03/09/2012 9:38AM

Countdown to the Crown: Week 10, March 9, 2012


Countdown to the Crown returns for a seventh season online as one of the most comprehensive handicapper’s scouting reports of the 3-year-old scene. Posted each Friday at DRF.com from Jan. 6 through the Belmont Stakes, Countdown keeps you apprised of the rising stars of the 3-year-old class from the maiden ranks through the Grade 1 stakes. You can access daily updates and interactive features at Countdowntothecrown.com as well.

3 things you won’t read anywhere else

Opinions are like a teen-bob pop band.  Make one good hit and you will long be remembered. For the record, HANSEN, the horse, now has more hits than Hanson, the band. MMM Bop that one time.

1. What do March 17, March 5, Feb. 28, March 13, and March 3 all have in common? They are the dates the last five Kentucky Derby winners made their 3-year-old debuts en route to a two-prep campaign. That means it’s not too late to get rolling. In fact, it’s high time.

2. How good is jockey Ramon Dominguez when trainer Kiaran McLaughlin wants his 3-year-old ALPHA to tackle UNION RAGS (Michael Matz) in the Florida Derby just to keep the rider? If ALPHA stayed home at Aqueduct for the Wood, Dominguez would be committed to riding Gotham champ HANSEN (Mike Maker). Not too many folks want to ship 1,200 miles to meet most pundits’ top national Derby hopeful.

3. West Coast clarity figures to come this weekend in the Grade 2 San Felipe, following Monday’s injury to OUT OF BOUNDS (Eoin Harty). CREATIVE CAUSE (Mike Harrington) must move way forward off his 2012 return loss, or else one of California’s rising stars may move to the head of that region.

This week’s fearless forecast

This section previews the coming attractions in 3-year-old stakes and undercard races. The docket looks loaded, so let’s whip through a few undercard notables first.

Saturday’s race 2 at Santa Anita may be a mile turf maiden, but it’s a Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby prep for BROTHER FRANCIS (Jim Cassidy), who gets the same timetable as Saturday’s Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes performers. Placed twice already in stakes, Grade 1 CashCall Futurity third-place finisher Brother Francis should be a short price as he readies for a return to dirt next. Also making his 3-year-old return Saturday is ballyhooed $625,000 sprint prospect WHINSTON (Steve Asmussen), who headlines an Oaklawn race 8 maiden sprint.

Fair Grounds has one of its deeper maiden routes of the meet in Saturday’s race 9, including REVERE (Al Stall Jr.) and CIGAR STREET (Steve Margolis) exiting a pursuit of super-impressive Feb. 3 winner BOURBON COURAGE (Kellyn Gorder). For fans of BOURBON COURAGE, note he returned to the workout tab Thursday after a 20-day absence. Other weekend maidens of note include: COLONY STRIKE (Todd Pletcher) in Saturday’s race 1 at Tampa Bay Downs vs. the debut artist DOUBLE IT (Tom Albertrani), who is by Bernardini and out of Victory Ride; and Gulfstream has split divisions of a turf mile Saturday in races 7 and 9, headlined by Countdown bet-back special OLD TIME HOCKEY (Tom Proctor) in race 7 and BRIDGE LOAN (Todd Pletcher) vs. BIG BLUE SPIRIT (Darrin Miller) in race 9.

In the allowance ranks, Tampa Bay Downs’ race 3 turf mile Saturday boasts the highly talented MONASTIC (Tom Proctor), who could work his way to a major Polytrack stakes at Keeneland with a solid return. Meanwhile, Oaklawn speedball APPREHENDER (Ingrid Mason) will try to rebound from a Grade 3 Southwest Stakes implosion when he returns to the sprint allowance ranks Friday in race 8.

There are no Triple Crown nominees in Saturday’s Al Bastakiya at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse or the $100,000 Fred Capossela Stakes at Aqueduct. The Capossela features listed stakes winners BEGGARTHYNEIGHBOR (Chad Brown) and ANCIENT ROME (Tony Dutrow), but beware Parx invader CHRISTOPHER’S JOY (also Tony Dutrow).

Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes (Saturday/Santa Anita)

This $300,000 test at 1 1/16 miles truly is a prep for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in April. I’m not sure we’ve seen a race with more promising runners on the trail this year or in recent years. That’s not to say it’s the best field assembled, but good luck finding one with more upside.

