Friday, April 26, 2019

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

American Pharoah's First U.S. Starters to Race April 17

The April 17 opening race at Aqueduct Racetrack will feature the debuts of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah 's first two North American starters: Lady Delaware and Tesorina.

American Pharoah, standing at Coolmore's Ashford Stud for a private fee, saw his first starter win on debut when the Aidan O'Brien-trained Monarch of Egypt won at Naas Racecourse in Ireland April 13. 

Oscar Performance
Both runners in Wednesday's $100,000 opener—the first 2-year-old maiden race at the Big A this year—are fillies conditioned by Wesley Ward, who is well regarded for developing young horses. The former rider said he has high hopes for the Triple Crown champion's two daughters. 

"I'm excited," Ward said. "Coolmore has always been good to me. American Pharoah was a tremendous racehorse and, hopefully, a tremendous sire as well. They both are very precocious in their breezes, and there was no reason to not move early with them. They both are very smart and show a lot of talent. To get to Royal Ascot with them would be fantastic—not just for me, but the team as well. American Pharoah was a great 2-year-old himself, and they both look like they'll run early."

Purchased for $100,000 from the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Hat Creek Racing's Lady Delaware is out of the Hennessy broodmare More Hennessy and is a half sister to grade 1 winner Hootenanny .

Hootenanny, a debut winner on the Keeneland synthetic, captured three of his five juvenile starts in 2014, including the Windsor Castle Stakes at Ascot and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T). 

"She seems a little quicker than Hootenanny," Ward said. "He didn't show too much affinity for the dirt. He ran once on the main track, and it was in the slop on Preakness Day at Pimlico. In his Keeneland debut, it was on the synthetic back when they had it. She has really shown that she likes the dirt, and she's quick coming out of the gate."

Lady Delaware will be piloted by Eric Cancel from post 7.


The reign of California-based horses atop the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) Top 3-Year-Old Poll continues this week in a new set of hands with Fox Hill Farms' Omaha Beach taking over the No. 1 position from Roadster in the wake of the former's triumph in the Arkansas Derby (G1) April 13 at Oaklawn Park. 

Omaha Beach earned his second career graded stakes win and first top-level score when he defeated Improbable by a length in the Arkansas Derby. That victory puts the son of War Front  in position to vie for favoritism in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) and earned him 32 first-place votes and 448 points to take over the top poll position. 

NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll
Rank    Horse    Points (first-place votes)
1.    Omaha Beach    448 (32)
2.    Roadster    370 (5)
3.    Tacitus    344 (7)
4.    Game Winner    322 (1)
5.    Improbable    271
6.    Vekoma    183 (6)
7.    Maximum Security    177
8.    Code of Honor    87
9.    War of Will    67
10.    By My Standards    57

NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll
1.    Bricks and Mortar    341 (11)
2.    Gift Box    323 (6)
3.    Midnight Bisou    261 (2)
4.    McKinzie    241 (1)
5.    Monomoy Girl    239 (7)
6.    City of Light     168 (11)
7.    Roy H    168
8.    Thunder Snow    119 (5)
9.    World of Trouble    111
10.    X Y Jet    110 (1)


1   Omaha Beach Richard Mandella Click Here!

War Front—Charming, by Seeking the Gold

He continues to go from strength to strength and there is no plan of attack when it comes to trying to beat him, because he is so pushbutton. He showed again in the Arkansas Derby you can step on the gas at any point in the race and put him in neutral at any point in the race. In short you can turn him on or off whenever you like. That is a powerful weapon for any jockey. First Mike Smith took a hold of him and let four horses vie for the lead. Then he gave the colt his head and in a flash he was in front turning into the backstretch in what looked like a premature move. Then he immediately gave him a breather even as Improbable closed in on the far turn. But Jose Ortiz was already pushing hard on Improbable while Smith was sitting motionless on Omaha Beach. Like in the Rebel, here was a Baffert star being hard ridden on the turn while Smith was still sitting chilly. Once in the stretch, Omaha Beach opened up, with Smith letting him do it all on his own. Both Baffert horses ran their hearts out in stretch, but were unable to get past Omaha Beach. All he did in the Arkansas Derby was come home his final three-eighths in :37 1/5 and final eighth in :12 1/5 on the sloppy track, with Improbable finishing nearly six lengths ahead of the third horse. And his final time was two-fifths faster than older horses in the Oaklawn Handicap. To demonstrate his improvement with each race, his Beyer numbers are as follows: 62, 78, 80, 83, 90, 96, and 101. By going four-wide into the first turn and still wide down the backside, and with the big gap from second to third, I am predicting an impressive Thoro-Graph figure. If this horse has any weakness, he has yet to show it. As for pedigree, remember his dam is a half sister to Travers winner Will Take Charge, who was beaten a nose in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and his second dam, Take Charge Lady, won or placed in 15 graded stakes, including seven grade 1s, while earning more than $2.4 million.

Game Winner Bob Baffert 

Candy Ride (ARG)—Indyan Giving, by A.P. Indy

Looking at his Thoro-Graph profile, I am in a dilemma where to rank him. Many have jumped off his bandwagon following two defeats in races he had every chance to win. But his Thoro-Graph pattern probably is the strongest of any 3-year-old and his number in the Santa Anita Derby was two full points faster than Roadster. That is a huge difference between the runner-up and the winner, no doubt caused by Game Winner’s wide trip throughout in which he ran nearly 40 feet farther than the winner according to Trakus. That equates to over a 3-length difference, so with Game Winner getting beat a half-length, one would deduce he ran the more impressive race, as substantiated by Thoro-Graph. Because of that, and his experience in large fields, I decided to move him back higher to the No. 2 spot. What puzzles me most about him are his weapons. He doesn’t beat you with raw speed and he doesn’t beat you with a big closing kick, and the horses he did beat last year have not run very well this year. I just have that nagging feeling that he, like Silver Charm, to whom Baffert compares him, somehow will find a way to beat you with his heart and guts and ability to sustain his run a long way. But he needs a heads-up ride and Rosario has given him very wide trips in two of his past three starts. Remember, with the points system eliminating sprinter types, the Derby has since been won almost every year by tactical speed horses who can carry their speed. He reminds me of Nyquist, a grinder who keeps coming at you.

