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After apparently falling out of the race for the 2009-10 Tropical at Calder jockey title when he missed a week serving a riding suspension, the young apprentice wasted little time getting back into the thick of the battle. He posted nine victories in two days last weekend, including five Sunday. Among his winners were Saturday's feature aboard Wyatt's Women and Sunday's main event aboard Jessica Is Back. Both fillies are trained by Marty Wolfson.
Although overshadowed - along with the rest of his colleagues in the jockeys' room - by the big three of Saez, Eibar Coa, and Manoel Cruz during the Tropical meet, the veteran quietly had a big week to begin the final month of the session, posting six victories over a five-day period, including a pair of riding doubles. The winningest rider in Calder history, Nunez posted three of his six wins last week for trainer Kathleen O'Connell.
Eddie Plesa Jr.
The 2008-09 Tropical at Calder training champion got off to a slow start in defense of his title, with two victories out of the first 37 horses he started at the meet. But the fourth-winningest trainer in track history served notice he's not going to give up the crown without a fight, sending out four winners in five days last week.
He moved back atop the leaderboard in the trainers' race by sending out four winners last week, including Wyatt's Women and Jessica Is Back. He may have his best chance to finally earn a Calder training title, with perennial favorite Bill White all but out of contention after his barns were quarantined for the first three weeks of December.
Plenty of wet weather last week, and, as a result, the main track sped up a bit after being cuppy and slow for quite some time.
Speed and stalkers dominated over a sloppy track Dec. 4, making Roar Mercedes Roar's come-from-behind victory against a bad bunch of bottom-level maiden claimers around two turns that much more impressive.
There was no apparent bias on Thursday, Dec. 3, or Saturday, Dec. 5, with winners coming from all over the place. It was also difficult to tell if there was any real trend over the main track on Sunday, when the abbreviated card was dominated by favorites - the best horse won regardless of its position on the racetrack. Six of the eight winners on the day returned less than even money.
Speed and stalkers again dominated over a fast track Monday, with Diva Delite getting high marks for circling from well back, cruising to an easy tally in the finale. The victory was the fourth in 11 starts for Diva Delite, a 2-year-old filly who earned a career-best 84 Beyer Speed Figure.
The two key dates have nothing to do with racing. They are Dec. 13 and Dec. 20, when restrictions will hopefully be lifted on the entire stable area as well as the three barns currently quarantined because of the recent outbreak of the equine herpesvirus.
Barring further cases of the disease, horses will be allowed to ship into the track to race beginning Dec. 13. That would significantly improve the quantity and quality of the entries, which have been greatly affected since the quarantine was imposed Nov. 30.
Horses in the three quarantined barns would be allowed to train again with the general population and race again beginning Dec. 20.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
To be accurate, this one should read "performances of the week," with the honor going hands down to Aspasia, a 3-year-old filly who won two races within a four-day span for Plesa - a pretty remarkable feat, considering it took her 14 starts and well over a year to register her first two career victories.
Aspasia, who has won three in a row, began her memorable week leading every step of the way to capture a bottom-level, nonwinners-of-three dash going 5 1/2 furlongs on Thursday, Dec. 3. She returned the following Monday at the same distance and narrowly outlasted the 4-5 Classie Hennessy by a rapidly diminishing nose under a straight $5,000 price tag. She was also claimed away from owner Bob Hurley's Devil Eleven Stable and Plesa by White Pastures Racing and her new trainer, Bertram Manchan.
Saturday's sixth race, a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight dash for 2-year-olds, is the most intriguing event on the card from a workout standpoint. There are six first-time starters in the field. Here's some insight into their chances off recent workouts.
Sadar: His best work may arguably have been the gate move Oct. 6, when he ripped off an 11.05-second second quarter and 36.33 three-eighths under little pressure before galloping out a half in 50.63. Missed five weeks after that move, which may be cause for concern, although obviously he has got some gas if he can escape the tough inside post.
Old Town: Has certainly been well prepared for his debut with a steady series of half-mile drills since August, although none has been spectacular. Was fully extended to narrowly shade 51 seconds in his Nov. 20 gate work, which came in company with unraced stablemate Last Appearance.
Lance's Song: Best of his five works was a half-mile in 50 seconds over a cuppy track Nov. 21, the 19th-fastest of 100.
Michael Rules: Shows a bullet half-mile work Nov. 20, although he was under steady urging throughout. Did toss in an 11.19 eighth from the wire to the seven-furlong pole before tiring while put to heavy pressure around the turn to complete the drill.
South Jak: Only two reported works on his resume, including a three-furlong gate move Nov. 14, during which he finished last of three. His second work came in company with stablemate Leon Royale, who finished far back against maiden special weight opposition in his only previous start.
Wildcat Frankie: Has done most of his preparations on the farm in Ocala. He followed two slow local works with an improved half-mile breeze from the gate Tuesday, although was put to late pressure to complete a half in 50.21.
He's a Dia Lucrii: Showed nothing following a slow start when he made his debut at 68-1 on the turf, but he is eligible to improve after turning in a bullet three-furlong gate work in 35.02 with the addition of blinkers Monday.
Other recent notes of work:
White Shoes: Ducked to the outside shortly after breaking from the gate, then worked like a rocket once straightening away entering the main track. He ripped off consecutive eighths of 10.66 and 11.06 down the straight before pulling up a half-mile in 47 and change Monday.
Mambo Meister: Looked sharp in his second work back since the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, completing the final three furlongs of last Sunday's half-mile drill in 34.99 before galloping out an additional furlong in 12.75 around to the seven-furlong pole.
Stormy Lisa: Bottom-level maiden showed some real improvement coming out of the gate with Rosie Jr. aboard for her mom. Stormy Lisa breezed an easy three-eighths in 36.21 before pulling up a half in 50.29. Winless in 11 races, she exits her best yet and appears ready to graduate, especially if Homeister Sr. gives Homeister Jr. the leg up next time.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Rodolfo Garcia
Last race: Dec. 4, 1st
Finish: 2nd by 4 1/4
After beginning his career around two turns against maiden special weight opposition on grass, he turned back in distance and moved to the main track. He broke slow, fanned six wide turning for home, raced greenly through the stretch, but easily took second money behind the odds-on favorite. Looks about ready to graduate against same caliber next time.
Trainer: Timothy Hamm
Last race: Dec. 6, 5th
Finish: 4th by 17
Looked like the controlling speed in a lower-level optional claimer, especially off a bullet work a week before the race. Unfortunately, he never saw the lead after breaking a step slow. He made a little four-wide run nearing the stretch before tiring from the effort. Capable of much better with the right trip.
Trainer: Pedro Maestra
Last race: Dec. 6, 6th
Finish: 3rd by 6 1/4
Off a promising debut, this lightly raced filly looked primed for a winning effort but lost her best chance after stumbling leaving the starting gate behind a full field of maiden claimers. She finished willingly once she got untracked and deserves another chance.
Trainer: Gilberto Zerpa
Last race: Dec. 7, 6th
Finish: 2nd by 3
Despite a dismal career debut, this 2-year-old filly took a ton of money when the board opened but drifted to 4-1 at post time for her second start. She showed in front early but got shuffled about six or seven lengths off the lead while trapped along the rail leaving the backstretch. She rerallied through the stretch, only to run out of real estate behind the winner.