04/01/2013 10:26AM

Trip Notes: Florida Derby, Louisiana Derby, and more

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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fair Grounds
Fair Grounds Oaks (race 7)

Unlimited Budget made it a perfect 4 for 4 with another smart performance, and along with stablemate Dreaming of Julia (and maybe Princess of Sylmar as well) gives trainer Pletcher a very strong hand for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks May 3. She romped over many of these in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra here Feb. 23 and validated that run here. She got a great trip stalking in 3rd, stayed wide to have clear sailing, pounced on tiring pacesetter So Many Ways into the lane and edged clear. Flashy Gray, 2nd at 2-5 in Oaklawn’s Grade 3 Honeybee March 9, sat just behind So Many Ways, tried to make a move into the lane, and kept on well, though she was unable to stay with the winner. It didn’t help that her rider lost the whip in midstretch, though she wasn’t going to beat Unlimited Budget anyway. She was the early favorite in the Kentucky Oaks future wagering and did nothing here to believe she can’t be a player there. Seaneen Girl sat back and made decent headway for 3rd so she was never really a threat. So Many Ways, winner of the Grade 1 Spinaway last summer, went right out to set the pace but weakened once headed by the top 2 into the lane. That makes for 2 modest outings this year and may not be enough to send her to Louisville. Blue Violet made a mild move turning for home but faltered. These waters appear too deep at this stage of the .

Fair Grounds
New Orleans Handicap (race 8)

Graydar backed up his huge Grade 1 Donn win and showed he’s not just a Gulfstream specialist as he gamely prevailed in a very strong race – but it wasn’t easy. As usual he used his speed but instead of being on the lead he was quite comfortable stalking in 3rd. He stayed wide to remain in the clear, moved up to make it a 3-way fight in midstretch and gamely outfinished a stubborn Mark Valeski. Mark Valeski dogged pacesetter Majestic Harbor, moved up to grab the lead as that foe tired into the lane, was immediately tackled by Graydar and Bourbon Courage, stayed on gamely but just couldn’t quite keep up with Graydar late. He showed he belongs in the discussion of top handicap dirt horses. Bourbon Courage ran another good race as he stalked midpack, came roaring up to challenge the top 2 by midstretch but couldn’t pace late. He may finally have found his ceiling. Flat Out sat back, as usual and never really made a run. Not only is he likely better on the bigger sweeping New York tracks but could be time is finally catching up to the 7-year-old. Cool Street, previously 4 for 5 here with the lone blemish being a near-miss 2nd to Mark Valeski in the Grade 3 Mineshaft here Feb. 23, was last early and never made a move. After a busy campaign this may be a sign he’s due for a freshening.

Fair Grounds
Louisiana Derby (race 9)

Revolutionary punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby and capped off an amazing day for trainer Pletcher. Revolutionary, winning his 3rd in a row, has often found trouble in his races but that wasn’t the case today He was wonderfully behaved in the paddock. He broke a bit slowly, sat well back early, stayed wide and in the clear, was very wide on the far turn as he made his charge, grabbed the lead, looked beaten when Mylute came up alongside and actually went past, but re-rallied to get the win. The time was much slower than what elder Graydar did about 30 minutes earlier (1:49.16/1:50.26). However, he’s shown guts on more than one occasion, something not to take lightly come the first Saturday in May. Mylute was far back early as well, followed Revolutionary on the turn and into the lane, surged up alongside and briefly grabbed the lead but couldn’t outgame the winner late. Departing sat midpack and kept to his task well, though this was basically a 2-horse race in the final furlong. Code West stalked in the 3rd, looked dangerous as he moved closer on the far turn but flattened out. Palace Malice was brutally unlucky He sat back, was making a move into the lane when completely blocked and never had room to run late. Titletown Five dueled on the pace but gave way. It was his first route, so you can be a bit forgiving. While he is by Tiznow, which should help him handle a distance, this may be a bit beyond him at this stage of the game.