Tacitus Bill Mott

Tapit—Close Hatches, by First Defence

He not only has the career co-highest Brisnet speed figure in the field and the fastest Brisnet figure this year, he is the only horse to have a triple-digit middle pace figure and triple-digit late pace figure in the same race (the Wood Memorial), which indicates he is a horse who can sustain a fast pace for a long period of time. He came out of the Wood Memorial in excellent shape, according to longtime Mott assistant Leana Willaford. She said he was a little tired, but that was to be expected. What was important was the way he overcame adversity, taking punishment and dishing it out, which bodes well for his chances on the first Saturday in May. Willaford said the colt has matured a lot since last July and has really filled out. Unlike his illustrious dam, who had a tendency to get keyed up and be a bit of a handful, Tacitus is very laid back and takes everything in stride. So he is exhibiting all the traits you want to see in a Derby horse. He has the right disposition to handle the crowd and the frantic atmosphere, but is tough as nails once the gates open and can mix it up if he has to. To accomplish what he has in his past two starts with so little experience shows how much untapped talent there still is. In short, it looks as if Mott has him peaking at the right time.

Roadster Bob Baffert 

Quality Road—Ghost Dancing, by Silver Ghost

Now it is waiting time as Mike Smith decides whether to ride him or Omaha Beach, and you can’t have a tougher decision than choosing between the two favorites. I’m guessing he goes with Omaha Beach. Baffert said he realizes it’s a tough choice and will honor whatever decision Smith makes. If he chooses Roadster he likely will move closer to the top. He’s been running in five- and six-horse fields and, with only four starts, one over a mile, he doesn’t have as much foundation as Omaha Beach, who has run in 10- and 11-horse fields five times. When you consider the vast talents of both colts and their prospects for the future, this will not be an easy decision. We do know he is improving at a rapid rate, showed a good turn of foot in the Santa Anita Derby, and still has a great deal of room for improvement. He showed in the Santa Anita Derby he can appear to be out of it and then turn on the afterburners and get right back into the fray in a hurry. For him to win the Santa Anita Derby the way he did, coming off only one allowance race in seven months, was extremely impressive. There is very little separating the Top 5 or 6 horses. If Smith stays with him, and he has ridden him in all his starts, that obviously will affect his standings in all the polls. If he doesn’t, he will have to settle for a new rider, which is not an ideal situation going into the Derby. He’s not a robust horse and has very quick strides, so we’ll just have to see how he handles a 20-horse field.

Improbable Bob Baffert 

City Zip—Rare Event, by A.P. Indy

Baffert said after speaking with Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm it was decided that Irad Ortiz Jr. would ride Improbable. It seemed almost certain that Ortiz’ brother Jose would choose Tacitus as his Derby mount, especially being a New York rider with a closer association with Bill Mott. Improbable could have very easily been ranked No. 2, but it is very tight up at the top and although I was very impressed with his performance in the Arkansas Derby, I still have to give more thought as to how he will handle the Derby experience, considering he did act up a bit in the gate and still has a tendency to cock his head even with the blinkers, something he didn’t do in his earlier works this year. But it must be added that he did it going by the stands the first time, but not in the heated stretch run when he was more focused. The 20-horse field might actually help him stay more focused. He had a good trip in the Arkansas Derby, but started to climb a bit when he ran up behind Long Range Toddy and started getting mud kicked back in his face. Jose Ortiz wisely steered him to the outside and in the clear, and once he did, he grabbed hold of the bit and began closing in on Omaha Beach. Looking at his pedigree, he is by the sprinter City Zip, but that stallion has sired a grade 1 winner at 1 1/4 miles, and his fourth dam is a half sister to Preakness and Belmont winner Little Current, by English Derby winner Roberto.

Maximum Security Jason Servis

New Year's Day—Lil Indy, by Anasheed

He could drive clockers at Churchill Downs a bit bonkers the way Servis works him, galloping down the stretch and then breaking off into some semblance of a work on the clubhouse turn. His half-mile work in :54 4/5 at Palm Meadows may be the slowest work by a Derby contender ever. It seems Servis has been keeping him fit with open gallops. In his past two works combined, he worked the slowest of 100 workers. But all that likely means absolutely nothing, as he turned his :52 4/5 pre-Florida Derby work into a stunning victory. Let’s just say there is nothing typical about him, from his odd claiming background, to his sudden rise to prominence, to his bizarre works, to his unconventional trainer. And with it all, he could wind up being not only the best of his crop, but a budding superstar. You just have no idea. What he’s done so far in four starts at Gulfstream has been freaky. And pedigree-wise he is from an old female family with the great broodmare sire Double Jay (a foal of 1944) close up in his fourth generation and his dam being a half sister to two-time Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out, earner of over $3.5 million. He definitely is one of the most intriguing horses I have ever come across on the Derby trail.

Win Win Win Michael Trombetta

Hat Trick (JPN)—Miss Smarty Pants, by Smarty Jones

I must admit I am torn now where to rank this colt. Last week I expounded on all his virtues and what I loved about his performance in the Blue Grass Stakes, and why I have kept him high up for so long, especially the bold move of ranking him No. 2. But looking at his Thoro-Graph number for the Blue Grass I was dismayed to see that he did not improve from the Tampa Bay Derby and his pair of two-turn figures are still not competitive with the leading contenders. The fact that he ran a huge figure in the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes and his two subsequent races at two turns showed a significant regression leads one to believe that he is far better at a sprint or mile than he is routing. With that said, I am torn between his speed figures and what my eyes tell me, and to a slightly lesser degree his pedigree. My eyes see a horse who is not distance challenged and just needs to get into the fray earlier. I like the way he closed in both his two-turn starts after less than ideal trips, especially the Blue Grass when he had to steady at a crucial point while making a big move. I lowered him after the results of the Arkansas Derby and after seeing his Thoro-Graph numbers. Also he loses Irad Ortiz to Improbable. But I am still high on him and he should be a big price and an enticing overlay. And losing Ortiz no doubt will raise his odds even higher. Although I lowered him this week, I am not going to let speed figures completely get in the way of my gut instincts. Even at No. 7 he is ranked much higher than he is in other polls.

Vekoma George Weaver 

Candy Ride (ARG)—Mona de Momma, by Speightstown

As mentioned last week, this colt is getting little respect for what he’s accomplished. Many are turned off by his action, but as Weaver said, “It's just the way he goes. He’s always moved like that. I guess you would think it’s less than ideal action, but he’s always been a real sound horse and he covers a lot of ground. You wouldn't know it watching him walk. Perhaps he just moves that way out of his shoulders. There has been a lot of talk about it, but I’d rather have a horse that moves like him and can run like him than a horse that moves perfectly but can’t run.” Weaver said he will train Vekoma into the Derby from his base at Palm Beach Downs. He will work twice there and then ship to Churchill Downs. He figures it worked for the Blue Grass so he might as well stick to the winning formula, especially since the colt trains well at Palm Beach and is used to the track.

