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This Eclipse Award finalist has gotten off to a good start in his second time wintering in south Florida, picking up five victories during the first full week of the meet. The most important of those wins came aboard Custom for Carlos in the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector for trainer Eddie Kenneally, the second of two tallies on the week for a team that clicked at a 25 percent rate with a return on investment of over $2.80 here a year ago.
Leparoux, a 26-year-old Frenchman, won 45 races in his first go-round at Gulfstream in 2009 while the $2.2 million in purses his mounts won was tops for any rider on the grounds.
A well-travelled journeyman, he has spent the majority of the last several winters at Fair Grounds but appears to have made a good decision switching his tack to south Florida this year. Castanon posted three wins during the first week of the session, two of those for trainer Tom Proctor, and owned a gaudy $4.71 ROI through his first 14 mounts at the meet.
The perennial local training champ, he has already opened a big lead on the rest of the field in defense of his latest title, winning six races over the first five days of the meet, including the Grade 3 Hal's Hope on opening day with Quality Road and a couple of midweek features with the 3-year-old prospect Eskendereya and Battle Plan.
This old pro registered his sixth consecutive victory dating back to June 24. He rallied to an easy five-length tally in a $10,000 starter allowance race over the turf last week. The win was the 14th in the career of the 9-year-old gelding whom his trainer, Anthony Dutrow, likens to fine wine.
"He just keeps getting better with age," Dutrow said following Bon Marie's latest triumph.
Several high-profile jockeys got off to uncharacteristically slow starts during the opening week of the meet, including Alan Garcia (0 for 16), Rajiv Maragh, (1 for 27), Luis Saez (1 for 24), Kent Desormeaux (1 for 20), Paco Lopez (1 for 18), and Cornelio Velasquez (1 for 13). There is just too much talent in this group to expect that trend to continue much longer.
NOTABLE PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
You had to be impressed by A Little Warm's huge effort capturing the Spectacular Bid Stakes on Saturday. He rallied five wide off the final turn under jockey Jeremy Rose to wear down a game Wildcat Frankie. A steadily improving but still-maturing 3-year-old, A Little Warm earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 100 for his victory, just 3 points lower than the older
multiple stakes winner Custom for Carlos received covering the same distance winning the Mr. Prospector about an hour later. In addition, A Little Warm gave the impression he will definitely handle more ground. Kudos as well go out to runner-up Wildcat Frankie for his effort in just his second start. Trained by Jim Hatchett, he may have a more of a distance limitation than A Little Warm.
HARD LUCK STORY OF THE WEEK
This one goes hands-down to jockey Mike Smith, who made the cross-country trip from Southern California specifically to ride the top 3-year-old prospect Launch N Relaunch, who was to make his second career start in an entry-level allowance race here Jan. 7. All went well until just moments before the expected start, when the horse in the adjacent stall, Our Repent, acted up in the gate, kicking Launch N Relaunch. Both horses were ordered scratched on the advice of the track veterinarian, sending Smith home with a sad tale to tell and little inkling as to whether Launch N Relaunch might be a potential Derby contender. To add salt to the wound, Launch N Relaunch was entered back this past Wednesday on the turf but Smith was unable to make the return trip because of commitments on the West Coast.
Sunday's Sweetest Chant Stakes should end this weekend on a good note, with several potential stakes-caliber 3-year-old fillies likely to start, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Tapitsfly. The first real significant 3-year-old test of the meet comes up the following Saturday in the one-mile Holy Bull, which is expected to lure a top-quality field topped by Champagne winner Homeboykris and the once-beaten Calder sensation Jackson Bend. The Grade 3 Holy Bull is the first of three important Kentucky Derby preps to be decided here this meet, along with the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 1 Florida Derby.
Both the dirt and turf courses yielded significant trends during the first full week of the meet, culminating with an extremely outside-biased strip last Sunday.
Front-runners have struggled over the turf, both the inner and outer, with closers dominating in all two-turn races over the first four days of the session. Hatfield stalked and won the Turf Sprint, but that race was contested at five furlongs over boggy ground.
It paid to race close to the pace during the first four days of the meet over a dry main track, although those horses who actually showed in front early and raced near the rail were rarely able to carry their speed into the winner's circle. The trend began to shift even further toward the outer portion of the track over Saturday's sloppy strip and Sunday's deep, muddy course, in which rail runners had absolutely no chance. Some
horses to watch coming off the dead fence on Sunday include Angel Lisa, Georgian, Art and Soul, Souma, Mo Blues, Indulgence, and Checkitoff.
Not a lot of local workouts to hang our hat on for Saturday's card, but a few horses that bear watching include:
* 3rd race: Inheritor blew out extremely well for his local debut only to get knocked around leaving the gate to lose all chance over a speed-favoring strip here opening day. He has since come back to work six furlongs over a deep track in 1:15.72 and may be worth another look stretching out to a mile.
* 8th race: Backseat Rhythm has trained extremely well since arriving here last month, capping off a good series of works by blowing out a very strong three-eighths on Tuesday. Her final time of 36.40 was all the more impressive considering the dogs were set out approximately 100 feet from the inside rail. Must overcome a tough post.
Handicappers should be aware that the racetrack was extremely deep during training hours on both Monday and Tuesday (a bit worse on Monday) but was back to normal by Wednesday.
Other workers of note this week include two-time graded-stakes-winning 3-year-old filly Sassy's Image, who on Monday went a half in hand in 49.24 before finishing up five-eighths around to the mile pole in 1:01.90. Top 3-year-old prospect and Holy Bull contender Homeboykris labored over the deep strip at the tail end of his six-furlong work of 1:13.22 the following morning, pulling up before making a seven-furlong gallop-out time.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Wesley Ward
Last race: Jan. 7, 1st
Finish: 4th by 9 1/2
Virtually eliminated when roughed up leaving the gate, dropping to the rear of pack over a speed-favoring strip as the 8-5 favorite in his 3-year-old debut. Deserves another chance against similar lower-level conditioned claimers.
Trainer: Mark Hennig
Last race: Jan. 7, 3rd
Finish: 5th by 1 3/4
Three-year-old filly showed promise in her turf debut despite getting hung wide throughout and taking up at the eighth pole in traffic. Finished with interest once clear, should benefit from the effort next time on the grass.
Trainer: Kiaran McLaughlin
Last race: Jan. 9, 4th
Finish: 2nd by a neck
Good-looking 3-year-old prospect was probably best in his local debut, encountering traffic issues on several occasions before making a belated run and falling just short of earning his diploma over a wet track. Ready to graduate next time with any racing luck.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Last race: Jan 9, 5th
Finish: 4th by 6 1/2
Graded stakes-placed 3-year-old never had much of a chance for his new trainer in the Spectacular Bid after bobbling at the start, then slamming on the brakes trying to run up inside pacesetter Wildcat Frankie nearing the quarter pole. He faded badly in the stretch, but be willing to put a line through this one and catch him back again over a fast track.