01/11/2013 12:58PM

Countdown to the Crown: Week 2 - Jan. 11, 2013

Tom Keyser
Purple Egg looks tough in what might be a chalky edition of Tampa's Pasco Stakes.

The eighth season of Countdown to the Crown returns as one of the most comprehensive handicapper’s scouting reports of the 3-year-old scene. Posted each Friday at DRF.com from Jan. 4 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, opinions and interactive features at Countdowntothecrown.com as well.

Straight from the gate

While the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile needed no jump-starting and its alumni dominated the Triple Crown prep trail, the 2012 Juvy could use a little spit shine. Sixth-place finisher DYNAMIC SKY (Mark Casse) returns to action in Saturday’s Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and will try to become the Juvenile’s first alumnus to make a dent since. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile alumni to return so far are 0 for 3 with MONUMENT (John Sadler) running third against Cal-breds as the favorite in a minor stakes, and HE’S HAD ENOUGH (Doug O’Neill) and TITLE CONTENDER (Bob Baffert) both finishing off the board in the G1 CashCall Futurity in December.

This week’s fearless forecast

This section previews the coming attractions in 3-year-old stakes and undercard races. As is custom, we’ll outline some undercard races of note before diving into the stakes analysis and selections.

Opening Day 2013 at Oaklawn Park is Friday, and race 7 is a big-barn maiden sprint boasting names like Lukas, McPeek, Asmussen, and more. McPeek’s Grand Slam colt OUR DOUBLE PLAY may go favored after flashing speed twice in Kentucky and a bullet OP drill last Saturday. ROYAL DEHERE (David Vance) split the field in a raucously good Churchill maiden race early last summer and has been working lights-out for his first start since August.

Friday’s card at Fair Grounds includes a race 6 sprint featuring $800,000 juvenile buy BOSS MAN ROCKET (Tim Glyshaw). By War Front, he’s out of a half-sister to G1-winning sprinter Pomeroy, but was blasted in both NYRA starts for Bill Mott before owner Frank Fletcher sent him south. RUN WITH HONOR (Larry Jones) has worked well since missing the month of November from the tab and has a promising, win-early, sprint pedigree. EGYPTIAN WARRIOR (Steve Asmussen) looks a bit better after Dec. 15 rival ANIMAL STYLE (Mike Maker) came back to win at FG on Sunday.

Former Doug O’Neill trainee and Del Mar maiden breaker PAPA G.T. (Henry Dominguez) will try to see if he’s regional Derby trail material Friday at Sunland Park when he tackles a decent field of local allowance sprinters.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

Saturday’s Oaklawn card boasts a pair of 3-year-old tilts in races 5 and 6, an allowance route and a maiden route. The maiden race looks more exciting on paper, but the race 5 allowance features TWIN ENGINE (Carl Bowman), who has chased the Dale Romans star pair of GULFPORT and DEWEY SQUARE with some repute in his last two at Churchill Downs. TWIN ENGINE is a maternal grandson of G1 Alabama winner Runup the Colors, who is having herself quite a winter as the dam of REVOLUTIONARY (Todd Pletcher), one of my top-rated performers in this crop. But it’s the race 6 maiden route I can’t wait to see as ROYAL ART (D. Wayne Lukas) makes his Oaklawn unveiling at a place where his sire, Afleet Alex, was a star. He’s run some good races on dirt and, as a half to Travers runner-up Rattlesnake Bridge, ROYAL ART has license to paint. MOON BACK MORE (Kenny McPeek) exits a very key race behind OXBOW (D. Wayne Lukas) at Churchill and adds Lasix for the first time. MR. BLACKTHORN (Steve Hobby) had his form flattered two weeks ago when his debut conqueror BRADESTER (Eddie Kenneally) returned to win a Gulfstream allowance. This interesting colt hails from the same female family as Concern, an Oaklawn-loving router who won the 1994 Arkansas Derby, so he might take to the track quite well for a very respected horseman.