Spinoff Todd Pletcher

Hard Spun—Zaftig, by Gone West

I'd love to see John Velazquez stick with him, but I don't know, as he's been close to Code of Honor. But he really fits this horse. No one even mentions him anymore, as his six-week layoff has taken him off everyone’s radar screen. But I still feel strongly about him other than the question of whether he’s seasoned enough and has enough bottom to go 1 1/4 miles. He worked five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 in company and Pletcher had him on the inside. It was another solid work with a strong gallop-out. He has been highly thought of since he was given his early lessons by Pletcher’s father J.J. I don’t believe he was anywhere near 100% in the Louisiana Derby and the two horses directly behind him, Sueno and Country House, came back to run well enough in major stakes to give the race credibility. And his Brisnet figures for that race were strong all around. And it is important to remember he was coming off only one easy runaway victory in 7 1/2 months, so that was a very strong effort considering his lack of racing. It would have been interesting to see him in the Lexington just to take the edge off and build his foundation, considering what an easy race he had at Tampa Bay, but Pletcher likes the space between races so hopefully we’ll see at least one eye opener in the morning and a huge gallop-out. I just think he's sitting on a big race.

Tax Danny Gargan

Arch—Toll, by Giant's Causeway

The closer I look at him, the more I see him lurking in the bushes planning a sneak attack at huge odds. For weapons, he is armed with a high cruising speed and a pedigree that shouts a mile and a quarter. He also is the only horse in the field who has run three triple-digit Brisnet speed figures (only two horses have run two) and did it in his past three starts, all at 1 1/8 miles. With a pedigree that is so strong on stamina top and bottom I can forgive him getting caught in the Wood coming off a two-month layoff. At 10 furlongs he should get stronger while others will be tiring. The one negative is that his dam’s three other foals to race are a combined one-for-64, including his full brother. But his third dam is the high-class Rokeby filly Wild Applause, winner of the Diana Handicap, and his fourth dam is the Graustark filly Glowing Tribute, who also won the Diana and produced, in addition to Wild Applause, Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Sea Hero and United Nations Handicap winner Hero’s Honor, who is the broodmare sire of Elusive Quality, sire of Smarty Jones and Quality Road. Coming off three straight 1 1/8-mile races, he now has plenty of foundation and should move forward off the Wood. On Thoro-Graph, he ran a huge number in the Remsen, then regressed three points winning the Withers, a tough task for a young horse running back-to-back 1 1/8-mile races that early in his career. The two months off seemed to rejuvenate him and he came back with a career-best number in the Wood that puts him right there with the leading contenders. He’ll be a monster price in the Derby and could be a live overlay, especially to put in the exotics.

By My Standards Bret Calhoun

Goldencents—A Jealous Woman, by Muqtarib

He worked a half in :48 4/5 at Churchill Downs and what was most impressive was his gallop-out, as he hugged the rail and continued to pick up speed, and was still into the bit well down the backstretch. He was quite the picture galloping to the pole with his neck arched in regal splendor. I like horses who get an early start at Churchill Downs and he definitely is a horse who is improving in leaps and bounds at the right time. His Brisnet figures in the Louisiana Derby were very strong, but he needs to improve his Thoro-Graph numbers by at least three points, having run nearly two points slower than the horse he beat. Although he looked strong going a mile and an eighth, the big question with him is how he will handle the mile and a quarter. He already seems to have outrun his pedigree, but don’t ever underestimate unproven Spendthrift Farm stallions. They have a knack of finding under the radar stallions, such as Into Mischief and Malibu Moon, and making leading sires out of them. So it is way too early to judge Goldencents and say he can’t sire a classic horse, even though he was basically a miler/sprinter. By My Standards’ broodmare sire also was a sprinter, but his female family has more than enough stamina.

Haikal Kiaran McLaughlin

Daaher—Sablah, by Distorted Humor

McLaughlin said he came out of the Wood Memorial in great shape. I like the way he ran in his two-turn debut, proving he is not just a one-turn deep closer. I just would like to have seen a bit more punch in the closing yards, as he just barely got past 64-1 shot Math Wizard for the show spot. But this could have been a two-turn awakening and he will be more effective in his next start now that he has the hang of it. It’s going to be difficult for him coming from so far back in a 20-horse field, but many late Derby closers have come up the inside, as tiring horses have a tendency to drift out, and he’s shown he loves rallying on the inside and then coming off the rail if he has to. His pedigree seems more geared toward a mile to a mile and an eighth, so he will have to time his move perfectly and hope for a clean trip. But he does have some stamina influences and is inbred to Buckpasser, so they will have to get him home. He could be an interesting exotics play.


CODE OF HONOR worked a half in :49 at Keeneland, coming home his final quarter in a swift :23 1/5 and galloping out very strong. Shug McGaughey said he was excited by the work and was happy with the way he broke off and how strongly he galloped out. He most likely will have John Velazquez work him in seven or eight days and then give the colt his final work at Churchill Downs. Velazquez currently is the rider of Code of Honor, Spinoff, and Cutting Humor, the last two for Todd Pletcher, so he has a decision to make. I really don’t know what to expect from him. His races haven’t popped off the screen, and although he’s one of the best workers visually, he’s still been green in his races, whether not firing at all in the Holy Bull, loafing on the lead in the Fountain of Youth and hanging on, and failing to keep a straight course in the Florida Derby. Whether he can wake up in the Kentucky Derby I have no idea.

While several leading contenders are improving rapidly, COUNTRY HOUSE has been taking baby steps. His pedigree says he should relish the mile and a quarter, especially his female family, and with his running style and his physical prowess I have to give him a chance to make his way into the exotics. The only reason I didn’t put him at No. 12 is because he did not gain any ground in the final furlong of the Risen Star Stakes and lost ground in the final furlong of the Louisiana Derby and Arkansas Derby, and Haikal has been running far better speed figures. Because he is such a big strong horse and thrives on racing, Mott ran him back in three weeks off his fourth in the Louisiana Derby to get enough points to make the Derby field, and he accomplished that. Because he is such a hardy horse I don’t believe he will have any problem coming back in another three weeks, and in fact may benefit from it, as he is still a work in progress and can certainly handle it.