CREATIVE CAUSE (Mike Harrington) was the West’s best 2-year-old and gave a return performance Feb. 19 that was open to much interpretation. Upstart speedball BODEMEISTER (Bob Baffert) was a last-minute replacement for stablemate FED BIZ (Bob Baffert) and may actually vie for favoritism off a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure. MIDNIGHT TRANSFER (Carla Gaines) has been the most visually impressive 3-year-old I’ve seen at the meet, but has to answer the two-turn question.

All this and we haven’t mentioned Grade 1 CashCall Futurity champ LIAISON (Bob Baffert) and his nemesis ROUSING SERMON (Jerry Hollendorfer), both looking to rebound off of uncharacteristically poor efforts. EMPIRE WAY (Mike Harrington) is a full brother to Royal Delta, the best mare in America, while BLINGO (John Shirreffs) has all the tools but is catching up on experience. AMERICAN ACT (Jack Carava) actually has beaten both BODEMEISTER and CREATIVE CAUSE in this last two starts and could be as high at 8-1 or 10-1 at post time -- go figure. And then there’s GROOVIN SOLO (Myung Kwon Cho), who removes blinkers for the same barn that unleashed a corker of a winner in this very race last year named Premier Pegasus. In case you forgot, he, too, was racing blinkers off.

Pace-wise, BODEMEISTER and AMERICAN ACT could hook up on the front in a pretty good tussle, leaving the likes of CREATIVE CAUSE and MIDNIGHT TRANSFER sitting the cat-bird’s seat if they’re good enough finishers. The way CREATIVE CAUSE galloped out in the seven-furlong Grade 2 San Vicente tells me that he will be much stronger in this second start of the year. Visually, he was awkward and didn’t look good in the lane that day, but I will credit it to training. Moving back and forth from two turns to one didn’t help his lead changes, nor did a training regimen that wasn’t yet on cue. Clocker Donald Harris at Hollywood Park has been noting on Twitter that CREATIVE CAUSE has been working far superior to stablemate EMPIRE WAY in recent trips to the track.

My gut tells me that the horse Bob Baffert really wanted to run Saturday was FED BIZ, who tied up in his stall during the week but returned to the track to train on Thursday. He’s still hopeful to make the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby or Wood Memorial. Baffert has made all the right moves in recent weeks, so maybe good fortune smiles on BODEMEISTER and/or LIAISON, both of whom are high-quality racehorses. But you can’t take them all.


Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby (Saturday/Tampa Bay Downs)

Much has gone right for Todd Pletcher on the Triple Crown trail this season, but history says the Tampa Bay Derby house of horrors for Pletcher gives reason for pause. Take that into consideration when unbeaten SPRING HILL FARM vies for favoritism in his first stakes and first two-turn attempt. Pletcher’s recent Tampa strikeouts include Brethren last year at 1-2 odds, Super Saver in 2010 at 3-2, Any Given Saturday in 2007 at 3-5, and Blue Grass Cat at 2-5 in 2006. 

SPRING HILL FARM will have to overcome post 9 of 12 having never raced around two turns in his career. He has done nothing wrong whatsoever in two starts and has pedigree to handle the distance. Interestingly, John Velazquez sticks at Gulfstream to ride Jackson Bend in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap, leaving the mount in the more-than-capable hands of Javier Castellano.

As you can see, I’m looking for reasons to go elsewhere, and there are good options. BATTLE HARDENED (Eddie Kenneally) and PROSPECTIVE (Mark Casse) exit a one-two finish in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis, and the runner-up can turn the tables Saturday with a huge shift in the post positions. Way out in post 11 last time, PROSPECTIVE draws the rail Saturday and will save all the ground. Casse will add blinkers, but still expect a mid-pack type of trip.

BATTLE HARDENED was a maiden when winning the Grade 3 Davis and will pick up four pounds off that score. His nine-furlong experience at Gulfstream galvanized him for the stakes bid and he has worked moderately out of the race to indicate Kenneally still has him moving the right direction. I wouldn’t expect a regression; it’s a matter if this race turns out tougher than the Davis.