Fair Grounds
Mervin Muniz Jr. (race 10)

Amira’s Prince continued his ascent. The colt had done some good work in Ireland but has come to the U.S. and blossomed as he’s now 4 for 4 on this side of the pond. He looked super easily winning the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Feb. 16 and was impressive again here, though he had to fight hard to keep the win. He used his speed to duel early with String King, took over pacesetting duties after a half-mile while being pressured, was able to crawl along through slow splits, edged away into the lane and then fought gamely to keep hard-charging Willcox Inn at bay. The Grade 1 Woodford Reserve at Churchill on the Kentucky Derby undercard May 4 could be next. That will be a brutally tough spot. Willcox Inn was midpack early, crept closer as the race progressed, doggedly went after the winner in the lane but just couldn’t get to him. String King pressured the winner early, couldn’t keep up late but stayed on gamely for 3rd. Doubles Partner sat midpack and made only modest headway. Optimizer, so impressive winning his last 2 starts here, both Grade 3’s, broke slowly and never got involved. In defense of he and Doubles Partner ,they were trying to catch fresh horses who had set slow splits up front.

Gulfstream
Rampart (race 4)

Ciao Bella flashed big promise when a romping winner in her debut here in December 2011 but hadn’t quite been able to get over the hump. Well, that may have changed with blinkers added, as after a romping win here Feb. 18 with shades on she notched her first graded win here. She bounced right out to the lead, was able to set very slow splits and bounded away to win easily. She’s now 3 for 3 here and trainer Pletcher said he wasn’t quite sure what would be next. Nice as this was, this was a weak renewal and doesn’t necessarily mean she’s ready for the big girls. Authenticity stalked in 4th, tried to make a run at the winner into the lane, was no match but finished far clear of the rest (11 1/2 lengths). Successful Song chased the winner from the start but weakened from those efforts.

Gulfstream
Gulfstream Park Oaks (race 8)

Dreaming of Julia couldn’t get to Live Lively in the Grade 2 Davona Dale here Feb. 23 but she turned the tables and then some, stamping herself a major player for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks May 3 with an overwhelming performance. The daughter of A. P. Indy again chased Live Lively from the start but this time she easily moved up to challenge that foe on the turn, took command and drew off to win by the length of the grandstand (21 3/4 lengths) in a dazzling display. Her time was much faster than what older Ciao Bella did while winning the Grade 2 Rampart a couple hours earlier (1:48.97/1:50.06) and her mile split was faster than what some sharp older males ran for their final time an hour earlier (1:36.12/1:36.24). Question is, did she just freak or did her rivals just not show up? Live Lively, who led all the way to win the Davona Dale, again used her speed, going right to the lead. She set a modest pace, looked poised for when Dreaming of Julia came to her but was no match whatsoever for that foe from the far turn home. Cue the Moon, making her first start since finishing a game 2nd in the Grade 3 Tempted Nov. 4, chased the top 2 early and plugged along decently for 3rd. Emollient was the big disappointment as the much-fancied daughter of Empire Maker was 4th early and never really made a move.

Gulfstream
Orchid (race 9)

This race appeared to be a summit to see if Starformer or Aigue Marine could take control of the distaff distance division out East. Well, Regalo Mio had other ideas, posting an upset as the aforementioned pair never got involved. Freshened since a win in the Sunshine Millions F&M Turf here Jan. 19, Regalo Mio bided her time as is her custom, swung very wide into the lane as she commenced her run, and continued on strongly to win going away. A race like the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland at 1 1/2 miles April 25 may be next. Angegreen, 2nd to Starformer in the Grade 3 The Very One here Feb. 16, continued her improvement since coming from Italy where she was Group 2-placed, as she was last early but put in a strong sustained run from the far turn home. Irish Mission sat midpack, moved closer going down the backside, moved up to challenge into the lane, grabbed the lead in midstretch, was no match for the winner and only lost 2nd in the final stride. Starformer, coming off 2 big Grade 3 stakes wins, stalked the pace, got shuffled back turning for home, looked back on track when making a threatening move into the lane but flattened out. Aigue Marine, favored off a smashing optional claiming win here March 7, sat back, made a mild move on the turn but then fell away.