You can’t totally dismiss LONG RANGE TODDY off the one bad race in the Arkansas Derby when that race was in the slop, and in all his other races he’s been a gem of consistency and has already defeated a major contender in Improbable. But he needed to take a fairly big step forward on his Thoro-Graph numbers and although they are not out yet, he did regress 14 points on his Brisnet numbers. So there is a question of how fast he is even on a fast track and if he can rebound off the Arkansas Derby.

Todd Pletcher worked CUTTING HUMOR inside Federal Case and the pair finished on even terms in a sprightly :47 4/5 for the half-mile, with Cutting Humor going the better of the two on the gallop-out, maintaining about a length lead, even though Federal Case was being pushed harder. He has really fallen below the radar, not having run since his 1:46 4/5 corker in the Sunland Derby. He has an interesting Thoro-Graph pattern. After running a career-high figure in his second-place finish to Bourbon War in an allowance race, putting him right up there with most of the contenders, he regressed a full seven points in his disappointing effort in the Southwest Stakes. He then made up that seven points in the Sunland Derby, putting him right back where he was after the allowance race. Now it’s a question of whether he can improve on that figure. If he does, he is not without a longshot chance.

PLUS QUE PARFAIT is one of the toughest horses to figure coming out of the UAE Derby. He was able to win the 1 3/16-mile race despite coming off two poor efforts at Fair Grounds. But he did run a big race to be narrowly defeated in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last year at Churchill Downs. I normally don’t like American horses shipping to Dubai and then running back in only five weeks, but credit trainer Brendan Walsh for doing the right thing by keeping the colt in Dubai for 12 days after the race, giving him a chance to recuperate from the race, put back some weight and rehydrate, He arrived back at Churchill Downs last Thursday night and gradually got back in training, starting off with light jogs.

Walsh said the colt is going to have to really come back in good shape in order to run in the Derby, but added that nothing bothers him. He believes he has the right mentality for the Derby, as indicated by the way he handled everything in Dubai. Walsh feels that was a good experience for him to learn from. If he sees the colt is showing good energy in his gallops, he will give him an easy half-mile breeze April 19 or 20.

If I had to rank the Derby field on pedigree alone, he would be No. 1. Both his male and female families are inundated with stamina influences, with several traces to Ribot, twice through his His Majesty and once through Arts and Letters. Everywhere you look in his pedigree there are mile and quarter and mile and half horses. He is one I am going to carefully watch in the morning. If I’m convinced enough the Dubai trip didn’t take too much out of him and he does bounce back with good energy, I might be inclined to take him more seriously for the Kentucky Derby. But I still feel the UAE Derby runner-up GRAY MAGICIAN was a bit more impressive considering how wide he ran. It’s just a question whether both colts measure up with the others. Neither exactly set the world on fire before they went to Dubai. But let’s just say Plus Que Parfait for some reason disliked Fair Grounds and Gray Magician simply ran into a buzzsaw at Laurel in the brilliant Alwaysmining. His trainer, Peter Miller, has been on quite a roll the past six months.

Good news for WAR OF WILL fans who were hoping to see him bounce back from his ordeal in the Louisiana Derby. The son of War Front showed he has fully recovered by turning a bullet five-furlong work in :59 flat at Keeneland, fastest of 44 works at the distance. Following splits of :22 4/5, :34 3/5, and :46 1/5, he came home his final eighth in :12 4/5 and then galloped out six furlongs in a strong 1:11 3/5. This was as smooth and professional a work as you could have asked for, as he did it all on his own and was striding out beautifully down the stretch. It came as no surprise, as he has been on his toes and sharp for the past week. He cooled out very well after the work and is right back on schedule for the Derby. History has shown us that horses don’t win the Derby coming off such a bad effort, but this is a new era, so who knows?

As for the Japanese entrant, MASTER FENCER, we really know little about him other than he was beaten last out over a sharp-bended right-handed course. He figures to bring in a lot of betting revenue and a great following in Japan, but it does seem strange for the Kentucky Derby to have a Japanese horse possibly preventing the Florida Derby runner-up (Bodexpress) from getting into the race, and behind him are the Kentucky Jockey Club winner and Blue Grass third-place finisher (Signalman); a stakes winner (Sueno) who has placed in the Sham, Southwest, Louisiana Derby, and Lexington Stakes; and the Fountain of Youth runnerup (Bourbon War).

All the connections of these horses can do is wait to see if there are any defections, and if they don’t get in, wait for the Preakness, which could very well be a better spot for all of them. Others with insufficient points who could show up in the Preakness are the Lexington Stakes one-two finishers Owendale and Anothertwistafate, as well as the leading Maryland-based horse Alwaysmining, who has been pointing for the Preakness all along.

Based strictly on pedigree and what I look for, here are my nine favorite bred horses who I feel are ensured to get the mile and a quarter: Plus Que Parfait, Tax, Country House, Spinoff, War of Will, Omaha Beach, Maximum Security, Long Range Toddy, and Win Win Win. That’s not to say any of the others aren’t capable of winning the Derby. These are just my personal preferences.

The most unusual launching pad on this year’s Kentucky Derby trail has to be the $16,000 claiming race at Gulfstream Dec. 20, which produced the undefeated Florida Derby winner Maximum Security and Math Wizard, who was third to Maximum Security in that claiming race and went on to finish fourth in the Wood Memorial at 64-1, beaten only 4 1/2 lengths by Tacitus and a half-length for third by Haikal.

Although it had no bearing on the Kentucky Derby, keep a close eye on WARRIOR’S CHARGE in future stakes. After breaking his maiden by six lengths at a 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn on the undercard of the Rebel Stakes, the son of Munnings, trained by Brad Cox, came back to crush arguably the best allowance field of the year, winning again on the front end by 6 1/2 lengths in a sharp 1:42 2/5 for the 1 1/16 miles. He could be a candidate for the Peter Pan. He was not nominated to the Triple Crown race. Behind him were the highly promising Soldado from the Todd Pletcher barn, who finished fourth; Comedian from the loaded Steve Asmussen barn, who finished fifth; and second-place finisher Hidden Ruler, who was coming off a second to Gray Attempt in the six-furlong Gazebo Stakes in 1:09 3/5 for Dallas Stewart. Before that, Hidden Ruler was second to the talented Captain Von Trapp in a mile allowance. Finishing third in Friday’s race was recent maiden winner Proverb, trained by Ron Moquett.

Omaha Beach

Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella has accomplished some of horse racing's greatest feats. He's won nine Breeders' Cup races, including his four wins in 2003 at Santa Anita Park capped by Pleasantly Perfect's victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1).

