04/02/2012 9:58AM

Trip Notes: Florida Derby, Gulfstream Oaks, Louisiana Derby, and more


Saturday, March 31, 2012

Gulfstream Park
Rampart Stakes (race 3)

Awesome Maria let it be known that Horse of the Year Havre de Grace and champion filly Royal Delta better come with their 'A' games when they run into her as she put up another strong performance in victory. On paper she dominated this bunch, so the win surely was no surprise. She dogged pacesetter Canadian Mistress from the start while traveling easily, had no trouble overtaking that rival into the lane and opened up under her own power and really never broke a sweat. That’s 6 straight. Beloveda was just behind the winner from the start, doggedly kept that foe and while no match stayed on well to be a clear 2nd. Canadian Mistress set the pace under the watchful eye of Awesome Maria, had no answer when that foe when cruising past into the lane, weakened some but was still well clear of the others.

Gulfstream Park
Skip Away Stakes (race 5)

Fort Larned continues his ascent as the son of E Dubai notched his first stakes at Tampa March 3 and parlayed that into his first graded stakes win while posting the upset. He dogged pacesetter Uptowncharlybrown from the start, took over on the turn, rebuffed a challenge from Alma d’Oro into the lane and drew clear in a big performance – he set a new course record. Alma d’Oro was just behind the winner from the start, gamely went after him into the lane but couldn’t keep up while finishing far ahead of the rest (12 1/2 lengths) as this was strictly a 2-horse race in the lane. Self Control, the favorite off a smashing allowance win here March 8, lagged back and made steady headway to get 3rd, though he was never a factor. Where’s Sterling, coming off a good 4th in the Grade 1 Donn, sat midpack and made only modest headway.

Gulfstream Park
Appleton Stakes (race 8)

Corporate Jungle looks like a comer for trainer Chad Brown as the son of Giant’s Causeway made it 3 wins in his last 4 starts, handling the big step up in class with aplomb. He stalked the early pace, eased back a bit going down the backside and to the far turn, swung out on the turn, rallied strongly to surge to a clear lead and gamely held Trend safe. Trend, who beat Corporate Jungle back into 2nd when they met here Jan. 19, sat back just behind the winner to the far turn, didn’t accelerate as quickly as that rival but got into high gear late and closed well. Monument Hill could have been closer. He stalked the pace, had to check on the turn, had more traffic problems into the lane but finally found room and kept coming for 3rd in a good try. Brilliant Speed, making his first start since finishing 3rd in the Grade 1 BC Turf, was last much of the way and made only mild progress. Still, this was just his first start back and he figures to do better with this under his belt and more ground.

Gulfstream Park
Gulfstream Oaks (race 10)

Grace Hall, so promising last year as the 2nd best 2-year-old filly in the country (behind My Miss Aurelia), disappointed when she ran 2nd in her first start as a 3-year-old in the Grade 2 Davona Dale, but looked more like the filly most were expecting to see this year with a smashing bounce-back win. The daughter of Empire Maker wasn’t on the lead this time like in the Davona Dale. This time she stalked, bided her time, moved up easily turning for home to challenge, took over and drew off to win with ease. She looks back on track for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs May 4, and with My Miss Aurelia yet to resurface, Eden’s Moon having lost in the Santa Anita Oaks and Princess Arabella still yet to prove herself against top company, this gal figures to be the favorite. Zo Impressive, a romping winner of her first 2 starts, stepped up and tried tougher and after lagging back she put in a solid run to get 2nd, though she was never a threat to the winner. This girl may make some noise down the road but the Kentucky Oaks may be a bit too much too soon for this lightly raced filly. Hearts of Red stalked the pace and stayed on evenly to get black type. Yara, who upset Grace Hall in the Davona Dale, set the pace but gave way once headed. This is probably beyond her distance capabilities, at least at this level.

Gulfstream Park
Florida Derby (race 11)

Trainer Byrne took some heat for putting all his eggs in this basket by skipping the Tampa Bay Derby and going here instead, but he obviously knew what he was doing as his son of A. P. Indy posted the upset. A change of strategy proved key – instead of doing his customary stalking this time he went right to the lead and played keep-away all the way around. He set a modest pace, took some pressure throughout from Reveron but kept that foe at arm’s length all the way around. He basically stole it. No reason the Kentucky Derby May 5 shouldn’t be next – though such a trip (easy lead, soft splits) seems highly unlikely. Reveron dogged the winner from the start but just couldn’t get to him. Union Rags sat back and had some traffic issues, but those have been overstated and weren’t enough to keep him from winning. He’s no doubt extremely talented but the hype machine on him has been overplayed. El Padrino was wide on the first turn while stalking and just never punched it in. Surely the slow pace and being outside (inside was best all day) hurt him.

Gulfstream Park
Orchid Stakes (race 12)

Hit It Rich showed she’s a true stayer as the daughter of Smart Strike chalked up another long-distance score. She was content to sit 2nd or 3rd early while Aqsaam ran off to a huge lead. She bided her time, went after that front runner into the lane, reeled here in and edged past for the score. Aqsaam, a winner of her first 3 starts and stepping up into graded stakes ranks for the first time, opened up a huge lead (12 lengths at one point) but the splits weren’t terribly fast. That left her some gas in the tank, and while the field came to her into the lane she fought back and gamely held 2nd. Keertana, the favorite, lagged back and closed strongly but just ran out of ground.