TAKE CHARGE INDY (Patrick Byrne) has a tough post to overcome in the 11-hole, but has certain class. He has kept remarkable company lines since last summer and has a wonderful pedigree by A.P. Indy out of Take Charge Lady, one of the best racing mares in the past two decades. Outside of his debut win, however, TAKE CHARGE INDY has lost ground in the stretch in all four attempts and from a wide draw, you have to wonder if he will finish with flair in this case.

The field also includes RAVELO’S BOY (Manny Azpurua), who ran a better-than-it-looks fourth in the Grade 3 Davis. He will need a fast pace for his best shot. The pace could be sped along by wide-drawn CAJUN CHARLIE (Brian House), who steps way up in class off of three wins at Delta Downs. COZZETTI (Dale Romans) could be feast or famine and I have no insight what to do with him on a fast dirt track. For betting purposes, I will toss him out and hope.


Grade 2 Swale Stakes (Saturday/Gulfstream Park)

Six of 10 entrants in this seven-furlong sprint worth $150,000 are Triple Crown nominees, and it’s not out of the question with this particular field to see a horse or two move along the trail to something longer. EVER SO LUCKY (Jonathan Sheppard) has been nagged by some minor physical and health issues all winter long and makes a belated return for the first time since finishing second in Churchill’s Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November. Sheppard has hinted that LUCKY might be more effective around one turn than two, but the son of Indian Charlie has some damside stamina and may earn the chance to find out if he’s got the goods.

The tarp finally will be pulled off MOTOR CITY (Ian Wilkes), a horse who was very high on my wish list coming into 2012. I loved the similar preparation Wilkes took with him last year as Wilkes and his former boss Carl Nafzger applied with Street Sense in his 2006 championship season. Of course, Street Sense went back to Churchill to win the 2007 Kentucky Derby. A modest series of workouts this winter in Florida indicate MOTOR CITY may not have moved into the same passing lane as his famous father.  We will know everything we need to know about him after Saturday’s race when it comes to being a Triple Crown prospect. A good effort in the Swale should put him in line for a date in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Blue Grass next. A dull effort and he’s off the trail and retooled for a summer target.

The field also includes BAHAMIAN SQUALL (David Fawkes), younger brother to top national older sprinter Apriority. BAHAMIAN SQUALL rocketed late in his career debut win and has trained well since. He has the edge of a race at the meet, even if based across town at Calder. GOOD MORNING DIVA (J. David Braddy) also was a sharp winner at the meet, but you always have to look critically at big wins on sloppy tracks like his Feb. 11 score.

The X-factor may be SEVE (Dale Romans), who runs back quickly on just 13 days’ rest. A younger brother to millionaire You, Seve already has raced nine times and will be super-fit for the demanding seven-furlong sprint distance. SEVE has not shown a brilliant gear to date, but seems to be coming to hand, and for Romans to place him here is a big sign. He catches more talented horses such as EVER SO LUCKY and perhaps MOTOR CITY at the right time, so I’ll take a price stab.

Swale Stakes selections: W) SEVE; P) MOTOR CITY; S) EVER SO LUCKY.

Black Gold Stakes (Saturday/Fair Grounds)

Around two turns on grass, this listed stakes carries a $75,000 purse and features four Triple Crown nominees. It’s a plausible springboard to the Grad1 Blue Grass next at Keeneland for an improving horse. ROCK HARDER (Neil Howard) gets a rematch with CAPETOWN DEVIL (David Carroll) for a pair of stables that will be heading next to Keeneland, so a big effort could put one or both on the trail.

CAPETOWN DEVIL succumbed to an outside draw in the Grade 3 Lecomte and now tries turf for the first time with a damside pedigree to want it. ROCK HARDER was a good third behind eventual Grade 2 Remsen winner O’PRADO AGAIN (Dale Romans) last fall in Lexington and ran well in two late-season bids at Fair Grounds at age 2. A bullet workout Sunday has him well-meant for the return try in the Black Gold. His older brother Close Ally was second in last year’s Grade 2 Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill on Derby weekend and second in the Lone Star Derby on turf.