Now, 15 years after his most recent two Kentucky Derby (G1) runners at Churchill Downs, the California-based trainer will return with Fox Hill Farm's Omaha Beach, fresh off a win in the April 13 Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn Park.

Richard Mandella’s Derby Starters

Year Horse          Finish

1984 Bedouin                  15th

1994 Soul of the Matter  5th

1995 Afternoon Deelites 8th

1999 Desert Hero           13th

2004 Action This Day       6th

2004 Minister Eric          16th

"It'd be nice to do this," Mandella said of potentially winning the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). "But I'm very satisfied with what I've done. If I do it, fine. If I don't, fine. But it would be nice to do it."

Mandella will have the help of jockey Mike Smith, a Hall of Famer himself, who chose to stay aboard Omaha Beach for the Derby after riding the colt in his last two races. Smith is also the regular rider for Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Roadster, who will be ridden by Florent Geroux on the first Saturday in May.

Smith said part of his decision came from Omaha Beach beating both Game Winner and Improbable, two leading Derby contenders trained by Bob Baffert, with whom Smith won the Triple Crown last year aboard Justify.

"Of course, he hasn't beaten Roadster yet, but he beat two of them, and two out of the three is good," Smith added regarding Omaha Beach. "He just seems to be the horse that's coming around at the right time right now. He really probably has a little bit more speed than them, more races under his belt that Roadster, but other than that it was (an) extremely difficult (choice). They're both so talented. It wouldn't be surprising if either one of them won."

Mandella said he could not have been more excited to receive the message Smith will remain aboard his trainee.

"He's won a lot of big races for Bob Baffert and I could've understood if he thought he should stick there," the conditioner said. "Just very appreciative that he chose mine. I think that shows a lot about what he thinks of the horse."

A Derby win would only add to Mandella's accomplishments. In addition to taking the Classic in 2003, he sent out Johar to a dead-heat victory in the John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (G1T) and swept the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) with Action This Day and Halfbridled, respectively.

Ten years before winning four Breeders' Cup races, he won a pair, taking the 1993 Turf with Kotashaan and Juvenile Fillies with Phone Chatter. More recently, Mandella saddled champion Beholder to three Breeders' Cup wins—the 2012 Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), the 2013 Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1), and the 2016 Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1).

The Derby has proven more elusive. Mandella, who grew up around horses as the son of blacksmith Gene Mandella, and galloped horses at Three Rings Ranch while in high school, has sent out six Kentucky Derby runners. His top finishers in the classic include fifth-place finisher Soul of the Matter in 1994 and juvenile champion Action This Day, who finished sixth in 2004.

Omaha Beach, who arrived at Churchill Downs from Oaklawn the afternoon of April 16, will be among the top betting choices after victories in the Arkansas Derby and Rebel Stakes (G2).

"He's probably going to be one of the favorites," Mandella said, "so I haven't had one of those yet for the Derby."

Owner Rick Porter thought Mandella would be a good fit for Omaha Beach, who he purchased privately after the War Front  colt was a $625,000 RNA at the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

"I think Dick is meticulous and he goes slowly, which sometimes owners don't like, but in the long run I like the way he goes about bringing 3-year-olds along," Porter said. "(Omaha Beach) was getting over the dirt in the mornings beautifully. He was working over the dirt wonderfully, but Richard wanted to try him on the grass first. He ran him on the grass and I think he ran third the first time, then he ran two seconds, beaten a neck and a nose."

Porter has stabled horses with Mandella for about three years and called the trainer a wonderful person and good friend. Porter added that he and his wife, Betsy, go out to dinner with Mandella and his wife, Randi, every time they are together.

"He's a good horseman and I just like him a lot as a person and trainer," Porter said. "He's been around a long time. He's had a lot of great horses. I consider him certainly one of the best trainers in America."

Mandella, currently at his Santa Anita base, is finalizing his own travel arrangements to get to Louisville, Ky., and plans to be on his way in the next few days. Meanwhile, Omaha Beach is settling into Barn 28 at Churchill (the barn of Larry Jones, who helped select Omaha Beach for Porter), and will be overseen by foreman Jose Vera, who has worked with Mandella for 35 years.

Omaha Beach will walk the shedrow for a few days to settle in after the van ride while recovering from his last race. Mandella added the colt will likely pick up track work again April 19.

As for finding a Kentucky Derby winner, Mandella said he's had his eye out for one for 40-something years. Though Omaha Beach was originally thought to be a grass horse, he turned into the colt that brought Mandella back for another try at the Run for the Roses.

"I just do the best I can with what I've got, try to bring the best out in them as it presents itself," Mandella said. "But he has developed just in front of my eyes. I wish I could take the credit for him, but I think he's just a very good horse."

Smith said he would like nothing more than to help Mandella capture the elusive victory.

"He's a Hall of Fame trainer who's been blessed and has won just about everything except the Derby," the jockey remarked. "He certainly deserves one, so I'm hoping that this is the one."

Tuesday, April 16, 2019





Fourth eight days ago in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, Woodford Racing’s Campaign, who was about nine lengths off the lead when the field crossed the finish line for the first time in today’s Grade III, $100,000 Tokyo City Cup, rallied five deep turning for home en route to an impressive 3 ¼ length victory.  Trained by John Sadler, Campaign got the marathon mile and one half Tokyo City distance in 2:34.73.

With stablemate Acker going to the early lead, Campaign was content to lag far back for the first mile and was on the move with about eight lengths to make up at the half mile pole.  Favored Beach View collared Acker a furlong out, but Campaign was in high gear and drew out from the sixteenth pole home.

“The race set up perfectly and coming back on short rest, you have to be really careful with that,” said Sadler.  “I don’t do it very often, but I thought this was a case where I could do it.  Turning for home I felt pretty good, because he’ll run all day.  He’s a true stayer.”

Originally based with trainer Steve Asmussen back east, Campaign, a 4-year-old colt by Curlin, out of the Dynaformer mare Arania, was off at 7-2 in a field of five older horses and paid $7.00, $3.20 and $2.20.

“I had a lot of confidence in this horse today, because I’ve ridden him in his last two races,” said Bejarano.  “In the Big ‘Cap (Grade I, 1 ¼ miles on April 6), he didn’t have any pace to run at.  Today, he was very relaxed and he was full of run going into the far turn.  I didn’t want to try and go inside, because I know this horse likes to make a run on the outside.

“At the top of the stretch, I was about two or three lengths behind Beach View and I was very confident.  John’s done a great job with this horse and I want to thank him for the opportunity.”

