By Anthony “The Big A” Stabile
While there was plenty of great racing in several divisions this past weekend, my focus, as it usually is this time of year, was on the three-year-olds. Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs and Gulfstream each played host to a graded stakes that, in theory, could have Triple Crown implications down the Trail. But what I have to say this week is that those races left a lot to be desired. We’ll start in New York.
Back in 2003, the gutsy gelding Funny Cide became the first and only New York-bred to win the Run for the Roses. In this past Saturday’s Withers, a race that offered precious Kentucky Derby points, a pair of statebreds in the undefeated Samraat and Uncle Sigh were each sent off at even money and turned what looked like a two-horse race on paper into reality.
Never more than over a length apart, Samraat and Uncle Sigh raced as a team throughout, with Samraat sitting just off the flank of Uncle Sigh. The battle intensified as the duo approached the far turn and hit its apex just before the top of the stretch before ending in the final 100 yards or so as Samraat edged away for the win.
Visually, it was an excellent horse race but once you take a closer look you’ll see that both of these colts will need to improve dramatically in their next respective starts if they’re going to compete with the big boys.
First off, their early battle wasn’t all that fast, going a :24 quarter, :48 3/5 half and six furlongs in 1:12 3/5, then walked home to stop the clock in 1:46 1/5 for the 1 1/16 miles of the Withers. The slow final fractions are even more alarming due to the fact that they did not go all that fast early. Secondly, the maiden Scotland finished third, the second consecutive time he has done that in a Derby points race at Aqueduct.
In my opinion, this Withers not only gave us a good read on the one-two- finishers but also on Jerome winner Noble Moon, who skipped this with a foot issue to await the Gotham on March 1st. Noble Moon beat Scotland and Classic Giacnroll, who was off the board in the Withers, in the Jerome, a race that was hardly flattered by the events of this past Saturday.
Trainer Rick Violette, Jr. said after the Withers that Samraat, now a perfect four for four, would ship back down to Florida and skip the Gotham, which means he’ll have just one more prep before the Derby while Uncle Sigh’s conditioner Gary Contessa indicated the Gotham would in fact be next for his charge.
A race that could prove key, if last weekend was any indication, is the Gulfstream Park Derby, a race won by General a Rod on New Year’s Day. Second place finisher Wildcat Red, who skipped the Holy Bull due a throat ailment, rolled home in the seven furlong Hutcheson at Gulfstream, stopping the clock in 1:22 1/5 over a drying out track that took on a ton of water in the days prior to the race.
Under little more than a vigorous Javier Castellano hand ride, Wildcat Red stalked early, pounced on the turn and opened up through the lane it what could very well be a prep for the February 22nd Fountain of Youth, his first start around two turns.
Down at Tampa Bay Downs, it was a “Todd Squad” exacta as Todd Pletcher, who nominated a record 42 horses to the Triple Crown this past weekend, finished one-two with Vinceremos and Harpoon, with four of them hitting the wire less than two lengths apart.
It was a tale of two trips for Pletcher’s pair. Vinceremos was forwardly placed throughout under Edgar Prado, who saved ground every step of the way and rallied along the rail once they straightened for the wire after dropping back a touch on the far turn.
The same cannot be said for Harpoon, who also saved ground under Luis Saez from his rail draw but wound up in the six or seven path turning for home before putting in a furious late rally in which he still looked a bit green. I don’t blame Saez for the wide move on the turn as Harpoon appeared to want no part of being inside and basically took himself out of contention once he was down inside. And it’s not the first time he’s looked apprehensive when doing so.
I’m a fan of Harpoon’s, and of the duo I want him going forward despite his defeat, but he’s now one for five in his career with four second place finishes. He wore blinkers in starts two and three (not in his maiden win) and I for one think he would greatly benefit from being fit with the “rogue’s badge” once again.
It wasn’t all about the boys last weekend, however, as a couple of young ladies caught my eye with their performances and the words “Kentucky Oaks” actually popped in my head for the first time. Oddly enough, the first filly, Dame Dorothy, didn’t even run in a stakes race but in an off the turf allowance contest at Gulfstream.
Facing just four rivals, Dame Dorothy sat second in the early going over a heavily speed biased course and made the lead with ease before winning by daylight for Pletcher and Castellano and her owner, celebrity chef Bobby Flay.
It was just the second start of Dame Dorothy’s career, her first in the slop and first around two turns. I’d be stunned if we didn’t see her next in a stakes race, namely the Gulfstream Park Oaks, a race Pletcher won famously last year by over 20 lengths with Dreaming of Julia.
Out at Santa Anita, Fashion Plate took the Las Virgenes in gate-to-wire fashion in her two turn and grade 1 stakes debut, holding off fellow grade 1 winner Streaming through the final furlong in a very professional manner.
While it looked like Streaming was getting to her, I believe they could have went around again as Gary Stevens did a fantastic job bringing Fashion Plate back to the field a bit on the far turn to engage her in a bit of a battle. She dug in, re-broke away from her rivals a bit and showed plenty of gameness through the lane. Now two for four overall and perfect in her two conventional dirt starts, Fashion Plate has stamped herself a major Oaks player.
Next week, we’ll talk more Triple Crown Trail but also will talk about the Donn at Gulfstream, a race that figures to feature Three-Year-Old Eclipse champ Will Take Charge and Revolutionary as well as the final race in the career of the great Groupie Doll. See you then!!
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