Fair Grounds trail veterans TED’S FOLLY (Wilson Brown) and HAMMER’S TERROR (Michael Stidham) both try grass for the first time. Hammer's Terror certainly is bred to appreciate it far more than dirt being by Artie Schiller. ICON IKE (Larry Jones) makes his stakes and two-turn debut following a pair of turf sprint wins at the meet, but has a mostly sprint pedigree. WAYWARD SAILOR (Mike Maker) also has won two in a row and ships in from Gulfstream Park, where 3-year-old turf races have been fantastic this year. But the Black Gold entrant with back-to-back win who may be best of all is PURE TACTICS (Morris Nicks), whose mama was a win-machine turf sprinter in Kentucky. By Pure Prize, this two-turn trip might be within his grasp after two dominant scores.

Black Gold Stakes selections: W) ROCK HARDER; P) HAMMER’S TERROR; S) PURE TACTICS.

Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes (Sunday/Gulfstream Park)

Trainers Graham Motion and Dale Romans not only won the first two legs of last year’s Triple Crown, but they also know first-hand that you can make some Kentucky Derby noise with a Gulfstream turf horse. Two years ago, Romans used such a path with Paddy O’Prado before finishing third on the first Saturday in May. Last year, Motion-trained Animal Kingdom propelled himself from a Gulfstream turf campaign to the Derby winner’s circle.

So it’s no surprise that with $150,000 in graded stakes earnings on the line in this 1 1/8-mile turf test, it’s the Motion and Romans show once again. Motion sends out HOWE GREAT, a winner of three straight, including the Kitten’s Joy Stakes over this course in January. Romans counters with the 3-year-old debut of DULLAHAN, who just so happens to be the younger brother of 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird.

DULLAHAN went off the workout tab for a month earlier this winter and has had only three drills since that setback. His deep-closing style could be compromised by a lack of pace in the race and small field size of just six. Both advantages clearly make HOWE GREAT the horse to beat in the Palm Beach. The way he finished up in the Kitten’s Joy, the extra distance should not be an issue. His stablemate he beat last time, LUCKY CHAPPY, returned to run a dynamite second in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby, so the win looks even better.

Late-running COALPORT (Wayne Catalano) and ARGENTINE TANGO (Stanley Gold) both would appear at the mercy of the pace as well. Each has shown flashes of talent and gets a four-pound weight allowance over a significant amount of ground. If gambling for a price, you will want to get one of these in-between the favorites.

Palm Beach Stakes selections: W) HOWE GREAT; P) COALPORT; S) DULLAHAN.

Last week’s selections: 3:0-0-0. Top choices all were off the board in the G3 Gotham, John Battaglia Memorial and Gazebo Stakes in a weak showing. Fire the bum! Second choices HANSEN (Gotham) and STATE OF PLAY (Battaglia) found the winner’s circle.

Season selections: 21: 6-3-3.

Everyone’s a critic

This section reviews the week that was in the 3-year-old ranks.

Grade 3 Gotham Stakes (3/3, Aqu-10)

Note to self: don’t over-think things. Saturday’s $400,000 Gotham Stakes indeed was all about HANSEN (Mike Maker) and his closest pursuer MY ADONIS (Kelly Breen). They carried the credentials into an otherwise unproven Gotham Stakes cast and turned out to carry the biggest sticks as well, clobbering this field with unmistakable ease. The Gotham’s final time of 1:43.84 was almost nine lengths faster than elite 4-year-old filly It’s Tricky ran in the same-day Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap a few races prior and a full second faster than Stay Thirsty’s Gotham win a year ago. By most any measure, you had to be impressed, especially with the three-length winner HANSEN.

The 2011 Eclipse Champion 2-year-old, Hansen could have won this race and still not advanced his chances for the Kentucky Derby. A one-dimensional speed horse in all his previous attempts, he rated kindly from post No. 12 for jockey Ramon Dominguez and improved eaps and bounds in my personal appreciation. Not only did he show pace versatility, he won a two-turn route while giving his rivals four to seven pounds in allowances.

Kudos to Mike Maker for picking the perfect time to remove the blinkers from HANSEN, knowing his horse best, and getting exactly what he needed out of this race. HANSEN should be perfectly prepped come the first Saturday in May as long as he runs a representative race in the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial next month. Gotham Stakes splits of 23.68, 23.83, 24.28, 25.21, and 6.84 show that he was slowing a bit on the back end of this 1 1/16 miles, but visually he looked well and gives no indication that another sixteenth of a mile will be a major hurdle. The additional furlong beyond that in the Derby is still a big question for all in the class, as it is every year.