With today’s win serving as his first stakes win, Campaign has now won two out of his three starts for Sadler and his overall mark stands at 8-4-1-0.  With the winner’s share of $60,000, Campaign now has earnings of $310,253.

Next to last heading into the far turn, Beach View, with Flavien Prat up, accelerated nicely leaving the three  furlong pole, took the lead mid-stretch but was no match for the winner.

Off as the 4-5 favorite, Beach View returned $2.40 and $2.10.

Acker, ridden by Victor Espinoza, finished 1 ½ lengths in front of Arch Prince and paid $2.20 to show while off at 2-1.

Fractions on the race were 26.01, 51.57, 1:18.18, 1:43.66 and 2:09.23.

Racing will resume on Friday, with first post time at 1 p.m.  



JOSEPH TALAMO, PAINTING CORNERS, WINNER: “I had a great trip Peter gave me all the confidence in the world, he just said, ‘Try to break sharp if they give us a good lead go with it, if not just ride a smart race’.  She broke sharp and took it to ’em.  She’s very quick out of the gate and we got a little breather there around the turn.  She could feel Bejarano’s filly (third place finisher Go On Mary) on her outside, but when we straightened up, she switched leads and we were gone.”


PETER MILLER, PAINTING CORNERS, WINNER: “Joe rode a very smart race.  She doesn’t like to be on the rail much, but he broke sharp and he just went on with it and cut the corner and saved something for the stretch.  So great ride by Joe and the whole team did a great job with this filly. She’s a very versatile filly and she’s been so much fun to work with. I still think she can get the longer distances. We are looking into her next race, she might possibly go to Kentucky and we’re even thinking about the Monrovia.”


RYAN COSATO, PAINTING CORNERS, ON BEHALF OF SLAM DUNK RACING: “She’s been facing (stablemate) Belvoir Bay in her last couple races, so it was nice to get away from her today.  Belvoir Bay ran solid in Dubai, so Painting Corners was obviously coming out of a productive race.  It was nice to see her get an easy lead and keep going.”

NOTES: The winning owner is Altamira Racing Stable and Slam Dunk Racing.






Omaha Beach, Roadster, Game Winner, Improbable: Santa Anita’s Fab Four, all based

at The Great Race Place, all in primary pouncing position to win the Kentucky Derby on May 4.

Omaha Beach moved to the head of the pack thanks to his one-length victory over Improbable in Saturday’s Arkansas Derby. After that, it’s anybody choice as to which of the remaining three might pose the strongest threat to capture the 145th Run for the Roses.

But there’s no question Richard Mandella, trainer of Omaha Beach, and Bob Baffert, conditioner of the other threesome, are sitting pretty in quest of giving California its sixth Kentucky Derby winner in the last eight years, joining I’ll Have Another (2012), California Chrome (2014), American Pharoah (2015), Nyquist (2016) and Justify (2018).

Mandella, seeking his initial win in the first leg of the Triple Crown in what would be his seventh attempt, was understandably proud of the unflappable triumph by Omaha Beach.

“This horse is a fighter and has shown a new dimension. He just gets better and better,” the Hall of Fame trainer said by phone from Arkansas Sunday morning. “He came out of the race great. He’ll remain at Oaklawn for a couple days before shipping to Louisville.”

Seems apropos that Omaha Beach is a warrior. The son of War Front is named for Omaha Beach, the second beach from the west among the five landing areas of the Normandy Invasion of World War II.

It was assaulted on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) by units of the U.S. 29th and 1st infantry divisions, many of whose soldiers were drowned during the approach from ships offshore or killed by defending fire from German troops placed on heights surrounding the beach.

Asked if he felt Mike Smith might have moved too soon nearing the half-mile point in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, Mandella wasn’t about to second-guess one of the greatest riders of his generation, who swept the Triple Crown for Baffert last year on Horse of the Year Justify.

“I’m just happy with what happened,” Mandella said in typical understated fashion.

Baffert, seeking his sixth Kentucky Derby victory, took Improbable’s gritty setback in relative stride, focusing on the positive.

“I was very happy with his race,” Baffert said on a spectacular Sunday morning at Santa

Anita. “I had some really anxious moments when Improbable acted up in the gate. He started thrashing in there a little, and then they backed him out and back in, so I was a little nervous.

“They take forever to load there putting the horses in one at a time. I really wish they wouldn’t keep them in the gate that long, just for safety reasons, especially in big races.

“But he got away well from the one hole and Jose Ortiz rode a great race. We just came up second-best . . . I had some anxious moments, but was pretty relieved that we ran second, got in the Derby (with ample qualifying points) and learned some things about the horse.

“He does have gears, took dirt for the first time and hung in there after getting upset in the gate. I’m not sure if it was the blinkers, because I noticed in the post parade he was rubbing his head, just being a little anxious.

“But he was fresh, because I’ve just been running him into shape. I haven’t really tightened the screws. I wanted the races to do that, and he got beat by a very good horse.

“But here’s what I’m proud about: at Santa Anita, we’ve gotten all this bad publicity, and these horses have been training on this surface, and look at them. They’re going into the Derby as the top four favorites, so I don’t want to hear any more about how bad it is in California.”


Zatter seeks his first stakes victory this Saturday in the Grade II Kona Gold Stakes for three-year-olds and up at 6 ½ furlongs on the main track.

Joe Talamo feels the four-year-old Midnight Lute colt trained by Bob Baffert for Zayat Stables LLC can get the job done.

“He ran really well when I won on him (March 3, getting up by a half-length),” said Talamo, who has the mount in the Kona Gold. “He has a good style. He kind of sits back and makes a nice run the last part.

“Six-and-a-half to seven furlongs is a good distance for him–anywhere from six to seven, actually. He’s a late-running sprinter.”

Zatter worked four furlongs in company Sunday in a bullet 47.40 with Talamo aboard. Stablemate Hot Sean was clocked in 47.80.


With equine medicine more readily embracing holistic treatments and procedures, Tyler Cerin, 31, son of veteran trainer Vladimir Cerin, is treating dozens of horses per week at Santa Anita with a Jacuzzi-like machine called an Equine Spa, which employs ice-cold salt water.

“It’s made in England and we use it as preventative maintenance and also to treat soft tissue that may have become stressed or inflamed,” said Cerin, who has treated horses nationwide as a highly sought-after Equine Massage Therapist. “With each horse, we school them first in order to get them comfortable, because they’re going to be standing in a confined space when treated.

“So, we walk each one through and then we stand them, similar to what you would do with a horse who was just getting familiarized with the starting gate. With some horses, if we see they’re getting stressed, we stop the process and bring them back in a day or two to make sure they’re comfortable with it.”

