02/27/2012 11:39AM

Trip Notes: Fountain of Youth Stakes, Risen Star Stakes, and more

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Gulfstream
Sabin Stakes (race 8)

Awesome Maria, making her first start since last spring when she was injured, came back smokin’ and had no trouble toppling last year’s champion 3-year-old filly Royal Delta. Using her speed and confirming her love affair with the Gulfstream Park surface (now 3 for 3 there), she successfully defended her title by pressing the pace. She moved up to challenge on the far turn, surged to the lead, and blasted home with never a worry. The Grade 2 Rampart here March 31, a race she also won last year, may be next and down the line another match-up with Royal Delta and Horse of the Year Havre de Grace is simply mouthwatering. Royal Delta, making her first start since a powerful win in the Grade 1 BC Ladies’ Classic, stumbled at the start, sat not far behind  Awesome Maria, couldn’t accelerate with that rival on the turn, but got going in the lane to put in a mild run, though she was never really on the winner’s radar. This was meant primarily as a prep to take on the boys in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup on March 31, and if she moves forward, she could be a danger to the likes of Animal Kingdom and So You Think – but move forward she must. Groupie Doll, a big winner here Dec. 22 and coming off a strong second versus males here Jan. 27, dueled for the lead, was no match for the winner, but battled gamely with Royal Delta and only lost second in the final yards. She could do some damage this year, if she can find spots where she avoids Awesome Maria, Royal Delta, and Havre de Grace.

Gulfstream
The Very One Stakes (race 10)

Here to Win, a Brazilian-bred who was a multiple Group 1 winner in South Africa in 2010, showed that type of form here and also was the beneficiary of a clever ground-saving ride by jockey Joe Bravo to post the mild upset. She was no factor in her U.S. debut when favored at Laurel last fall and then ran third here Jan. 13 as the favorite. Off those two losses and stepping up in class, she was ignored in the betting (11-1), but this longer trip suited. She bided her time, hugged the rail throughout, waited for room behind horses into the lane, had to steady off the heels of Keertana turning for home, but found a seam along the fence, burst through to surge past the leaders, and outfinished Keertana. The Grade 3 Orchid here March 31 may be next. Keertana, who won this race last year, ran well again as she sat back early, steadily improved her position while staying inside, came with a strong run into the lane, but couldn’t fend off the winner while much the best of the rest. She figures to go for the Orchid as well. Woodford Belle was back with the winner early and put in a good rally for third, though she was never a threat. Perfect Shirl, making her first start since posting an upset win in the Grade 1 BC Filly and Mare Turf last fall, lagged back and never made a run as the favorite. As with Royal Delta, this race was to serve as a springboard as she’s to next try males going long in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic in Dubai on March 31. She’ll have to do much, much better there.

Gulfstream
Davona Dale Stakes (race 11)

Yara, a restricted stakes winner at Calder in November but no factor when fourth in the Grade 2 Forward Gal here Jan. 29, nevertheless spoiled the much-anticipated return of Grace Hall in a huge upset ($131) and in doing so notched her first graded stakes win. The longshot dogged Grace Hall, who set the pace, from the start. She appeared in trouble as she was unable to cut into Grace Hall’s lead, but she gamely kept to her task, stayed after Grace Hall, and was able to nudge past for the score. Grace Hall, making her first start since finishing second in the Grade 1 BC Juvenile Fillies, broke a tad slowly but rushed up to duel early with Yara, took the lead from that foe going down the backside, continued to hold that rival at bay to late stretch, but then could keep her off no longer. The layoff, heavy pressure from the start, and being stuck on the rail may have all worked against her. Still, you would have expected her to handle that rival. Captivating Lass bided her time, moved up to look briefly threatening turning for home, but couldn’t keep up when the real racing began. Disposablepleasure chased the top two from the start, but weakened from those efforts.

Tampa Bay Downs
Tampa Bay Stakes (race 9)

Roman Tiger, winless since early 2010, turned back the clock as the 7-year-old jumped up with a big effort to post a 28-1 upset. Coming off a dull sixth in the Sunshine Millions Turf on Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park, he bided his time early, moved up nicely going to the far turn while saving ground, stayed inside to move through traffic, and kept on gamely to get up in the final strides. El Commodore, 33-1 despite a front-running optional claiming win on this course Jan. 14, went right out to the lead, looked in trouble when Successful Mission moved up to challenge him into the lane, dispatched with that rival to edge away again, but just got nailed by Roman Tiger. Swift Warrior was well back much of the way, swung very wide into the lane, and finished strongly. Lentenor, Barbaro’s little brother, stalked the pace, but lacked the needed rally. Moryba, the modest 4-1 favorite, sat midpack and never made a move.

