03/10/2013 9:39AM

Saturday Stakes Notes


I know that Verrazano’s win in the Tampa Bay Derby and the upset of Flashback in the San Felipe were important happenings on Saturday. But for me, the biggest “Wow” moment of the day was when Fort Larned dumped jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. one stride out of the gate in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Fort Larned, the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, was 3-5 going to the gate in the GP ‘cap (he went up to 4-5  at some point after), and I just can’t remember the last time a heavily favored major stakes horse was immediately out of it at the start because he lost his rider. I invite you guys out there to help me out on this with other examples if you have them, but remember, we are talking major stakes horses. That’s the thing. Something like this happens so rarely that you can’t help but be stunned by it.

Overshadowed by the Fort Larned hubbub was the nice winning performance in the GP ‘cap by Discreet Dancer. It’s impossible to know whether Discreet Dancer would have been a real challenger for a competitive Fort Larned Saturday. Discreet Dancer received a preliminary Beyer Figure of 102 for his score, a career-best. Fort Larned Beyered significantly higher than that five times last year. But Discreet Dancer is a very nice colt.

It would be unreasonable to ask any more than what Verrazano gave us Saturday in Tampa. He handled the jump to stakes company, the stretch out to two turns, and a new surface that some horses find tricky, and handled it all with aplomb, spread-eagling his field at the finish. But Verrazano is the pro tem Kentucky Derby favorite, so he’s subject to greater scrutiny than most, and there are two things to think about going forward: First, Verrazano will be facing much tougher company from this point out. Java’s War was a very good second to Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby, especially after being so sluggish in the initial stages that it almost looked like he was sulking. But up until Saturday, Java’s War was primarily a turf/synthetic horse. And then, while Verrazano is certainly not a need-the-lead type, it would be good to see him relax a little farther off the early pace than he has so far.

The inability to relax early ultimately proved the undoing of Flashback in the San Felipe. Yet even after seeing how he pulled himself into a three-wide early pace tussle, I still thought Flashback might win by many lengths when he took the lead on the far turn. And that is because going into the San Felipe, I thought Flashback might be any kind of horse. Turns out he’s not any kind of horse.

I was less surprised by Goldencents’s fading fourth in the San Felipe because his effectiveness against top competition was still in question. And anyone who counters that argument with the claim that Goldencents beat Itsmyluckyday when he won the Delta Jackpot is conveniently omitting the fact that, for whatever reason,  Itsmyluckyday did not produce a representative effort at Delta. All you have to do is look at Itsmyluckyday’s career past performances to see that.

As for upset San Felipe winner Hear the Ghost, here’s how a little knowledge can be dangerous: On paper, it looked like Hear the Ghost closed like a freight train when second to Distinctiv Passion in the San Pedro in his last start. But if you watched the San Pedro live or saw the replay, you know a big reason why Hear the Ghost gained four lengths on Distinctiv Passion in the final furlong of the San Pedro is because Distinctiv Passion was taken well in hand in the late stages.

Although Old Tune scored by a little more than a length over Forces of Darkness in the Hillsborough at Tampa Bay, I’ll be happy to take another crack against her with Forces of Darkness next time. Beyond the obvious, that Old Tune had an easy time of it on a slow pace, I don’t think Forces of Darkness was at all comfortable being pinned down inside all the way, and was never able to really wind up with a late run.

I had the right idea about beating the ridiculously overbet Flashy Gray at 2-5 in the Honeybee at Oaklawn, but I just took the wrong horse, going with Sister Ginger instead of Rose to Gold. But I have to admit I was very surprised after Sister Ginger threw a fit in the starting gate and was backed out how quickly she was reloaded. I thought she was going to be a gate scratch.

Big wins again by Believe You Can and Delaunay at Fair Grounds in the New Orleans Ladies, and Duncan F. Kenner, respectively. Now, for Delaunay, let’s see him do that against real horses. The difference with Believe You Can is, although both of her wins this year were at the expense of cream puffs, she’s already done it against real horses, in a little race last year called the Kentucky Oaks.