Runner-up MY ADONIS continues to advance nicely and barring a suicidal pace meltdown in the Delta Jackpot has been a nicely developing colt. He reminds you a little of fellow Breen trainee West Side Bernie, taking a fairly similar career path and style. True, he has failed to catch HANSEN around one turn and now two, but he’s trying and that’s what you want to see late in races. Nobody else was doing much of anything to warm up the juvenile champion. Expect to see them both back in the Wood Memorial, a race that could be a mere replay given that ALPHA (Kiaran McLaughlin) appears destined to try the Grade 1 Florida Derby instead of the Wood. Bringing FED BIZ (Bob Baffert) east would add a dynamic to the Wood to be sure.

As for the others in the Gotham, all beaten at least nine lengths, it was a hodge-podge of bummers. FINNEGANS WAKE (Dale Romans) rallied last-to-third to best the others and his performance only enhances the reputation of the Floridian he chased named EXOTHERMIC (Rusty Arnold) in his previous start. His key allowance win has now seen the runner-up (NEWS PENDING-Dale Romans) run second in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and fourth-place finisher (FINNEGANS WAKE) run third in the Grade 3 Gotham. Trainer Romans will try to divide up his 3-year-olds now with DULLAHAN likely a Blue Grass contender, NEWS PENDING likely to stay for the Florida Derby and that would leave this colt for a return in the Wood Memorial as a possibility.

TIGER WALK (Ignacio Correas) ran a better-than-it-looks fourth from post 13 and validated my notion that he was a sneaky player in the Gotham. This is a horse with some talent and don’t be surprised if he’s re-routed with the Preakness in mind for Maryland-based owner Kevin Plank of Sagamore Farm. DONE TALKING (Hamilton Smith) showed no closing kick at all in a listless return to the races. It’s hard to imagine him improving enough to win the Wood off this effort, but could still move forward a bit. DAN AND SHEILA (Todd Pletcher) offered little and further deflated the form of the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes with this performance.

Listed stakes

The scratch of PHANTOM FURY (Mike Lauer) really changed the entire complexion of Saturday’s listed $75,000 John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park, local prep for the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes on March 24. Without that local speed merchant, the field was just five horses and the early pace situation turned more into a carousel than a crusade. The half-mile split of nearly 50 seconds kept the entire field within 4 1/2 lengths and took the normal, closing style away from odds-on favorite MR. PRANKSTER (Mike Maker). The result was a dull fourth for the heavy favorite and a sprint-home finish for pacemakers STATE OF PLAY (Graham Motion) and ILL CONCEIVED (John Servis). The top pair was separated by only a head in a determined finish. STATE OF PLAY earned a shot for the Team Valor-Motion team to repeat in the Spiral, having won last year with Animal Kingdom.  A son of War Front, State of Play took to the Polytrack as well as did stablemate and fellow War Front offspring Summer Soiree, a 10-length winner of last year’s Bourbonette at Turfway.

Saturday’s six-furlong Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn went to the longest shot on the board, 38-1 bomber FASTESTWHOGETSPAID (Brian Williamson). A son of sprinter Henny Hughes. Fastestwhogetspaid scored by a nose in a melee finish that saw just 3 1/2 lengths separate the top eight finishers. When you see a cluster like that in a moderate 1:11.68 final time, you’re left with little to surmise but it was a weak race. While the winner was not Triple Crown nominated, runner-up LAKE VICTOR (Steve Asmussen) and third-place MR BLUEGRASS MUSIC (Richard Jackson) are. I would like to see Mr Bluegrass Music  try the Grade 3 Lexington on Keeneland’s Polytrack with his pedigree (out of an Unbridled’s Song mare).


NAJJARR (Danny Peitz) turned in one of the season’s absolute best allowance performances last Friday at Oaklawn when he rallied last-to-first in beating a field that included mostly older horses, including last year’s Borderland Derby winner Fusa Code. Sent to the rear in a classic Calvin Borel ride, NAJJARR circled horses on the far turn and stormed to the front before losing focus once he made the front inside the sixteenth pole. After he got his attention back, he held sway nicely and actually galloped out full of run. NAJJAR made up more than 11 lengths in less than a half-mile and appears a very, very serious Arkansas Derby contender from this eye at 1 1/8 miles. By Belmont Stakes champ Jazil, he’s loaded with nothing but European turf stamina on the damside, which I love in Derby pedigrees.