Fair Grounds
Fair Grounds Oaks (race 10)

Believe You Can and Summer Applause have a nice little rivalry brewing. Believe You Can won the Silverbulletday over Summer Applause here Jan. 21, then Summer Applause won the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra over Believe You Can Feb. 25. It was Believe You Can’s turn in the spotlight today as the daughter of Proud Citizen likely punched her Kentucky Oaks ticket. She pressured Colonial Empress through the first quarter, took over from that rival going down the backstretch, kicked clear into the lane and looked long gone but then had to withstand Summer Applause’s strong rally. The latter stalked the pace, didn’t accelerate as quickly as the winner so she still had a lot of catching up to do into the lane. She finished smartly but just ran out of ground while far clear of the others (9 lengths) as this was a 2-horse race in the lane. Despite the loss this was a nice prep for the Kentucky Oaks, and she’ll get another half-furlong there. Disposablepleasure was last all the way to the top of the lane and made modest headway without being a factor. Small Kitchen, a romping winner of her first 2 starts, both sprints, stalked the pace, made a run into the lane but flattened out. Could be she simply needs a shorter trip, at least at this stage of the game.

Santa Anita Park
Santa Anita Oaks (race 4)

The musical chairs among the 3-year-old fillies out West continued as it was Willa B Awesome’s turn to be center stage. The filly was only 4th behind Eden’s Moon and Reneesgotzip in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes but she got a faster contested pace from the 2 favorites and more ground and it worked to her benefit. She sat 3rd while Reneesgotzip was pushed through fast splits by heavy favorite Eden’s Moon, and kept on doggedly to get up for the narrow win. This meet’s top 3-year-old filly races have been won by Reneesgotzip (Grade 2 Santa Ynez), Eden’s Moon (Grade 1 Las Virgenes) and now Willa B Awesome. Reneesgotzip lost to Eden’s Moon when stalking in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes, but this time went back to her strength – her speed – and made Eden’s Moon try and play catch-up. She set a fast pace, dispatched with Eden’s Moon into the lane but just couldn’t quite fend off the winner in a fine try. Eden’s Moon chased the pace but gave way when it mattered.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fair Grounds
New Orleans Handicap (race 8)

Nates Mineshaft continued his love affair with Fair Grounds (now 5-for-5) and this was his best yet as he beat a talented field in dazzling fashion while setting a track record. He went right out to the lead, took some pressure from Thirtyfirststreet, dispatched with that rival, kicked away in the lane and won in a gallop without really drawing a deep breath. The way he won this says he definitely deserves a shot at the top races – though it will be interesting to see if he maintains this type of performance level away from Fair Grounds. Mission Impazible, the defending champ and coming off a near-miss 2nd (beaten a nose) in the Grade 1 Donn at Gulfstream Feb. 11, bided his time early, moved up to get into a stalking position going down the backside, seemed in a good spot, was asked to go after the leader into the lane but was no match for that runaway rival while clearly the best of the rest. Toby’s Corner sat back and made steady headway but he was never even on the winner’s radar and in fact wasn’t really a threat to the runner-up. Pants On Fire stalked the pace, got shuffled back a bit, moved closer turning for home but then lacked any real punch.

Fair Grounds
Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Handicap (race 9)

Casino Host showed he may be a horse to reckon with in the turf division as he notched his first graded stakes win. The son of Dynaformer had 3 times found Grade 1 waters too deep but he seems to be an improved runner this year. He sat midpack, bided his time, swept very wide on the far turn and put in a strong sustained run that got him home on top. Papaw Bodie, in pursuit of a 5th straight win and 2nd straight graded win, dogged pacesetter Mr. Vegas, moved up to challenge that rival into the lane, got the better of him by midstretch to take the lead but just couldn’t quite fend off the winner. Joinem sat well back, swung extremely wide into the lane and finished smartly. Slow Pace, the favorite off some strong French form and good 2nd in his U.S. debut at Gulfstream Feb. 26, seemed to get a dream trip stalking the pace but lacked the punch when it counted. Smart Bid, the defending champ, lagged back and never made a move. Willyconker, a Southern California raider coming off a win in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile, broke slowly, stalked the pace and gave way readily.

Fair Grounds
Louisiana Derby (race 10)

Talk about your upsets. Hero of Order, sent off at 109-1 and not even Triple Crown nominated, posted a huge surprise in game fashion. He used his speed to stalk another longshot, Comisky’s Humor, who set the pace, took over into the lane, opened up and kept on gamely to keep favored Mark Valeski at bay. Mark Valeski, coming off a sharp 2nd in the Grade 2 Risen Star, sat midpack, came with a steady run into the lane to look ominous but just couldn’t get to the winner. He lost a shoe during the race so that certainly didn't help. Rousing Sermon, a Southern California raider, sat far back and finished with good energy. It was a nice bounce-back after a couple disappointing races at Santa Anita. Cigar Street, coming off that huge 13 3/4-length maiden win here March 10, stalked in 3rd in a dream spot, was still there looking dangerous turning for home but never punched it in. Windsurfer, an impressive Pletcher maiden winner at Gulfstream Feb. 18, stalked the pace but weakened some late. Z Dager sat back and never made a move. Same for Mr. Bowling, who suddenly has put up 2 straight dull outings.