Once each horse is secured in the spa, the process of loading the salt water is initiated.

“It takes five minutes to get the water up over their knees and above their hocks,” said Cerin. “The water temperature is very consistent, at about 35 to 36 degrees, so we don’t want the level to get any higher, because if their belly was submerged, it’s pretty cold for them just to be standing there.

“Once the water has reached the proper level, we turn on the jets and it’s very similar to a human sitting in a Jacuzzi. It’s very soothing for the horses and once the water is circulating, this process lasts no longer than 10 minutes. So, with another five minutes required to drain the water, each horse is in and out within 20 minutes, maximum.”

When asked by XBTV’s Zoe Cadman if he’d ever been in the Equi-Spa himself, Cerin replied, “Yes, anything I do with the horses, I try it myself first . . . For me, it’s a blessing working as a team with each trainer and their staff as we try to help each of these horses reach their maximum potential.”


Zatter (Outside) expected in the Kona Gold Stakes and  Hot Sean work 4 furlongs (Baffert) 4-14-19 

Secret Spice works 4 furlongs (Baltas) 4-14-19

Roadster galloping in preparation for the Kentucky Derby (Baffert) 4-14-19

A Day in the Life With Equine Therapist  Tyler Cerin at Santa Anita Park

Candid Conversation Part 1 With Trainer  Richard Baltas

Candid Conversation Part 2 With Trainer  Richard Baltas

Ax Man works 4 furlongs (Baffert) 4-13-19

Hunt works 4 furlongs (D’Amato) 4-13-19

Swirling (Outside) &  Persuasive Cat work 4 furlongs (Sadler) 4-12-19

Route Six Six (Outside) &  Don’tteasethetiger work 5 furlongs (Koriner) 4-12-19

La Shirimp works 4 furlongs (D’Amato) 4-12-19

Melissa Jane works 4 furlongs (Powell) 4-12-19

FINISH LINES: Omaha Beach earned a 101 Beyer Figure for his Arkansas Derby victory, while runner-up Improbable got a 100 . . . Fans can watch and wager during the biggest Derby party west of Kentucky May 4 at Santa Anita. In addition to live racing, music and food trucks, hat contests will also be on the gala agenda. For tickets and reservations, please visit . . . Kanthaka, working for the Kona Gold, went five furlongs on the training track in 1:02, while monster mare Vasilika, prepping for the Grade I Gamely on May 27, went four furlongs on the training track in 53 flat, both for Jerry Hollendorfer. Paradise Woods, bound for the Grade II Santa Margarita Stakes on April 27, went five furlongs on the main track in a bullet 1:01 for John Shirreffs. In all, there were 180 recorded drills Sunday morning . . . The California Horse Racing Board has its regular monthly meeting 9:30 a.m. Thursday, April 18, at Santa Anita. The Medication, Safety and Welfare Committee will meet a day earlier on Wednesday at 10 a.m. The public is encouraged to attend both meetings. An audio-only webcast of only the Thursday meeting can be heard through a link on the CHRB website ( webcast). The agenda and package of materials for the Board meeting as well as the agenda and package for the committee meeting also are on the website . . . Santa Anita will be dark for live racing Monday through Thursday, with live action resuming at 1 p.m. Friday, April 19. Simulcast racing will be offered Thursday with free general admission and free parking. Admission gates open at 10 a.m. . . . Old agents never die; they just fade away: R Cha Cha and Bistraya, who finished a head apart in Saturday’s fifth race to form an $86.10 exacta, were ridden by Eswan Flores and Edwin Maldonado, respectively. The former is represented by 86-year-old agent Vince DeGregory, the latter by Vic Lipton, who admits to being 77. Yeah, and Jack Benny is 39.

Tokyo City Cup (Grade III)

Mizdirection Stakes (Listed)

Apr 13 2019 The Arkansas Derby

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


A planned experiment to have jockeys compete without riding crops April 12 at Santa Anita Park has been postponed. Through an agreement between the Jockeys' Guild and the Thoroughbred Owners of California, jockeys will ride with crops Friday at the Arcadia, Calif., track.

The Jockeys' Guild has called off its planned experiment as the organization works toward longer-term implementation of policies consistent with recent guidelines issued by the California Horse Racing Board, the Guild and TOC announced April 10. 

"We will comply, for the time being, with the request from the Thoroughbred Owners of California to not proceed with the jockeys not using riding crops during the races at Santa Anita Park on Friday, April 12," said Jockeys' Guild president and CEO Terry Meyocks. "For the past month, we have received virtually no support from industry organizations in California until contacted by the TOC in the last day and a half. In the interest of moving forward to create a safer environment for both equine and human athletes, we have agreed to work with the TOC to come to a mutually agreeable position on riding crop usage in California to be submitted to the CHRB."

The Jockeys' Guild will be asking jockeys at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields to use the recently developed 360 GT riding crop, which was used this past weekend at Keeneland. The 360 GT has been developed in the interest of safeguarding horses and riders. Guild officials indicated they will continue to monitor racing conditions and crop use while seeking feedback from the riders to ensure the welfare of the horses.

"Jockeys, who take great personal risk every time they ride, are focused on safety and are vigilant caretakers of their horses," said TOC president Greg Avioli. "We appreciate the Guild's willingness to continue to work with us on policy options that protect horses and riders while ensuring that races are run fairly for all participants."

"I have been fortunate to work with some of the best riders in the world in my career here in California, and I have seen their dedication to the safety and welfare of our horses," said TOC board member Bob Baffert. "We owe it to the riders to work with them to ensure that they're on board with the steps we are taking to create the safest environment possible for our athletes."

Meyocks said rules need to work for the entire industry.

"It is and has been the Guild's position that we must have rules that are in the best interests of all of our industry participants: horses, owners, breeders, racetracks, trainers, jockeys, and the betting public, whose interest fuels our sport," Meyocks stated. 


Omaha Beach Richard Mandella Click Here!
War Front—Charming, by Seeking the Gold
His exceptional works continued with a bullet five furlongs in 1:00 3/5, fastest of 18 works at the distance, followed by a strong six-furlong gallop-out. Mike Smith watching the work, was so impressed he told Mandella, “That was my work of the meet.” It is apparent Smith is very high on this colt, but he will have to deliver in the Arkansas Derby to prevent Smith from jumping ship to Roadster. Realistically, he is heading into the toughest prep of the meet, and all he needs to do is run his race, look strong at the end, and not lose ground in the final furlong. In his last two starts he paired up his career-high Thoro-Graph number and now needs only to move forward a little more and not regress to put him in position to fire his best shot at Churchill Downs. As owner Rick Porter said, “He’s getting better and better and Dick is on cloud nine.” For now that is good enough for me.