A short field size and slow pace made Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile allowance win at Gulfstream difficult to evaluate for unbeaten HEAVY BREATHING (Todd Pletcher). A son of Giant’s Causeway, Heavy Breathing now is 2 for 2 by 12 combined lengths and looking for a challenge. Not nominated to the Triple Crown, he has worked several times on turf and was entered for turf in his debut, but the race was washed off the grass. Given that, we could see him appear on Polytrack in the Grade 3 Spiral next, a race in which he’s nominated. The form of his Pletcher stablemate SPRING HILL FARM was not flattered by the common race alumni that returned to face HEAVY BREATHING.

The pace absolutely fell apart in last Friday’s race 7 allowance route at Fair Grounds, where the veterinary scratch of likely favorite SIR BOND (Neil Howard) also took some wind from this race’s sails. In the end, the heavily favored Bret Calhoun-trained entry of FIRE ALARM and TIZ MO finished a rallying neck apart after a fourth-quarter of more than 27 seconds. The Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on April 1 could be next for one or both, but I wouldn’t fear these if I had proven stakes competitors already aiming that way.

ZETTERHOLM (Rick Dutrow) won his second straight route at Aqueduct on Sunday when besting a decent group of New York-bred allowance foes. Even though he’s by Dutrow’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Silver Train, ZETTERHOLM has an interesting pedigree on the dam side to get some distance and turf. Despite a wide trip, he closed last-to-first to win and got no pace help in doing so. He’s half-brother to Wishful Tomcat and Uncle T Seven.


STIRRED UP (Bob Baffert) lived up to Countdown’s high expectations Saturday with a quality race 2 Santa Anita maiden route victory over classy challenger HOLY CANDY (John Sadler). These two both have stakes futures ahead of them and they threw down the gauntlet through the stretch in exciting fashion. They didn’t dazzle on the clock, but STIRRED UP is not that kind of Baffert trainee. Don’t be surprised if he’s given a chance to make his way to the big dances with the March 25 Grade 3 Sunland Derby a possibility, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Sadler try HOLY CANDY in the Grade 2 Illinois Derby on April 7 as a maiden.

Baffert has another decision to make with Saturday maiden winner MILE HIGH MAGIC, a grandson of the great filly Silverbulletday. He thoroughly smoked a 6 1/2 furlong sprint cast in race 4 by more than five lengths despite dueling on a blistering pace. A son of Roman Ruler, Mile High Magic may fit very well in something like the Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill on opening day. Silverbulletday sure loved that surface in Louisville.

In Saturday’s race 4 maiden route at Gulfstream, WENT THE DAY WELL (Graham Motion) was visually impressive in winning a 1 1/16-mile event in his second U.S. start. From the rail draw with a short run into the clubhouse turn, jockey Edgar Prado asked the colt for run to secure his position, and he responded well, then relaxed for his rider and showed some maturity. Prado tilted him out around rivals at the quarter pole and he professionally finished up to beat a decent runner-up TIZ YANKEE (Nick Zito) in a favorable performance by both.

First-time starter FLASHY DRESSER (Fred Seitz) rocked a regally-bred Kiaran McLaughlin entry in Sunday’s must-see Gulfstream race 7 maiden sprint. While all eyes were on the younger siblings of Eight Belles (UNBRIDLED’S WAY) and Sky Mesa (BROOME STREET), it was a $70,000 son of Flashy Bull who stole the show by nearly 7 lengths. UNBRIDLED’S WAY was outsprinted from the tough rail draw for rookies without sprint jets, but was erratically flying through the lane and galloped out strongly. Circle him for Keeneland and watch this son of Unbridled’s Song crush a group of maidens on the Polytrack routing. FLASHY DRESSER did it nicely, but a half-mile split for six furlongs in 47.18 is gift-wrapping. Take nothing away from him visually; the winner has a stout-looking physique.

