Tom Pedulla presents takeaways from three significant Kentucky Derby prep races run this past Saturday – the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park, the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs and the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct:
EARPLUGS IN: Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, always searching for sources of improvement, provided undefeated Authentic with ear plugs and was rewarded with a front-running 2 ¼-length victory in the San Felipe that extended the colt’s perfection through five starts. “That’s what calmed American Pharoah down. He was the same way,” said Baffert, referring to his 2015 Triple Crown champion. “Some horses are really delicate to sound, so we put them in and it seemed like they worked.” In winning the San Felipe for a record seventh time, Baffert expressed confidence that he has Authentic exactly where he wants him. “I have to just keep him at this level until the first Saturday in May,” he said.
BLINKERS ON: Blinkers have made all the difference for Mischevious Alex, a winner of his last three starts by a combined 18 ¾ lengths since the equipment was added to increase his focus. He dominated the Parx Juvenile at Parx Racing by 9 ¾ lengths last November, routed the field by seven lengths in the Feb. 1 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park and scored by two lengths in the one-mile, one-turn Gotham. “Ever since we put the blinkers on him, everything that we have handed him he has handled very well,” said trainer John Servis. Although Servis has expressed distance concerns with the Into Mischief colt, he is expected to be given a two-turn test in the April 4 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct.
NOTHING COMPARES: Former catcher Victor Martinez knows what it is to compete at the highest level after coming from his native Venezuela to enjoy a 16-year major league career with the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. When he was asked after his King Guillermo won the Tampa Bay Derby by 4 ¾ lengths how that thrill compared to others he experienced, he replied without hesitation, “There is nothing that comes close to this.” King Guillermo delivered at 49.20-1 odds and earned 50 Derby qualifying points, almost surely enough to snag a place in the anticipated 20-horse field. “I thank God for the opportunity and for putting a great horse in my hands,” Martinez said.
ONE TO WATCH: Although Honor A. P. was never a threat to run down Authentic in the San Felipe, it is worth remembering that he was making his 3-year-old debut for trainer John Shirreffs while Authentic already had a race under his belt this season. There is every reason to believe Honor A. P. can take a significant step in his next start, which probably will be in the April 4 Santa Anita Derby. “I was very happy with this effort and he should move forward off this,” jockey Mike Smith said. “He should have a better kick next time, so we’re excited.”
ANOTHER TO WATCH: Untitled may be better than his runner-up finish in the Gotham might suggest. He was running for the third time in five weeks, having finished fourth in the Feb. 1 Swale at Gulfstream Park and second in an allowance optional claiming race on Feb. 14 at Tampa Bay Downs ahead of the Gotham. And it did not help that he drew post 10 for the Gotham, contributing to a wide trip under jockey Junior Alvarado. “When I asked him, he gave me what he had and ran on to the wire,” said Alvarado. “He held on pretty well for running three times in a month.”