Race 4 Saturday at Aqueduct may be as good of a pedigree race as you’ll see all season in Countdown. The one-mile event boasts three Kiaran McLaughlin trainees with genes to die for: the A.P. Indy-Octave colt INCOGNITO, the Distorted Humor-Little Belle performer TELEGRAPH HILL and G1 winner To Honor And Serve’s little brother ELNAAWI, by Kentucky Derby hero Street Sense. If that’s not enough, there’s the Tiznow colt BUDDY’S TIZ (Bruce Levine), whose dam is half-sister to Travers champ Colonel John. And while FREIGHT (Bill Mott) may not be nearly as blue-blooded, he exits a mid-pack fourth in his debut behind sharp sprinter CLAWBACK (Rick Violette) and ridiculously impressive next-out winner OMEGA STAR (John Shirreffs), who recently lit up Santa Anita in his first trip west. Something good is going to come out of this heat, so set the DVR.

Two of the most impressive Gulfstream Park 3-year-old turf winners this meet will have their form gauged somewhat in Saturday’s race 6 maiden turf route at GP. EFFICIENT MARKET (Dale Romans) chased home last Saturday’s impressive return winner RYDILLUC (Gary Contessa) in his most recent start, and we know what Romans can do with a Tapit offspring on the turf -- see Tapitsfly. Meanwhile, VESPATO (Tom Proctor) returns to action after being the beaten favorite and runner-up on opening day of the Gulfstream meet behind my big-time heartthrob BOLD DANCE (Bill Mott). I adored Saint Liam’s little brother in a commanding four-length win here Dec. 1, and VESPATO should not find anyone of that quality in here. Now, he just has to overcome a dastardly post No. 12. Turf pedigree players beware COMANCHERIA (Jonathan Sheppard), who didn’t show much in a dirt sprint, but note his dam is half-sister to the dam of the once-ridiculously strong turfer Diamondrella.

Also on the grass, Santa Anita Race 6 on Saturday should be a soft landing spot for WINE LIST (Ron Ellis), a Giant’s Causeway colt whose dam is half-sister to millionaire Limehouse and past Dubai dominator Blues and Royals. He ran a better-than-you-think fourth in his dirt debut against two eventual, stakes-placed colts and last week’s eye-popping maiden winner CABALLO DEL CIELO (Steve Asmussen). WINE LIST showed an affinity for grass with a good second at Hollywood and doesn’t meet much quality in this spot other than PERSUASIVE PAUL (Doug O’Neill), who chased a couple of eventual Bob Baffert-trained stakes performers last year at Del Mar and Hollywood.

Fair Grounds’ Race 5 on Saturday sends routers over the turf and the debut artist CRUZADO (Tom Amoss) will be fun to watch as a son of Awesome Again and the fantastic turf mare Confessional. He will have his hoofs full with the Wayne Catalano entry of NIGHT PATROL and LIFE’S REWARD. If the race gets washed off the turf, main track only entrant PROUD STRIKE (Steve Asmussen) certainly rates the one to beat. The Smart Strike-Colonella colt boasts an all-day pedigree and placed behind the impressive TITLETOWN FIVE (D. Wayne Lukas) and BRADESTER (Eddie Kenneally) at Churchill.

DO I BELIEVE (Mike Maker) should further flatter the résumé of SAYLER’S CREEK (Kenny McPeek) on Saturday when he lines up against an overmatched Turfway Park race 9 allowance route field. The Flashy Bull colt was well-beaten in that key SAYLER’S CREEK race at Churchill in the fall, but already has returned for a 10-length maiden special weight score at Turfway.

