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Led all riders in this loaded jockey colony with seven victories last week, which included a hat trick Friday and a double Sunday. All seven of those winners came for different trainers. The most promising of his winners may have been the good-looking 3-year-old maiden Trappe Shot in Sunday's fifth race.
Although he made a bad decision to send Buddy's Saint up into no man's land inside Aikenite entering the first turn of , Lezcano still had a big week, winning six races including Sunday's fourth with trainer Nick Zito's newest 3-year-old prospect Fly Down.
"This is a real talented rider," Zito said of Lezcano after Fly Down beat First Dude by a nose following a stirring duel through the final furlong. "He was relentless."
Not only did Pletcher lead all his peers locally with four wins last week, including victories with Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth and Starfish Bay in with Discreetly Mine. Add it all up and Pletcher won six stakes from just a dozen starters last weekend.
Rajiv Maragh/Javier Castellano
After having been on a roll earlier in the month, both riders were blanked here last week. Maragh seems to have caught a bit of the jinx that seems to plague so many jockeys and trainers when they get close to a career milestone as he went winless in 18 mounts after posting his 999th victory Wednesday at Tampa Bay Downs aboard Kentucky Derby prospect Odysseus.
Both the weather and the wind finally moderated a bit during the tail end of the week. A lack of rain during the period also had a profound effect on the turf course, which was a lot firmer and somewhat more conducive to speed than in previous weeks.
Wednesday, Feb. 17: Horses racing on or near the pace and close to the rail dominated on the main track, with front-runners and pace-stalkers accounting for the first five dirt races on the card. Longshot Tesoro de Amor rallied from farther back in the final race on the main track but did save ground for the opening seven furlongs before easing out to split rivals and run down the leaders.
Thursday, Feb. 18: A similar pattern as the previous afternoon, with speed and stalkers again winning all five main-track wins on the card at distances ranging from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. No bias on the grass.
Friday, Feb. 19: Looks like the rail began to bog down a bit, with stalkers rallying from the outside finding their way to the winner's circle with regularity on the dirt. The turf was starting to favor speed a bit more, with three of the four grass races won on the front end, including Asset's 16-1 surprise in the nightcap.
Saturday, Feb. 20: One wire-to-wire winner on the main, but for the most part a similar trend as earlier in the week with horses rallying from slightly off the pace and on the outside having the most success. D' Funnybone stalked the pace three wide and held off the four-wide A Little Warm to win , while Eskendereya fashioned a similar trip en route to his dominating victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. Turf course again favored horses on or near the lead.
Sunday, Feb. 21: The worst rail of the week on the main track, while the extremely fast grass course produced a five-furlong track record and allowed closers to win all three two-turn races.
CLOSER LOOK AT 3-YEAR-OLDS
Eskendereya obviously moved to the top of the class with his breakout performance in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. Jackson Bend ran gallantly but proved no match for the winner and may have distance limitations. His stablemate Ice Box ran creditably despite a slow start and wide trip and bears watching down the road with continued improvement. Aikenite is an honest sort who rarely runs a poor one but perhaps is a notch below the best. Pulsion should improve with this race under his belt, but it's hard to tell if he's Derby material. Buddy's Saint was taken up sharply and virtually eliminated going into the first turn and is behind the eight ball now since he got very little out of the race.
D' Funnybone had to be very sharp coming off the bench to beat A Little Warm in the Hutcheson, but he obviously has questions to answer regarding his stamina. It will be interesting to see if either will attempt to stay nine furlongs in the Florida Derby.
Fly Down won a nose bob from a dead-game First Dude in one of those nine-furlong entry-level allowance races here at Gulfstream that down through the years has often produced a major player or two on the Derby trail. It was a big effort from the winner, considering he was coming off a three-month layoff and rallying from last over a speed-favoring strip, while the runner-up had to withstand an early pace duel with the odds-on Colizeo yet still had enough in the tank to nearly hold off Fly Down following a spirited stretch duel.
