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Crown Royal consolation prize for Zito
Wild Desert makes his first start of the year in Friday's $100,000 Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Two horses whose connections wanted to run them in the Kentucky Derby were entered in the $100,000 Crown Royal American Turf on Friday at Churchill Downs, and so was another one whose trainer would have loved to be in the Kentucky Derby with any qualified horse.
That would be Nick Zito, who had five starters for the 2005 Derby but will be shut out of this year's race. Zito does have a nice 3-year-old for Derby Week at Churchill: Giant Basil just happens to be a turf horse. Not that Zito, a dirt-first kind of trainer, didn't give Giant Basil a chance on the main track.
"He didn't run bad on dirt, but he's by Giant's Causeway, so I put him on grass, and his form has been good ever since," Zito said.
Giant Basil won a Gulfstream maiden race through disqualification, which makes it even more impressive that he came right back and beat winners in a Keeneland allowance race. On the lead in his first grass start, Giant Basil has settled and finished in his last two.
"He's got a lot of class," said Zito.
Sacred Light and Malameeze, both of whom would have been entered in the Derby if they had enough graded-stakes earnings to get into the field, also were entered in the Crown Royal American Turf, carded for 1 1/16 miles on grass. Sacred Light, however, is to be scratched from the Friday stakes in favor of an entry-level dirt allowance race Saturday, trainer David Hoffmans said.
Gaelic Storm and Tahoe Warrior figure to provide the American Turf with an honest pace, good news for possible favorite Go Between, who won the Palm Beach at Gulfstream and likes to stalk in midpack, and Stream Cat, who does his best running in the stretch. Stream Cat's most recent start came in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but he won his only turf start - a restricted stakes at Saratoga - last year at 2.
Alysheba: Wild Desert in 2006 debut
Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. has some big shoes to fill in his barn with the retirement of Horse of the Year Saint Liam. He is hoping to fill those shoes with Wild Desert, the 2005 Queen's Plate winner who will make his 2006 debut in Friday's $100,000 Alysheba Stakes. The 1 1/16-mile Alysheba drew a field of 10, including Purim, who is expected to scratch to run Saturday at Arlington Park.
A Canadian-bred, Wild Desert was transferred from trainer Ken McPeek to Dutrow following his eighth-place finish in the 2005 Arkansas Derby and pointed for the Queen's Plate. Dutrow was under suspension when the Queen's Plate was run, so it was Bobby Frankel who sent out Wild Desert to a come-from-behind half-length victory.
Wild Desert was sidelined with a suspensory injury after finishing third as the 1-5 favorite in the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie on July 17. He returned to training with Dutrow earlier this year at Palm Meadows and has since posted a series of sharp works at Aqueduct in preparation for his return.
"He's the nicest horse I've had since Saint Liam, and he's doing well," said Dutrow. "I'm quietly confident he's going to come back with a big race, but first time back you always have to worry until he actually crosses the finish line on top."
Rafael Bejarano will ride Wild Desert. All horses in the field will carry 118 pounds under the allowance conditions of the race.
If Purim scratches, Wild Desert may receive his stiffest competition from Gouldings Green or Andromeda's Hero.
Gouldings Green returned from an eight-month layoff to win an allowance race before finishing third last out in the Oaklawn Handicap.
Andromeda's Hero opened the season finishing third in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, and has since finished fifth in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap and eighth in the Oaklawn Handicap.
- Mike Welsch
Edgewood: Kitty Hawk in rebound spot
Kitty Hawk looked like a promising stakes star when she won her United States debut in January at Santa Anita, but she became rank in her second start, failing as the odds-on favorite in the China Doll Stakes on March 11, also at Santa Anita.
That race, however, has turned out better than it first looked, because upset winner Foxysox came back to win again. Kitty Hawk has now left California as part of trainer Patrick Biancone's springtime migration to Kentucky and then New York. On Friday, she will attempt to bounce back to her best form in Friday's $100,000 Edgewood Stakes for 3-year-old turf fillies.
Kitty Hawk has won twice in four starts, alternating good races with poor efforts. Based on that simplistic criteria, she's due. But a more concrete case can be made based on her January race, when she finished furiously to win.
The 1 1/16-mile Edgewood drew nine others, including Magnificent Song, a recent allowance winner at Keeneland, and May Night, who was second in the Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland on April 23.
Magnificent Song added blinkers for her last victory on April 7, but her trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he thinks she ran just as well in a third-place finish at Gulfstream on Feb. 13.
"She had run a deceptively good race the time before," Pletcher said Wednesday morning. "John Velazquez thought she was shying away from horses a little bit, so we put the blinkers on her. I don't know that she ran any better.
"She didn't get a good trip, lost a lot of ground," he said, referring to the Gulfstream race. "It was one of those races where we thought it was okay, but you get the figures back and it's a lifetime best."
May Night is coming back just 12 days after the Appalachian, in which she rallied for second after getting fanned wide into the lane.
- Jay Privman
Aegon: Biancone expects more
If Man of Illusion improves off his North American debut the way trainer Patrick Biancone expects, he could very well be the one to beat in Friday's Grade 3, $100,000 Aegon Turf Sprint at five furlongs.
Man of Illusion finished a troubled third, beaten two lengths, in the Grade 3 Shakertown last month at Keeneland. He broke slowly and was caught between horses while four wide in the stretch.
"When you draw the inside going five furlongs you need to be a little lucky," Biancone said. "On the other hand, he wasn't really, really sharp. He's sharper this time."
Man of Illusion ran on Lasix in the Shakertown for the first time. Biancone said Man of Illusion had a bleeding problem in Australia.
Man of Illusion worked five furlongs in 59.80 seconds on April 27 over the Keeneland turf course.
Atticus Kristy beat Man of Illusion in the Shakertown, in which the two were at equal weights. Atticus Kristy picks up five pounds from that race and now spots Man of Illusion six pounds. Atticus Kristy is 3 for 3 over the Churchill Downs turf course, including a minor stakes win last November.
"I like him I like the way he's training," said Merrill Scherer, the trainer of Atticus Kristy. "I'm sure there's other horses that can run in there - they don't give that money away - but he's on top of his game."
Mighty Beau makes his fifth consecutive appearance in the Aegon. He won it last year and finished second in 2004. He makes his second start for trainer Dale Romans, who sent him out to a ninth-place finish in the Shakertown.
The Nth Degree and Western Kind, separated by a neck in the Yankee Affair at Gulfstream last out, are also contenders in this spot. Western Kind adds blinkers and gets a rider switch to Rafael Bejarano.
- David Grening