04/15/2013 10:02AM

Trip Notes: Blue Grass, Arkansas Derby, and more

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Aqueduct
Distaff Handicap (race 8)

Race took a hit with a number of scratches, reducing the field to 4. Cluster of Stars pushed her record to a perfect 5 for 5 and notched her first graded win in impressive fashion. She went right out to the lead, soon relinquished that spot to Los Ojitos, comfortably stalked the rival, moved back up to grab the lead again and drew off. She might go next in the Grade 2 Vagrancy at Belmont. With champion Groupie Doll still sidelined and one-time division force Golden Mystery a question mark the division is ripe for the taking. All that being said, this wasn’t the strongest bunch. Miss d’Oro, coming off two big wins at parx, stalked the pace, tried to make a run at the winner through the lane but wasn’t good enough. Los Ojitos stalked early, moved up to take over pacesetting duties down the backside, had the winner go on past again into the lane and weakened a bit once headed.

Oaklawn
Oaklawn Park Handicap (race 8)

Cyber Secret continued his love affair with Oaklawn, making it 5 wins in 8 tries here, with the big news being the failure of heavy favorite Fort Larned. Cyber Secret, coming off a game win in the Grade 3 Razorback here, stalked the pace of Taptowne, moved closer to that foe turning for home, moved up to challenge him into the lane, grabbed the lead and drew clear to actually win in a romp. Taptowne was an impressive optional claiming winner here March 24, and he validated that run as he bounced out to a clear lead, was still clear turning for home, battled back briefly when hooked by the winner but was then no match for that foe in the final furlong while much the best of the rest. Sabercat, 2nd to Taptowne in that March 24 race, sat midpack and came with a decent run though he was never really a factor. Fort Larned, last year’s BC Classic winner, was trying to get his year off to a better start after his debacle in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap when he stumbled badly at the start and lost his rider. He didn’t show his customary high speed. Instead he stalked in 3rd remained there turning for home and never really mustered a run.  He checked out fine after the race and could try to regroup in the Grade 2 Alysheba May 3.

Oaklawn
Count Fleet Handicap (race 9)

Justin Phillip appears back on top of his game. Nearly a Grade 1 winner last year and 5th in the Grade 1 BC Sprint, he dueled and fizzled in the Grade 2 San Carlos at Santa Anita. He bounced back here with an impressive optional claiming win March 21 and validated that with another fine run here. He sat back early, steadily advanced, moved wide into the lane and gradually wore down leader Picko’s Pride and was edging away late. Picko’s Pride was 4th behind a couple of today’s foes in the Hot Springs here last month on a sloppy track, and got the better of them on dry land today as he went out to duel with Gentlemen’s Bet, finally got the better of that foe into the lane but was immediately tackled by Justin Phillip, battled gamely but succumbed in the final 70 yards. Gentlemen’s Bet, winner of his first 3 starts and trying graded stakes for the first time, dueled with Picko’s Pride through brisk splits and tired some from those efforts. Still, not a bad effort at all and since this was just his 4th career start there’s ample room for growth. Laurie’s Rocket, winner of the Hot Springs last month, stalked the pace but never produced the needed run.

Oaklawn
Arkansas Derby (race 10)

You never know which Overanalyze will show up, the guy who won the Grade 2 Futurity and Grade 2 Remsen, or the guy who fizzled in the Grade 3 Gotham. Well, it was the “good” Overanalyze today as he got a great trip sitting 7th early, though he was never too far from pacesetter Falling Sky, moved closer turning for home, moved up to grab the lead and kicked clear to win very comfortably. He’ll go to the Derby now, one of 4 Pletcher trainees expected to run. Frac Daddy, trying to earn points to get into the Derby starting gate, stalked the pace while wide, moved closer on the turn while staying outside and finished decently though he was no threat to the winner. Carve was just behind the winner early, moved earlier to reach contention, was no match for that rival in the lane but kept on well for 3rd. Oxbow broke a step slowly from his far outside post, tucked in behind runners going to the clubhouse turn, started tossing his head and climbing when taking all that kickback in his face, moved out wide while still well back, came with a smart run on the far turn and into the lane but flattened out. War Academy, coming off a smashing win at Santa Anita, seemed in a dream spot just behind the pace while between horses suddenly backed out of it going down the backside and was pulled up. His rider reported that the horse acted very “uncertain” over the track and took some awkward steps and that he didn’t want to take any chances with the horse.

Keeneland
Commonwealth (race 6)

A class drop, distance change and surface switch all did the trick for Handsome Mike as the Grade 2 winner bounced back to form with a game tally. He faded to 7th in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap behind Game on Dude at March 2. He moved to synthetic, to a sprint and down in class for this. He broke sharply and went right to the lead, was immediately joined by Gantry, dueled with that foe, looked beat when Gantry took the lead into lane but re-rallied, moved past Gantry and was actually edging away late. Off a good run like this his options open up again as he could do something like the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard, or wait for the Grade 1 Met Mile at Belmont later next month. Gantry dueled with the winner from the start, seemed to get the better of that foe when taking the lead into the lane but couldn’t counter Handsome Mike’s re-rally. Candyman E bided his time early, came with a nice run into the lane to be just behind the top 2 but was unable to make up the necessary ground to get involved. Bind, who’d put up some huge performances at Fair Grounds, sat back though not far off the lead, but was unable to make a dent when it mattered.