Sunday’s race 8 allowance sprint at Oaklawn includes CAROL’S JIMMY (Kenny Smith), who will bypass a route race Saturday for what appears a softer, six-furlong sprint. The field does not boast any glaring prospects for route success, but does include CHUCK (Donnie K. Von Hemel), who won an Oklahoma Stallion Stakes at Remington that was not much more than a statebred maiden affair. The best router down the line could be ONLINEPOKER (Chris Richard), who fired a bullet drill locally Jan. 2 and is half-brother to 2006 G3 El Camino Real Derby runner-up and two-turn stakes winner Objective. MANEWAL (Cody Autrey) is a plenty-fast West Coast transplant formerly in the Peter Miller barn.

Also on Sunday, race 4 at Santa Anita is a maiden sprint at 7 furlongs, headed by rookie DEMONIC (John Sadler), a fast-working, well-bred son of Bernardini and Delaware Oaks heroine Sincerely. He’s half-brother to the very good graded stakes-placed sprinter Silver Edition. The field also includes Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens partnering with second-timer TIZ THE TRUTH (Bob Baffert), younger brother to 2007 San Rafael and Risen Star winner Notional.

Sunday’s race 4 Gulfstream Park, a turf allowance, looks to be a very weak repeat of a Dec. 23 contest won by RICO SUAVE (Nick Gonzalez).

Pasco Stakes (Saturday/Tampa Bay Downs) [Get PPs and Watch Live]

One of the more impressive 2-year-olds I evaluated in all of 2012 makes his sophomore debut in Saturday’s Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. The $100,000 affair becomes the redirected 2013 unveiling of PURPLE EGG (Jane Cibelli), who was forced to scratch from the New Year’s Day Gulfstream Park Derby due to a fever. Five days later he was back on the workout tab, smoked a bullet half-mile at his Tampa Bay Downs homebase, and the son of Lion Heart appears no worse for the wear. His nine rivals in the Pasco include the John Oxley-Mark Casse entry of DYNAMIC SKY and SKY COMMANDER, Woodbine maiden breakers who turn back in distance from late-season route tries. DYNAMIC SKY, runner-up in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity, was sixth in a troubled trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when racing without Lasix, but was not one of Casse’s 2-year-olds who reportedly bled at Santa Anita.

Casse was successful at Tampa Bay Downs last season when he brought Prospective to the Gulf Coast to win the Pasco in his first start since a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile bid. He then returned to run second in the G3 Sam F. Davis and win the G2 Tampa Bay Derby. The barn will look for lightning to strike again with a two-pronged attempt, though DYNAMIC SKY would appear to me the more likely winner of the two while adding blinkers.

PURPLE EGG has been a visual beast in his three wins, and in the Inaugural Stakes here in early December, he chased down a loose-leading G3 Sapling winner BRAVE DAVE (Eddie Plesa Jr.) in a sharp effort. BRAVE DAVE hasn’t been the same since, running up the track in the Spectacular Bid. While PURPLE EGG only has sprinted so far, note his sire Lion Heart was runner-up to Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby and his dam Luminous Prize was stakes-placed in Southern California going 1 1/2 miles on turf. Damsire Prized was the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner at 12 furlongs as well, and Countdown readers in past seasons know how much I love to see a grassy damside pedigree on a Derby hopeful. This is one of my top five horses to watch in 2013, and I’m excited to see him go Saturday.

If the winner isn’t PURPLE EGG or DYNAMIC SKY, I’ll be surprised. Among the others here include FALLING SKY (Antonio Sano), a fast Calder-based colt also by Lion Heart whose only blemish in three tries was a tired fourth behind PURPLE EGG here last month. DIVINE AMBITION (Darrin Miller) blew away maiden sprinters on Polytrack at Turfway in his September debut, but horses exiting that race are just 1 for 12 since with a maiden claiming win at Hawthorne to show for it, according to this week’s DRF Formulator fact. HARD TO NAME (John Servis) is a nicely bred colt who is 4: 2-2-0 on dirt and can wipe away the taste of a poor turf showing in the Dania Beach with a return to sprinting on dirt. The Hard Spun colt should like 7 furlongs.

I’m looking for a pretty chalky and trustworthy edition of the Pasco Stakes.