Gulfstream
Skip Away (race 10)

Cigar Street showed he’s the real deal as he made it 3 straight wins while notching his first graded stakes, and in doing so signaled he may be ready to dive into the deep end of the pool. The son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense sat midpack early, moved closer to get a nice stalking position going down the backside, went after leader Take Charge Indy into the lane, got the better of that foe and edged clear. Take Charge Indy, coming off 2 smart placings in Grade 1’s, seemed ready to take advantage of the drop but may have run into another Grade 1 horse in Cigar Street. He went right out to the lead, set modest splits, battled back when hooked by Cigar Street into the lane but couldn’t quite keep up while much the best of the rest (6 3/4 lengths). Pants On Fire dogged Take Charge Indy from the start, moved closer to challenge turning for home but couldn’t keep up with the top 2 in the lane. Golden Ticket, winner of last year’s Grade 1 Travers in a dead heat with Alpha, lagged back, made a mild move on the turn and into the lane but flattened out and was never really a threat.

Gulfstream
Appleton (race 11)

Za Approval was a bit troubled late when 4th behind Joes Blazing Aaron (2nd) and Beau Choix (3rd) in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf here Feb. 23 but a better trip got the son of Ghostzapper his revenge. He lagged back, as is his custom, as King Kreesa set a fast pace, swung very wide into the lane, surged to grab the lead by midstretch and kept hard-charging Beau Choix at bay. This doesn’t mean he wants to deal with Wise Dan, Turallure, Data Link, Suggestive Boy or Jeranimo, but he can surely do some damage in the right spots. Beau Choix ran well yet again as the veteran lagged back and finished strongly for 2nd. He appears to be as sharp as ever at age 6. King Kreesa, making his first start of the year, set the pace under some pressure from Decisive Moment, opened up turning for home but couldn’t fend off the top 2. Silver Max, one of the best 3-year-old turfers last year who was making his 4-year-old debut, sat midpack and never really made a move is a bit of a disappointing run. Omayad, a top-class runner in Chile in 2011 when he won multiple Group 1’s and who flashed talent in the U.S. last year, was away slowly to be last, was still last turning for home and only managed to pass a couple foes who had weakened so this wasn’t the most encouraging outing.

Gulfstream
Florida Derby (race 12)

Depending on what Verrazano does in the Wood you may well have seen the Kentucky Derby favorite here as Orb looked super powering home to win fairly easily over a good group. Winner of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Feb. 23, the son of Malibu Moon sat midpack early though not that far off a modest pace, steadily advanced to the far turn, continued his nice wide run, collared Itsmyluckyday in midstretch, pushed past and edged clear. He’s now won from well off a fast pace and from stalking what was here a modest pace, so he’s handy. Next stop: Louisville. Itsmyluckyday didn’t do anything wrong in defeat. Big winner the Grade 3 Holy Bull here earlier this meet, he stalked the pace, moved up eagerly to challenge into the lane but couldn’t outfinish Orb. No reason to think he shouldn’t go on to Louisville. Merit Man, generally assumed to be a sprinter, ran splendidly as he dueled on the lead with Narvaez and while no match for the top 2 stayed on well. They have no Derby aspirations with him but their placement here was wonderfully astute. Shanghai Bobby seemed in a great spot stalking the pace while on the rail, appeared to be traveling well but once pitched out on the far turn for what looked like the start of a rally but when and asked for run came up empty. He may have been exposed distance-wise and with Pletcher having so many other Derby aspirants that may mean this guy may instead target a race like the Grade 1 Met Mile.