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A year ago, Lopez was barred from riding at Calder for reasons track officials never specifically addressed. Lopez, who captured the 2008 riding title and went on to be named the year's Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey, was ultimately granted permission to ride here again in 2009. He returned earlier this month after spending the summer and most of the fall on the New Jersey circuit and wasted little time making his presence felt, winning six races last week, including riding doubles on Dec. 17 and 19.
Despite the recent additions of Lopez, Joe Bravo, and Elvis Trujillo to the colony following the end of the Meadowlands session, Coa continues to dominate. He lengthened his lead atop the standings with nine more winners last week, finally opening a little daylight between himself and defending champion Manoel Cruz for the 2009-2010 Tropical at Calder title.
Veteran horseman sent out three consecutive winners in less than 24 hours last Friday and Saturday, combining with apprentice Luis Saez for each of those victories. Kaplan hopes to continue the hot streak Saturday with Dream Maestro in the Grade 3 Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap and with Imawildandcrazyguy in the Grade 2 W.L. McKnight Handicap.
Three-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Time is on top of her game. She notched her third consecutive victory, rallying to a convincing triumph in Saturday's main event, which was decided under money allowance conditions. Each of her wins has come against older horses. Sailing Time is trained by Steve DiMauro for owner Henry Pace.
Wet weather and some fierce northerly winds prevailed for much of the last week, creating a couple of track biases along the way.
Brisk headwinds down the backstretch were a death knell for speed horses last Saturday and Sunday. Only the even-money Tripofalifetime led at every call on Saturday's 12-race card, dominating a scratch-reduced field of five in a race moved from the turf to the main track. Among the most notable victims of the bias were the 8-5 Witch Princess, 4-5 Lady Gut's Boy, and even-money Labadeel, all of whom faltered as the favorites after setting or contesting the pace.
Front-runners did account for the early double but were blanked the rest of the way Sunday, including even-money Wilcat Sailor in the finale.
There is one week left here before action switches across town to Gulfstream Park on Jan. 3. Following Saturday's three graded stakes, one race remains on the stakes schedule, the Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby on New Year's Day, traditionally the first graded stakes decided in North America each year. Nominations for the 2010 edition closed earlier this week and include such prominent names as Lost Aptitude and Becky's Kitten. Noteworthy winners of the Tropical Park Derby this decade include Kitten's Joy (2003-04) and Barbaro (2005-06). The race was not run last season because of purse considerations.
Any trainer planning to start a horse who appears to have little or no chance in a race might want to secure the services of apprentice Leo Garcia. Especially after the seven-pound bug somehow managed to bring home not one but two stunning winners last weekend - Frosty Thunder ($138.60) in Saturday's second race and Let's Go Out West ($111.40) on Sunday.
Frosty Thunder had been defeated a combined 63 lengths in three starts since winning her maiden Sept. 17. She hooked up with Garcia for the first time Saturday and overcame a tough trip to beat bottom-level conditioned claimers going a mile and 70 yards.
Let's Go Out West's second lifetime triumph was probably even more surprising, considering the 6-year-old mare had won once in 62 previous starts and had not even hit the board in her previous 13 tries for owner and trainer Clifton Christie.
The two improbable winners swelled Garcia's ROI for the meet to $4.04.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
Nobody was more impressive here last week than Latigo Shore, who cruised to a popular 7 1/2-length maiden special weight victory in his second career start Monday. A 2-year-old son of Malibu Moon, Latigo Shore could have won by an even larger margin if he hadn't been taken in hand and put on cruise control inside the sixteenth pole by jockey Joe Bravo. Owned by the Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable and trained by Nick Zito, Latigo Moon could be brought back in a seven-furlong or one-mile entry-level allowance race next month at Gulfstream Park.
Zeroing in on Saturday's fifth race for a little workout insight. The race is scheduled for five furlongs on the turf for 2-year-old maidens.
Malibu Knight: He has shown promise in each of his three works since shipping over from the Fair Grounds earlier this month, including his 49.95-second half-mile drill over a very cuppy and tiring track Dec. 11. He was kept well off the rail while in hand every step of the way. Inside draw no bargain for beginners.
Kings Cove: Turned in one of the fastest half-mile moves Dec. 19 but was all out through the final furlong to complete the drill in company with unraced stablemate Abeyance.
Kijo: Looks like he should move forward off a promising effort around two turns Nov. 15. He came back to work a half-mile in 49.22 and galloped out five-eighths in 1:01.49 in company with unraced stablemate Skypo on Dec. 6.
Other works of note at Calder this week:
Flatter This: Should bounce back from an eventful trip in his last start after going a sharp half-mile in 48.85 and galloping out five furlongs in 1:01.35 under little pressure Monday.
Wyatt's Woman: Has held her form extremely well over the last couple of months and appears to remain in top fettle after completing her final furlong in a zippy 11.58 and galloping out an additional eighth into the turn in 12.04, pulling up five furlongs in 1:01.70 on Monday.
New Fandan: Brazilian-bred is obviously fond of a soft turf course. Won the John Henry over yielding ground earlier this fall and seemed to relish similar footing when stepping over local sod for the first time Monday, stretching out extremely well and finishing full of run after working five furlongs around the dogs in 1:03.01.
R Slick Fifty: Recent two-turn maiden winner showed high speed breezing a half-mile in 47.70 on Dec. 17 while kept well off the rail throughout the impressive move.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Nick Canani
Last race: Dec. 18th, 10th
Finish: 7th by 10 3/4
First-time starter took plenty of action for his debut but lost all chance when he got off poorly and was hung wide throughout while also racing a bit greenly along the way. Youngster deserves another chance with this race under his belt.
Trainer: Luis Olivares
Last race: Dec. 19, 2nd
Finish: 3rd by 1
Slight choice in bottom-level conditioned claimer for 2-year-old fillies couldn't have had a worse trip, steadying in behind horses while seemingly full of run approaching the quarter pole and again through early stretch. Extricated herself from the trouble too late to run down the leaders. Will come back next time in new hands after being claimed by Peter Walder.
Trainer: Steve Dwoskin
Last race: Dec. 20, 2nd
Finish: 2nd by 2 3/4
Two-year-old showed improvement with a race under her belt when stretching out to a mile for her second start. Unfortunately, she ran into a 2-5 favorite who got away with murder on the lead when allowed to slow the early pace to a crawl. Made a nice run at the leader three wide turning for home but proved no match through the stretch and finished second. Should be ready to graduate for the same tag in her 3-year-old debut.