Lentenor disappointed as the favorite in an entry-level allowance race on the turf, although to his credit he battled on gamely right to the end and probably never saw the rail-skimming winner down the stretch. On the negative side is the fact that Barbaro's baby brother did wash out noticeably in the paddock on a day when the temperature struggled to reach 60 degrees and he's obviously still got some growing up to do.
Odysseus won a loaded maiden race here early in the meet and then went up to Tampa Bay Downs last week to crush an entry-level allowance race. He might be a sleeper on the Derby trail.
Trappe Shot beat up on a weak bunch of statebred maidens in his second start, and did so in a manner that suggests he'll be moving on to bigger and better things down the road.
The turf course will see plenty of action, with Sunday's card highlighted by the Grade 3 Mac Diarmida, featuring the appearance of defending champion Presious Passion, and next weekend highlighted by the Palm Beach and Herecomesthebride stakes.
Saturday, Feb. 27
Starforaday (1st race): Worked a bullet half-mile Sunday for his return to the starter ranks but was drifting in the latter stages of the drill while finishing under pressure.
Homeboykris (3rd race): Has worked four times since the Holy Bull and has not been asked for real speed with Julien Leparoux aboard for the majority of those works. Expect an improved try in allowance ranks.
Radiohead (3rd race): Scratched from the Hutcheson last Saturday after drawing the rail. I loved his five-furlong work Feb. 12 in which he breezed an easy five furlongs in 59.76 while under little urging by exercise rider Michelle Nevin. Blew out an easy three-eighths in 36.65 from the gate before galloping out a half in 49.21 six days later.
Miner's Reserve (4th race): Looked sharp going a half-mile in 47.60 while finishing just in front of stablemate Scary Good on Feb. 12, completing his final three furlongs in 34.70 in hand. Should benefit from his debut and the stretch to a mile.
Bushwhacked (4th race): Ran a corker off the bench and was probably best but for being taken a bit too far back early over a very fast, speed-favoring strip. Returned with a blistering five-eighths in 46.67 earlier this month and is another who should improve with experience and distance.
Wicked Ravnina (5th race): That last gate work was actually three furlongs in 34.52 without undue pressure and a half-mile gallop out in 47.37 in blinkers. Has some gas, a question mark on turf.
Devastating Diva (5th race): Worked 47 and change from the pole Feb. 4 but tired noticeably at the end. Held on better from the gate a week later after showing good speed (first three-eighths in 35.40) into a stiff headwind.
Christine Daae (8th race): Went the last five-eighths of her six-furlong work into a headwind in 59.50 while under mild urging to finish Feb. 14 and returned with another crisp five-panel drill here Tuesday. Has much potential but is taking a big step up in class off a maiden win.
Sunday, Feb. 28
Presious Passion (Mac Diarmida): Have regularly watched him train for nearly a month, and he just doesn't seem to have the same bounce to his step as he displayed before the Breeders' Cup. Worked a mile in 1:40 and change last week but was under heavy urging to complete the final three furlongs.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Michael Maker
Last race: Feb. 21, 10th
Finish: 3rd by 1/2
Don'twait Toolong waited too long to make his move after being checked sharply in traffic and knocked to the rear of the pack around the second turn in his last. Finished full of run once clear only to fall just short.
Trainer: Steve DiMauro
Last race: Feb. 21, 2nd
Finish: 3rd by 2 1/2
Daughter of Trippi was victimized by a sluggish start and poor decision by her rider to rush up into trouble down the backstretch along what proved to be a deep rail. Showed some real courage when she re-rallied once angled outside into the better going at the head of the stretch.
Trainer: Angel Penna Jr.
Last race: Feb. 20, 6th
Finish: 3rd by 2 1/4
Saint Liam colt came up a hot item at the windows but could not quite overcome a less-than-perfect trip and his own inexperience. Was shuffled back in traffic a quarter-mile into the seven-furlong maiden special weight dash, then raced greenly at times through the stretch while offering a belated rally.