Pasco Stakes selections: W) PURPLE EGG; P) DYNAMIC SKY; S) HARD TO NAME.

California Derby (Saturday/Golden Gate Fields) [Get PPs]

Northern California’s key prep for the March 16 G3 El Camino Real Derby anchors the Saturday card at Golden Gate Fields in the $100,000 California Derby. Most handicapping in that part of the country begins with trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and jockey Russell Baze, and the Cal Derby is no exception as they team with multiple stakes winner ZEEWAT. The son of Harlan’s Holiday leads a rematch of the top three finishers from the Dec. 8 Gold Rush Stakes, a one-mile event in which visual study makes it very difficult to see CONDIMENT (Joseph Brook) or MY BEST BET (Bill Morey) turning the tables. And if you look at the workout tab, ZEEWAT has drilled five times since that race a month ago vs. just once for runner-up CONDIMENT. If they’re going to turn out the lights on ZEEWAT, it’s going to have to come from a fresh face.

Among the shippers is Southern California-based WILL TRUE UP (Peter Miller), third in the wet-track Eddie Logan Stakes, and TREE OF LIFE (Craig Dollase), winner of the Barretts Juvenile at Fairplex. WILL TRUE UP did not threaten AVARE (Doug O’Neill) in the Eddie Logan, and it’s fair to wonder if he’s best as a closing sprinter based on his past performances. TREE OF LIFE also has done his best work as a closing sprinter, but did finish modestly in a troubled fifth in the G3 Generous on turf last time out despite a slow pace (1:12 for six furlongs) that did not flatter his style. Dollase sharpened the Lion Heart gelding with a bullet six furlongs on January 4, and these same connections shipped north to win a nice maiden race last weekend that you’ll read about below in our review section.

The key to this race will be WILDCAT MOON (Jeff Bonde), who clearly would be the speed of the race to make ZEEWAT run much harder than he did in a lollygag pace in the Gold Rush. With ZEEWAT giving 3-8 pounds, if WILDCAT MOON remains in the race, it might be the time to take a shot with one of the newcomers. If WILDCAT MOON was to scratch, the race and pace appear to be conceded to ZEEWAT.

California Derby selections: W) TREE OF LIFE; P) ZEEWAT; S) WILL TRUE UP.

Last week’s selections: 2: 1-0-1. Easy tab on G3 Sham Stakes-winning favorite GOLDENCENTS, but I’m probably more proud of the solid third from 39-1 longshot top pick AMERIGO VESPUCCI in the G2 Jerome.

Season selections: 2: 1-0-1.

Everyone’s a critic

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

Stakes Races

This season, Countdown will be taking a fuller analysis of all Kentucky Derby points-earning stakes races with Countdown Rewind. Read Saturday’s G3 Sham Stakes analysis »

In last Saturday’s G2 Jerome at Aqueduct, when a 6/5 shot goes head-to-head with a 41/1 shot in the lane, there’s a natural tendency to knock the favorite even if he gets the nod. That’s the question for handicappers after unbeaten VYJACK (Rudy Rodriguez) outlasted Parx invader SIETE DE OROS (Ramon Preciado) through a stretch-long donnybrook. Even at 3 for 3 lifetime and a graded stakes win under his belt around two turns, questions may dog VYJACK since he was taken to the brink by a former $40,000 maiden claimer. Admittedly, I underestimated the tenacity and ability of VYJACK to get a distance based on past performances and pedigree, but he showed measurable heart on Saturday, especially after being a bit rank turning onto the backstretch in the Jerome and likely wasting some energy in competition with jockey Cornelio Velasquez. The competition increases next in March’s G3 Gotham, where there are sure to be a few Floridians headed back north, but I can find no sincere qualms with a colt who laid down a fourth-quarter in a strong 24.55 and galloped out nicely on even terms with the runner-up. As for the Jerome also-rans, our 39-1 longshot top pick AMERIGO VESPUCCI (Tim Tullock) ran to our expectations and turned in a solid third while trapped down inside and missing his best chance to make a run before flattening out some in the final yards. Fourth-place LONG RIVER (Kiaran McLaughlin) probably is a bit overblown based on pedigree (A.P. Indy-Round Pond) and was one-paced here with no excuse. MUDFLATS (Doug O’Neill) was a major disappointment off a big win and subsequent sale, but we’ve long-warned that horses exiting sloppy track and/or short-field wins often are inflated in perception. MUDFLATS didn’t corner very well on the clubhouse turn and gave way readily when in tight in the upper stretch. He’s been sent back west to the O’Neill camp for a reevaluation and could go either way honestly. Meanwhile, G2 Nashua runner-up VEGAS NO SHOW (Kelly Breen) lacked brilliance while stuck three-wide throughout and never brought any real game.