Saturday Gulfstream race 2 maiden sprint winner CLOSERWALK (Wayne Catalano) cruised to an easy victory vs. Florida-breds in a race that certainly flattered the form of promising sprinter BAHAMIAN SQUALL (David Fawkes), who surged past CLOSERWALK on Feb. 5. Also at Gulfstream, the well-bred HARRIS (Todd Pletcher) outslugged a mile maiden cast on dirt Thursday in a modest time. A son of A.P. Indy and Pool Land, Harris improved in his second start while adding blinkers.

MORGAN’S GUERRILLA (Mike Maker) and DESERT STORM (Bill Mott) exited the same Gulfstream maiden sprint Feb. 11 to run first-third Saturday in Aqueduct’s race 6 maiden route. The win boosts the reputation of that Feb. 11 victor GOOD MORNING DIVA (J. David Braddy). MORGAN’S GUERRILLA, a $250,000 son of Ghostzapper, went wire-to-wire in a race that slowed each fraction to the finish.

COACH (Steve Hobby) continued a super season for young sire Scat Daddy when he wired an Oaklawn maiden route last Friday for 3-year-olds and up. Having chased stakes winners MR. BOWLING (Larry Jones) and MY ADONIS (Kelly Breen) last year, the $370,000 colt found this group to his liking and slowed significantly late without a threat.

SINATRA (Dale Romans) showed guts in the stretch to fend off three challenges in winning a Gulfstream Park turf route maiden last Friday. Routing for the first time in four starts, the Harlan’s Holiday colt held off LORD TARZAN (Graham Motion) and impressive debut artist GOLDEN RIDGE (Mark Casse). Golden Ridge flew around the turn wide and just hung a bit in the unveiling, but by Distorted Humor out of Indian Vale, he has got some pedigree to be a good one.

Quick Hitters

Grade 3 Sham Stakes champ OUT OF BOUNDS (Eoin Harty) suffered a left-front ankle fracture Monday after working out at Hollywood Park and will be sidelined from the Triple Crown chase … ALPHA (Kiaran McLaughlin) continues to drill at Palm Meadows after leading the Aqueduct winter cast for the past few months. He breezed a half-mile Saturday in 49.83 with a Florida Derby date likely next … West Coast hopeful I’LL HAVE ANOTHER (Doug O’Neill) looked very sharp between races in a public workout last Saturday on Santa Anita Handicap Day in front of a big crowd. He’ll be a major threat in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby … SABERCAT (Steve Asmussen) is training on the West Coast, but will ship next week to Oaklawn for the Grade 2 Rebel, which also will be the first start of the year for GEMOLOGIST (Todd Pletcher) … Next week’s races to circle on the calendar include Saturday’s Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn and the listed Private Terms Stakes at Laurel.

High Fives

Jeremy Plonk’s Top-5 rated performances by class so far this year (Dec. 26-present).

Maiden Race
1. BODEMEISTER (Santa Anita, 2/11)
2. MIDNIGHT TRANSFER (Santa Anita, 12/26)
3. FED BIZ (Santa Anita, 12/30)
4. BOURBON COURAGE (Fair Grounds, 2/3) 
5. STIRRED UP (Santa Anita, 3/3) * NEW *

Allowance Race

1. EL PADRINO (Gulfstream, 1/29) 
2. NAJJARR (Oaklawn, 3/2) * NEW *
3. DISCREET DANCER (Gulfstream, 1/7)
4. FED BIZ (Santa Anita, 2/9) 
5. OUR ENTOURAGE (Gulfstream, 2/25) 

Stakes Race

1. EL PADRINO (Risen Star, FG, 2/25) 
2. UNION RAGS (Fountain of Youth, GP, 2/26) 
3. HANSEN (Gotham, Aqu, 3/3) * NEW *
4. ALGORITHMS (Holy Bull, GP, 1/29) 
5. I’LL HAVE ANOTHER (Lewis Memorial, SA, 2/4) 

Jeremy Plonk is owner of the handicapping-based website HorseplayerNOW.com and Countdowntothecrown.com. You can E-mail Jeremy your Top 20 contenders list, or any questions about the 3-year-old or national racing scene, at Jeremy@Horseplayernow.com. Your Top 20 may be published in Countdown to the Crown!