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DRF Breeding Weekend Wrap: Final major Kentucky Derby preps contested, Wise Dan returns in style
By Patrick Reed
Java’s War and Overanalyze captured the two final major Kentucky Derby preps on April 13, each earning 100 points on Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying series. Both horses had accumulated points previously and dwelt in the lower tiers of the leaderboard but assured themselves of a spot in the starting gate for the May 4 classic with their first Grade 1 victories.
Java’s War entered the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland off of a fine second-place effort to likely Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 9, when he closed strongly to finish second after a poor start. The War Pass colt hesitated again at the start of the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass and ran last of 14 through the backstretch before angling out under Julien Leparoux in the far turn and commencing his rally. Java’s War picked off horses through the stretch going seven-wide and had just enough real estate remaining to collar Palace Malice for a neck win. Java’s War covered the distance over Keeneland’s Polytrack in 1:50.27 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 89 for his effort. The Charles Fipke homebred now sits in fourth on the Derby leaderboard with 122 points, and trainer Ken McPeek said that he expects the colt to put forth his best race in the Kentucky Derby, the third start of his 3-year-old campaign.
Java’s War will give his late sire War Pass an opportunity at a classic. The Eclipse Award winner as champion juvenile colt of 2007, War Pass stood at Lane’s End in Versailles, Ky., but only produced two Northern Hemisphere crops before dying suddenly in December 2010, just one day after returning from standing the Southern Hemisphere season in Australia. Java’s War, from the first of those crops, is out of the winning Rainbow Quest mare Java, who is a full sister to champion turf female and stakes producer Fiji.
Overanalyze, winner of the Futurity and Remsen as a juvenile, put together arguably the best performance of his seven-race career for owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher in the Arkansas Derby. The Dixie Union colt made a bold move for the lead in the far turn under Rafael Bejarano and was not challenged late in a 4 1/4-length win over McPeek-trained Frac Daddy. He covered 1 1/8 miles over Oaklawn’s dirt oval in 1:51.94 and earned a Beyer figure of 88. The Beyers for both Java’s War and Overanalyze, which are preliminary figures, were markedly lower than those earned by the winners of other major Derby preps in previous weeks.
Like Java’s War, Overanalyze is by a deceased Lane’s End sire. Multiple Grade 1-winning Dixie Union was off to a solid start at Lane’s End before he was euthanized during summer 2010 due to a neurological condition. Two years later, his son Union Rags captured the Belmont Stakes; the multiple Grade 1 winner is currently standing his first season at Will Farish’s farm. To date, Dixie Union’s progeny have earned just under $36 million and have won 46 stakes. Dixie Union will be profiled as DRF Breeding’s Hot Sire of the Week on Thursday.
Overanalyze, who is out of the unraced Unaccounted For mare Unacloud and is a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Meadow Breeze, was purchased as a yearling by Repole for $380,000 at the 2011 Keeneland September sale. The colt, who ranks fifth on the points leaderboard with 110, is one of four Derby candidates from Pletcher’s barn, along with Verrazano, Revolutionary, and Palace Malice, with Blue Grass third-place finisher Charming Kitten sitting on the fence. Only two races carrying Derby points remain: the Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland on April 20, and the Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill on April 27. Both offer 20 points to the respective winners and could prove to be viable “last ditch” races for connections who seek a chance to make history under the Twin Spires.
One day before the Blue Grass, Keeneland welcomed reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Maker’s 46 Mile. The 6-year-old son of Wiseman’s Ferry had not raced since his triumph in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last November at Santa Anita, but the gelding picked up exactly where he left off from his championship campaign, resolutely holding a charging Data Link—the defending race winner—at bay for a one-length victory. Wise Dan covered the mile in 1:36.37, good for a 99 Beyer, and according to trainer Charlie LoPresti he will attempt to navigate a challenging road ahead this year similar to 2012, culminating once again at Santa Anita for the Breeders’ Cup.
Homebred by Morton Fink, Wise Dan is out of the winning Wolf Power mare Lisa Danielle, currently a candidate for Kentucky Broodmare of the Year. His half-brother Successful Dan, a multiple graded stakes winner and a track record-holder for 1 1/16 miles at Churchill, is scheduled to make his seasonal debut in the Grade 3 Ben Ali on April 21, according to LoPresti.
Weekend notes: Another top performer from 2012, Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, disappointed in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on April 15, tiring in the stretch to finish fifth as he attempted to bounce back from a disastrous Donn Handicap when he unseated jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. The race winner, on the other hand, took another step up the ladder in the handicap division, as Cyber Secret tallied his fourth consecutive win for his owner, Oaklawn president Charles Cella, all during the racetrack’s spring meet. The 4-year-old Broken Vow colt steamrolled a quality field to score by 5 3/4 lengths, covering 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.67 and earning a 108 Beyer. Cyber Secret was bred in Kentucky by Paragon Farms and is out of the winning Dixieland Band mare Stomping.
One day earlier, On Fire Baby made an eye-catching return in her first race of 2013, assuming command early, opening up in early stretch, and then holding off Tiz Miz Sue in the final strides for a half-length victory in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom. The gray or roan daughter of Gainesway Farm stallion Smoke Glacken won both the Grade 2 Pocahontas and Golden Rod as a juvenile during Churchill’s fall 2011 meet and took the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn in March 2012, but was unplaced in both the Kentucky Oaks and the Acorn Stakes before taking an extended break due to an inflammation problem. She looked impressive in her comeback race for trainer Gary Hartlage, traveling 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.13 and earning a 101 Beyer. On Fire Baby is out of the stakes-winning Gilded Time mare Ornate and is a half-sister to both Grade 2 winner High Heels and stakes winner French Kiss.
On Saturday at Oaklawn, Justin Phillip picked up his first graded stakes win since 2011 in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Handicap. The 5-year-old First Samurai horse set well off the pace in the early stages, swung four-wide entering the stretch, and rushed past pacesetters Picko’s Pride and Gentlemen’s Bet for a three-quarter-length victory. He covered six furlongs in 1:09.63 and earned a 103 Beyer. Justin Phillip entered the Count Fleet off of a dominant allowance win at Oaklawn, which was his first victory since last May, although the hard-trying colt did place in four stakes over that span, including finishing second by a neck in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt last summer at Saratoga. Out of the winning Cryptoclearance mare Ava Knowsthecode, Justin Phillip is a half-brother to four stakes winners: Grade 2 winner and sire Keyed Entry, Grade 3 winner Successful Mission, Grade 3 winner and first-year stallion Algorithms, and listed winner Alex’s Allure.