At Delta Downs, holiday gifts came a few weeks late for KING HENNY (Steve Asmussen), who was handed Saturday night’s $100,000 Big Drama Stakes over a sloppy track via disqualification. The sprint-pedigreed winner of Remington’s Clever Trevor Stakes was able to rally wide and avoid the traffic that plagued three runners at the head of the stretch. MR. BANDINI’S BAND (E.D. Nelson) crossed the line first, but was legitimately taken down for ducking in as the horses tried to straighten out for the stretch drive. KING HENNY chased him home second, and had nothing to do with the incident. From a distance standpoint, MR. BANDINI’S BAND may be the only Louisiana Derby hopeful in this cast, having now raced five straight times around two turns and being the grandson of a Derby (Fusaichi Pegasus) and Belmont (Colonial Affair) winner. KING HENNY should remain sprinting and could be a horse for something like the Mountain Valley at Oaklawn, but he may get a shot at the G3 Southwest, where he would be a play-against for me.

MAC THE MAN (Jeff Greenhill) accepted the perfect trip invite in Saturday’s $50,000 Turfway Prevue, winning the 6 1/2-furlong sprint by four widening lengths. Sitting third behind fast splits (45.83 half-mile) posted by dueling longshots, he pounced to the front in giving the stable its first career stakes victory. The pedigree suggests the 9-furlong G3 Spiral later in the meet may be beyond his range. SMOKININDABOYSROOM (Mike Maker) dueled and held second in an effort that’s probably better than it looks. Heavily favored BYE BYE BERNIE (Kelly Breen) had no excuse and showed no serious interest when fourth in his first start since a blowout Keeneland maiden score.

Allowance races

FORTY TALES (Todd Pletcher) impressed the eye test Saturday at Parx, winning an entry-level allowance in a strong 1:10.93 for six furlongs over a slow racetrack. The son of Tale of the Cat lengthened his stride nicely in going 2 for 2 lifetime and galloped out well after a final furlong in the low to mid-12s. He’s a half-brother to Bear Character, a horse who placed third in the 2006 Rushaway and Lexington stakes on the fringe of the Triple Crown trail, so he might handle some additional distance on pedigree. Four of the five entrants here exited sharp victories, though 3/5 favorite ORE PASS (Mike Trombetta) gave way badly after being pressed on the rail in a performance that makes you think something went awry physically. FORTY TALES earned a shot back in a stakes at Aqueduct with this victory and I like what I see. Given his genes, he’d be a natural on the Polytrack at Keeneland for something like the Lexington later this spring.

At Gulfstream, SINGANOTHERSONG (Ron Pellegrini) speed-popped a short field to win a first-level allowance sprint on Saturday and snapped a five-race losing streak. His pedigree and style suggest he’ll not go on in distance, and probably would have been run down in this race by HONORABLE DILLON (Eddie Kenneally) had the heavy 6/5 favorite managed to change leads. Off since Saratoga, HONORABLE DILLON was very inefficient in his action and seemed to be working hard and not getting anywhere because of it. The son of Tapit should be better than that next time.

