamina, including inbreeding on the dam’s side to the Claiborne Farm mare Narrate through full sisters Preach and Yarn. Ayacara’s third dam, Kostroma, was a multiple Grade 1 winner who won or placed in 17 stakes in the U.S. and Ireland. But be aware, the Thoro-Graph numbers for the Lewis were agonizingly slow, so he needs to really step it up.
California Chrome’s kid brother Faversham will attempt to emulate his big brother, as he moves way up in class in next Monday’s California Cup Derby at Santa Anita. Trainer Art Sherman was thrilled with his last five-furlong work in 1:01 1/5 with jockey Stewart Elliott aboard.
Several other good works last week were Jerome Stakes runner-up Seven Trumpets’ five-furlong breeze in 1:00 3/5 at Gulfstream for Monday’s Southwest Stakes, the return to the worktab of Tiz Our Turn, who blew out three furlongs in :39 at Highpoint Farm, and the Steve Asmussen pair of Zing Zang and Retirement Fund breezing five furlongs at Oalawn in 1:02 last week and coming back Tuesday with their final works before the Southwest, breezing a half in :50 3/5 and :49 2/5, respectively. Asmussen also sent out the highly regarded New York Central for a bullet five-furlong work in 1:00 2/5, fastest of 18 works at the distance. I’m looking for big things from this colt. He ran huge in defeat last time against Higher Power and has great promise. Asmussen could be loaded for the Southwest, and we’ll see how many of these he enters. He already has Principe Guilherme and Snapper Sinclair entered in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.
Finally, in the strange but true category, for all you NFL or New England Patriots fans, there is a 3-year-old in England, of all places, named Gronkowski, who is nominated to the Triple Crown and can actually run. He was second in his career debut at Newmarket and then put on the all-weather surface at Chelmsford, where he scored by 4 ½ lengths going a mile under 128 pounds, Now, I’m not saying he’s named after “Gronk” and not someone named Murray Gronkowski, who is an automobile mechanic or a stock trader. Just found it interesting. He is by Lonhro, out of a Lookin At Lucky mare.