Fair Grounds
Fair Grounds Handicap (race 6)

Trainer Graham Motion showed his ability to get horses ready to fire off the bench with Animal Kingdom last week, and this time it was with Smart Bid who returned after more than five months and overcame a difficult draw to narrowly prevail. Winner of the Grade 2 Muniz on this course last March (his only prior local start), Smart Bid sat midpack and got hung out wide from his extreme outside post. Nevertheless, he bided his time, stayed wide and in the clear, and came with a strong sustained run that just got him home in the final strides. This sets him up to defend his Muniz crown April 1. Mr. Vegas, who came here riding a three-race win streak, including the Grade 3 Colonel Bradley on Jan. 21 (making him a perfect 3 for 3 on this course) did everything right, but lost a tough decision. He went right to the lead, was able to set modest splits, kicked clear into the lane, and looked home free, but just got nailed by the winner in the final strides. The Muniz and another shot at Smart Bid figures next. Dubious Miss, a close third in this last year (beaten only a neck) and second the last two years in the Bradley, ran well again as the 8-year-old still has plenty of gas in the tank. He sat back just behind the eventual winner and followed that rival home with a steady run, but just wasn’t good enough. The Muniz may be on his calendar as well.

Fair Grounds
Rachel Alexandra Stakes (race 7)

Summer Applause showed she may well belong in the discussion of the top 3-year-old distance fillies with a smart victory here. Second as the 1-1 favorite to Believe You Can in the Silverbulletday here Jan. 21 and facing that rival again, Summer Applause got a great trip and took advantage. She sat fourth while Avie’s Sense set a solid pace, went after that rival into the lane, had to battle to get past, but was able to overcome that rival and edge away in the final half-furlong. The Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on March 31 figures next. Avie’s Sense, coming off a smashing maiden win here Jan. 5, validated that form as the daughter of 2-year-old champion and Grade 1 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense had no trouble outrunning the other speed early to be a clear leader and set her own pace, battled back when hooked by the winner, but just couldn’t quite keep up. Still, it was a very good try as it was her first versus winners. A rematch in the Fair Grounds Oaks is on tap. Inny Minnie basically chased Avie’s Sense all the way around. Believe You Can, winner of the Silverbulletday and the favorite here, stalked in third, but mustered no run when it mattered. No obvious excuses. Table Three Ten, impressive winner of her first two starts, was disappointing as she never really got involved at any point.

Fair Grounds
Mineshaft Handicap (race 9)

Nates Mineshaft not only won the race named after his Horse of the Year daddy, but continued his ascent and showed again he adores this track with his third straight win (now 4 for 4 here). He won a restricted claimer Dec. 28 and then easily won an optional claimer here Jan. 19. Taking a hefty step up in class, he went right out to the lead, which was an edge on a track playing quite favorable to speed. Then he was able to set slow splits leaving him more than enough gas in the tank to spurt away in the lane as the longest-priced horse in the race. Fast Alex, second in the Louisiana Handicap here Jan. 21, stalked the winner, tried to make a run at him on the turn and through the lane, and while he kept to his task doggedly, just couldn’t get to Nates Mineshaft. Alma d’Oro, third in the Louisiana Handicap, sat back, was making a move when he had to steady behind the pulling-up Thiskyhasnolimit, and got going again to eventually get third, though he wasn’t able to threaten. Tres Borrachos, a Southern California invader, seemed in a good spot stalking in third, but never mustered a run and lost the show in the final stride. He ran decently, but all four of his wins have come on synthetic footing, so he’ll likely appreciate returning to that type of surface. Thiskyhasnolimit, the favorite off a game win in the Louisiana Handicap last month, was right behind  Nates Mineshaft early, but was suddenly pulled up going to the far turn (fractured right front cannon bone).