The most impressive allowance performer last week at Gulfstream came on the turf, namely RYDILLUC (Gary Contessa), who won a first-level grass allowance mile on Saturday in the style you like to see. The son of Medaglia d’Oro took advantage of a soft pace and went on to run every fraction faster than the previous as the race splits went 24.24, 24.15, 23.90 and a sharp 23.21 that included a sparkling final furlong in 11.54. Not many turf miles are won by 5 3/4 lengths and this one had the superb visual bounding action and good gallop-out that you like to see. There’s plenty of pedigree to give dirt another chance sometime as his mama is half-sister to the classy dam of El Corredor, Roman Ruler and Maimonides. Yes, the pace was easy -- speed held 1-2-3 throughout -- and the runner-up was a hopeless 59-1 shot, but your eyes tell you this win was better than the paper will indicate.

GREELEY AWESOME (Doug O’Neill), who entered and scratched from Saturday’s G3 Sham to help fill the race for stablemate GOLDENCENTS, returned Thursday to win a Race 1 starter allowance at Santa Anita at one mile on turf. He rallied gamely between horses for his second consecutive victory and still has his entry level allowance condition available by virtue of this win.

Maiden races

Far and away the week’s top maiden winner was CABALLO DEL CIELO (Steve Asmussen), a brilliant sprint victor Saturday at Santa Anita. The $250,000 juvenile buy set the pace in last summer’s G1 Del Mar Futurity after a debut second, and ran to both his speed and back class in this 4 ¼-length score. The Songandaprayer colt is leggy and athletic, which can be problematic from the rail sprinting, but he broke with the field and then ran away from them once he got his sea legs under him, which has been his style in all four sprint tries. I’m excited to see him stretch out. He reminds me a bit of Tapizar, who took four tries to break his maiden and then rocked the two-turn Sham a year ago for these same connections before going on to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Look for MORENO (Eric Guillot) and BENCH PRESS (John Sadler) to be tough coming out of this race next time.

Saturday’s attention at Gulfstream Park focused on split division maiden miles for 3-year-olds in races 7 and 9. On paper, the latter looked to be the more intriguing contest. But it was the former that went slightly better on the clock in both the final time and the final-furlong split. But neither of these races should send you to the post office for stamps; you won’t be mailing any post cards about them. Race 7 winner LOOKING COOL (Carl Nafzger) upset the field at 10/1 showing more speed than he had in previous races and held on with a 26.38 final quarter-mile. His pedigree and performance here suggests two turns are not in the best forecast. Runner-up DOHERTY (Todd Pletcher) had the entire length of the stretch to go by and couldn’t in a modest debut, albeit at a tough distance for a first attempt. THE CANDIDATE (Nick Zito) walked out of the gate and only showed mild late interest in a disappointing return. He had exited a very good race at Churchill in the fall. WABBAJACK (Jimmy Toner) looks better than he’s shown in two starts and needs to get outside of horses next time and could wake up at a price. The race 9 split division went to the more ballyhooed ETON BLUE (Nick Zito), the son of Giant’s Causeway and Kentucky Oaks heroine Bird Town. But pedigree and connections aside, this colt was hard-ridden three furlongs out to survive with a final furlong in a paltry 13.70. These horses all were spinning their wheels late, while stretch-running AIR SQUADRON (Chad Brown) likely would have won with a clean trip. But the way this race fell apart and the fact that AIR SQUADRON will be bet the hilt in his reappearance, he might wind up a tad overblown and underlaid. I would certainly make ETON BLUE beat me in an allowance or stakes date as I was not left wanting more. Both the race 7 and race 9 divisions served to flatter the form of OXBOW (D. Wayne Lukas), a horse who had run well against both LOOKING COOL and race 9 runner-up DYKER BEACH (Nick Zito) in two fall starts at Churchill. OXBOW now is based at Oaklawn Park and should be a stakes factor there.