Keeneland
Shakertown (race 7)

Havelock, freshened off a couple dull outings in the fall, came back to top form as he posted a mild upset here. He was 4th as the favorite in this race last year, but coming into this he’d won 5 of 11 grass starts and was 2 for 3 here, so the footing suited. He broke slowly and bided his time at the back, was still well back turning for home but surged through between horses to just get up for the nose win in a 5-horse blanket finish. Something Extra, coming off a series of good efforts, continued his strong form as sat back and finished strongly to just miss. Perfect Officer, the defending champ, was just in front of Something Extra from the start and gamely finished to be 3rd, beaten just a nose and a neck. Regally Ready, who once would have whipped these, stalked the pace while seemingly in a good spot but came up empty when it mattered and gave way. He simply may not be the same horse.

Keeneland
Madison (race 8)

Last Full Measure, coming off a dull turf try in a Grade 3 at Tampa last month, bounced back to form and then some as the relished the return to synthetic and move to this shorter trip, notching her first graded win. She’d won her only prior try on synthetic, which came here last Oct. 12. Here she was last early, still last on the far turn, swung wide into the lane and put in a strong, sustained rally to beat another strong closer, Byrama, to the line. Byrama, who’d run only once on synthetic, that being a good 2nd to Grade 1 winner Renee’sgotzip in a stakes at Del Mar last summer, likewise sat well back, was making a move into the lane, had her path blocked in midstretch, found room again and surged home to just miss in a fine try. Jamaican Smoke set a brisk pace, opened up a clear lead into the lane as if she would win but couldn’t fend off the top 2. Shumoos sat midpack, made a threatening move into the lane but then fell apart. Fantasy of Flight pressed the pace but weakened.

Keeneland
Jenny Wiley (race 9)

Centre Court made her claim as the nation’s top grass distaffer. Coming off a strong win in Gulfstream’s Grade 2 Honey Fox last month in her first start of the year, she sat comfortably in 3rd while defending champ Daisy Devine opened up a clear lead (though the splits weren’t all that brisk), bided her time, was asked to go after that foe into the lane, reeled her in and surged past to win fairly easily. The Grade 1 Just a Game at Belmont on Belmont Day June 8 may be next, though her trainer said her main summer goal is either the Grade 1 Beverly D. or Grade 1 Diana. Daisy Devine won this last year in front-running fashion, tried those tactics again, and they nearly worked. She opened up a clear lead, was still clear turning for home but couldn’t fend off the winner in the final furlong. Samitar sat midpack and came with a nice run for 3rd. Centre Court simply has her number. Better Lucky, making her first start of the year, stalked the pace but never really mustered a run. Old Tune was impressive winning her first 2 starts since coming from Brazil, but didn’t show that same speed and was never a factor at any point. These waters may be a tad too deep for her.

Keeneland
Blue Grass (race 10)

Java’s War punched his ticket to Louisville and validated the form of likely Derby favorite Verrazano as after finishing 2nd to that foe in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby he won this with a strong late charge. He’s usually well back early but this time he got away very slowly to be quite far back (last of 14). He remained there to the far turn, swung very wide into the lane as he launched his run and finished strongly to get past Palace Malice, who looked like the winner at the 16th pole. His style could make him a threat in the Derby, though it’s worth noting he’s yet to win on dirt. Palace Malice, coming off a couple troubled outings at Fair Grounds, got a good trip here as he stalked the pace, surged into contention into the lane, moved past a tiring Rydilluc and looked the winner in midstretch but couldn’t outfinish Java’s War. Charming Kitten, like the winner, sat back, got shuffled further back going to the far turn but came out for clear sailing and finished well. Rydilluc, coming from a brutal post (13), stalked early pacesetter Undrafted, took over pacesetting duties going down the backside, opened up into the lane, still had the lead in midstretch but couldn’t outdo the top 3. Not sure if a shot at the Derby would still be in his plans. Uncaptured, one of the early Derby favorites in the fall after some strong outings, stalked the pace seemingly in a good spot but gave way. His Derby status would seem tenuous at best right now.

Santa Anita
Las Cienegas (race 8)

Mizdirection made it 5 wins in as many starts on this hillside grass course and confirmed her status as the top turf sprinting distaffer – maybe of either sex – with another win here, but it wasn’t easy. In winning for the 8th time in her last 9 starts she dogged pacesetting stablemate Schiaparelli, was still a couple lengths behind coming across the dirt crossing, still had to make up ground by midstretch and continued on gamely to just get up. The plan next is for her to go to New York to try the Grade 1 Just a Game. The water doesn’t get much deeper than that as she’s likely to run into top-class Centre Court there, among others. Schiaparelli ran splendidly, setting a strong pace, maintaining a clear lead to the eighth pole, leapt in the air (connections thought she saw buckets placed to the inside of the rail), battled on gamely but wasn’t good enough. She will reportedly target Hollywood’s Great Lady M May 26 and the Grade 2 Royal Heroine there July 6. Purim’s Dancer sat 3rd chasing the top 2 from the start and basically stayed there all the way down the hill.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Keeneland
Beaumont (race 8)

Ciao Bella Luna, coming off a couple dull outings, got back to synthetic footing and that did the trick as she posted the upset. Now 3 for 4 on synthetic footing, she bided her time early while Magical Moon set the pace, advanced with a 4-wide move on the turn and continued her run through the lane. Yes, she earned some Kentucky Oaks points so that may be in her plans, though she'll surely be an outsider if she goes there. Magical Moon bounced right out to a clear lead, was still clear turning for home but couldn’t withstand the winner’s bid while finishing well clear of the others. Judy in Disguise, the favorite, stalked the pace, kept on decently but was never really a factor. Renee’s Titan, who beat champion Beholder in a stakes this winter, broke poorly and never got involved.