Fair Grounds
Risen Star Stakes (race 11)

El Padrino showed he’s a legit Kentucky Derby contender and not merely a mudlark – but it wasn’t easy. The son of Pulpit sat a couple lengths off the lead while well in hand, stayed to the outside for clear sailing, began to edge closer going to the far turn, doggedly went after the leaders turning for home, and gamely persevered to just push past a stubborn Mark Valeski. While the margin wasn’t much, the time of the race was pretty quick (1:42.96). He also showed courage, so the asset side of his ledger is growing. His next stop figures up in the air for now as trainer Todd Pletcher has to juggle so many Derby hopefuls, though the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby here April 1 may top the list. Mark Valeski, a son of Derby second Proud Citizen and making his first route and stakes try, ran splendidly. He dogged pacesetting longshot Hero of Order through slow splits, moved to the lead turning for home, and gamely battled with El Padrino, but just couldn’t quite outdo him while finishing far ahead of the rest. He’s also pointing to the Louisiana Derby. Z Dager, a close second in the Grade 3 Lecomte (beaten a head), stalked, moved closer turning for home, and stayed on well for third, but was no threat as this was a two-horse race in the lane. Shared Property, a close third in the Lecomte, sat midpack and never really mustered a run. Mr. Bowling, narrow winner of the Lecomte, sat midpack, but gave way badly in the lane to finish last of 11 in a very disappointing effort.

Santa Anita
San Carlos Stakes (race 7)

The Factor showed again, as he had when winning the Grade 1 Malibu here Dec. 26, that when on his game he might be the most talented sprinter around. It didn’t hurt he was the lone speed here as he faced 2011 sprint champion Amazombie. The Factor was the controlling speed and broke alertly, going right to the lead. He was pressured by Rothko, and when that foe fell away, Amazombie moved closer but was unable to get on terms. The Factor stayed on smartly, keeping the hard-trying Sway Away at bay in the final furlong. He did drift in some in midstretch, causing Canonize to steady, but the stewards ruled it did not affect the order of finish. The Group 1 Golden Shaheen in Dubai on March 31 is a possibility for the fast son of War Front. Sway Away, making his first start since June, ran splendidly, biding his time at the back of the small field and finishing strongly. Amazombie, winner of the Grade 1 BC Sprint on Nov. 5, stalked the pace, moved up to try and pressure The Factor, but couldn’t sustain his run. He may have needed this race and could reappear in the Grade 2 Potrero Grande here April 7, a race he won last year.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Gulfstream
Mac Diarmida (race 10)

Simmard couldn’t quite outduel Musketier in the Grade 2 McKnight at Calder on Nov. 26, but off the freshening, he fired a bullet and got his revenge. Only seventh in this last year, the 7-year-old used his speed to dog Mambo Meister and Center Divider through modest splits, moved to the lead into the lane, and stayed on doggedly to just fend off hard-charging favorite Newsdad to eke out the victory. Roger Attfield, who trains him and Musketier, said one of them would return in the Grade 3 Pan American here March 24, while the other would go to Keeneland, likely for the Grade 2 Elkhorn on April 27. Newsdad, somewhat a surprising favorite off a smashing optional claiming win here, validated that confidence and did everything right, but just missed by a nostril. He was just behind Simmard much of the way, didn’t accelerate as quickly as that rival, got going late, was cutting into that rival’s lead with every stride, but just ran out of ground while finishing far clear of the rest. Musketier, third in this last year, filled out the same spot this year as the 10-year-old sat midpack and came with a steady rally, though he was never really a threat to the top pair. Center Divider dueled with Mambo Meister, put that rival away into the lane, was no match for the top two, but only missed third in the final strides.

Gulfstream
Fountain of Youth (race 11)

The race complexion changed considerably when morning-line favorite Algorithms scratched (popped splint). Without that much ballyhooed rival to worry about, it was easy pickings for Union Rags. The colt many thought was the most talented 2-year-old last year and the current Derby favorite, came back firing, stalking the modest pace of Discreet Dancer and News Pending, surging past those foes into the lane, and drawing clear without really breaking a sweat. While some are lathered up about this win, it didn’t prove much – it did prove he’s back and doing well, but none of his rivals had won an open stakes or been graded stakes placed, so there remains a question as to how he’ll do vs. top quality. He’ll get a chance to prove more in the Grade 1 Florida Derby here March 31, his reported next spot. News Pending dogged Discreet Dancer from the start, got the better of that rival turning for home but at the same time saw Union Rags blow past, and try as he might, he was no match for that rival while clearly best of the rest. Discreet Dancer, much-hyped off two smashing sprint wins here this meet, may have been exposed distance-wise as he set modest splits in his first stakes try and first route, but gave way once headed. He may be more of a King’s Bishop/Dwyer-type horse instead of a Derby horse. Casual Trick stalked the pace, made a mild move on the far turn, but then gave way badly. Back to the drawing board for Nick Zito and this well-bred colt.