Well-bred Shadwell colt MALEEH (Kiaran McLaughlin) debuted a winner Sunday at Aqueduct sprinting 6 furlongs, showing some heart in collaring a loose-leading BELLAMY STORM (Bill Mott), a fellow rookie who looked long gone at the sixteenth pole. But BELLAMY STORM didn’t lie down; the final furlong was a strong 12.14 as part of a 23.65 final quarter that obviously was partially a product of an easy early pace. Still, when you see an Indian Charlie-Gold Mover baby debut like MALEEH, there’s some room for sprint excitement, but reserve any dreams of serious routing.

The Feb. 16 G3 El Camino Real Derby picked up a likely starter Saturday at Golden Gate Fields when BROKERED (Craig Dollase) ran the last furlong of his mile maiden breaker in a solid 12.47 to win his second lifetime start. The $150,000 son of Eddington pounded out 24s around the track with splits of 24.75, 24.68, 24.52 and 24.86 while pressing the pace. He’s half-brother to Tatum Tot, a horse who was a two-time route allowance winner this past year at Delaware Park.

Also on the West Coast, last Friday’s Santa Anita maiden turf sprint winner KOCHEES (Michael Pender) rocketed home impressively at 24/1 odds to surge by our Countdown pedigree special BUCKLEBERRY GREY (Ben Cecil) at 14/1 odds. Neither projects out to be more than a turf sprinter, however. One to watch from this race may be CERVARO (John Sadler), a troubled fourth-place finisher who had to take up late and one who further flattered the form of a very key Nov. 25 Hollywood sprint that featured next-out winners DISTINCTIV PASSION (Jeff Bonde), BELVIN (Bob Baffert) and MANANDO (Bob Baffert). CERVARO is by Lemon Drop Kid, but his mama was a pure sprinter and this one just might be a late-running sprinter, but worth a bet around one turn on an surface next time.

Sunday’s Fair Grounds maiden sprint was washed off the turf and onto a sloppy main track where ANIMAL STYLE (Mike Maker) posted a hard-working win. It was his second start for the connections since being claimed for $30,000, but this turned out a weak cast after scratches.

At Tampa Bay Downs on Wednesday, favored WORLD TRAVELER (Chad Stewart) won a very modest maiden turf route in his fifth start and likely remains on grass, given the son of Heatseeker’s pedigree. CHRISTMAS RUSH (Bill Mott), full-brother to G1 Ashland winner Christmas Kid, never picked up a hoof in a listless career debut.

Finally, Thursday’s Race 7 Gulfstream Park maiden sprint went wire to wire to rookie INTEGRITY (Chad Brown). The Hard Spun colt, out of the six-furlong stakes-winning mare Generosity, cornered very well and then galloped out nicely after the 3-1/2 length win in 1:10.50.

High Fives

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

Maiden Race
1. VERRAZANO (Gulfstream Park, 1/1)
2. REVOLUTIONARY (Aqueduct, 12/28)
3. OMEGA STAR (Santa Anita, 12/31)
4. BELVIN (Santa Anita, 12/26)
5. CABALLO DEL CIELO (Santa Anita, 1/5)

Allowance Race
1. MYLUTE (Fair Grounds, 12/26)
2. FORTY TALES (Parx, 1/5)
3. RYDILLUC (Gulfstream Park, 1/5 * TURF *)
4. DISTINCTIV PASSION (Santa Anita, 12/28)
5. BRADESTER (Gulfstream Park, 1/1)

Stakes Race
1. ITSMYLUCKYDAY (Gulfstream Park Derby, Gulfstream, 1/1)
2. VYJACK (G2 Jerome, Aqueduct, 1/5)
3. GOLDENCENTS (G3 Sham, Santa Anita, 1/5)
4. AVARE (Eddie Logan, Santa Anita, 12/29)
5. MERIT MAN (Spectacular Bid, Gulfstream Park, 1/1)

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!