Win Win Win Michael Trombetta
Hat Trick (JPN)—Miss Smarty Pants, by Smarty Jones
Sometimes it’s good to go against the crowd. This colt is ranked 16th in the latest NTRA poll. Yes, this is a bold move, but in a year so wide open and with so many question marks and not having a clue where to rank these horses, sometimes you just go with your gut and lean toward a horse you have always liked and who you’ve stuck with all year. On the logical side, unlike many of the others he has already run in a 14-horse field and showed he can handle traffic and recover from adversity. I have no idea how he managed to get up for second in the Blue Grass, but that final closing burst bought his ticket to Louisville. If only this colt once could have an uneventful start and use his exceptional speed. This is a horse with sprinter’s speed who has been forced to run like Silky Sullivan. And who knows what would have happened if he didn’t have to steady at the five-sixteenths pole and lose all momentum at a crucial point. As it is, he recovered, was forced seven to eight wide and still came home his final eighth in :12 2/5, by far the fastest of any horse in the race, including the winner, who had a perfect stalking trip. The Tampa Derby form also was boosted when Tacitus won the Wood Memorial. And it must be noted that in six of the seven dirt races on the card, the winner was running first or second no more than a half-length off the lead and on the inside part of the track. In the other dirt race the winner came from two lengths back. He had to come from 13th and rally extremely wide over an apparent speed-favoring track. He was really rolling around the turn, slicing through the big field, when he ran right up on the heels of a retreating Admire and Parsimony. Ortiz no doubt expected to go around them, but Sir Winston moved up outside him and blocked his escape route, which forced Ortiz to step on the brake and then have to put him in gear again. What bodes well for the Derby is we know he has speed and has several gears and has the capability of winning from anywhere on the track. And having five Kentucky Derby winners and four Belmont winners in your pedigree doesn’t hurt.

Tacitus Bill Mott
Tapit—Close Hatches, by First Defence
As I mentioned earlier, this is a crap shoot and these rankings are interchangeable with very little separating each horse. I put him up high for the same reason I put Win Win Win up so high. He has run big in a large field and has overcome adversity. And, he is the first horse this year to win back to back major preps, accomplishing that while still a bit green and learning how to be a racehorse. I don’t believe we have a clue how good this horse is or how much improvement he still has in him. First he wins the Tampa Bay Derby off a neck maiden win, only two career starts, and four-month layoff. And he did it rallying between horses, learning his first valuable lesson. Watching the Wood Memorial I thought he had lost all chance early on after getting slammed into so hard shortly after the start it turned him sideways. That apparently got his blood up and he had to bull his way into the clear, shoving horses out of his way going into the first turn. If that wasn’t a good dress rehearsal for the Kentucky Derby I never saw one. This colt has so much raw talent, just wait until he actually matures. And, yes, he still has some maturing to do, as indicated from the way he loses a bit of focus once he makes the lead, flicking his ears around. The fact that he keeps finding ways to win and is so resilient and professional before that shows how much ability he has. And he was being pushed on the turn, so you know he can sustain his run a long way. As assistant trainer Riley Mott said, “It gives you the feeling there’s more to be discovered with him.” He’s been toughened and tested and now looks ready to put it all together.

Roadster Bob Baffert Click Here!
Quality Road—Ghost Dancing, by Silver Ghost
Well, he’s no secret weapon anymore, and in fact is now the favorite for the Derby on the final Future Wager pool and is ranked No. 1 on the NTRA poll. He started out last July as Baffert’s next big horse and after having a breathing problem corrected and a long layoff, he could very well be right back where he started heading to Churchill Downs. So why don’t I have him ranked higher? First off, unlike Win Win Win and Tacitus, he’s been running in five- and six-horse fields and only has four career starts, and only three horses in the past 101 years have won the Derby with four or fewer starts. Yes, Tacitus also has four starts, but has gotten far more experience out of those four starts, facing bigger fields and more obstacles. Also, if Omaha Beach wins the Arkansas Derby he likely will lose Mike Smith and will have a new rider in the Derby, and losing Mike Smith would be a big negative. If Omaha Beach disappoints and Roadster keeps Smith, then he could very well move up the list. Roadster no doubt is very gifted and quick on his feet and his future is limitless. Many thought he would be sitting right off Instagrand in the Santa Anta Derby, but Smith took him well off the pace and then fell even farther back heading into the far turn. He looked dead in the water with way too much ground to make up, especially not being a come-from-behind horse heading into the far turn. But he closed in quickly, swung wide, and powered home like a natural closer to edge out Game Winner. This added an entirely new dimension to the colt. You have to love the continuity of his pedigree, just like the old private stables. The late Edward P. (Ned) Evans not only owned and bred his sire, he bred his first four dams after purchasing his fifth dam. As Evans’ former farm manager Chris Baker, now the farm manager of Three Chimneys Farm, said, “This family has been winning grade 1 stakes for over 30 years. Arthur Hancock (who bred Roadster) told me breeding Ned top and bottom is his new nick.”

Game Winner Bob Baffert Click Here!
Candy Ride (ARG)—Indyan Giving, by A.P. Indy
I was surprised he was given such a wide trip in the Santa Anita Derby in such a small field, and it could very well have cost him the race, as he was parked wide every step of the way. But take nothing away from Roadster’s huge performance. The bottom line is that he’s been beaten twice as the odds-on favorite, once failing to catch a horse and once being caught. The last thing you want to see in your final prep is to either lose ground in the stretch or get caught. But the wide trip definitely is a legitimate excuse, as he was coming back in only three weeks following a hard race in the Rebel Stakes and traveling cross-country. I just don’t know what his real strength is. It’s not his speed or his closing kick or his turn of foot. He just keeps coming at you. In his last four races, however, he has beaten Gunmetal Gray and Knicks Go (who has been a huge disappointment this year) and then was beaten in his two starts this year. So perhaps we really don’t know as much about him as we thought we once did. What we do know is that he is tough, runs his heart out every time, and Baffert said he “has a lot of Silver Charm in him.” That is high praise indeed, and although he has fallen off the top spot, he is still a horse to be feared and respected.

Maximum Security Jason Servis
New Year's Day—Lil Indy, by Anasheed
Few if any horses have made such a dramatic ascent on the Derby trail as this colt. For a horse who was deemed so inferior that he was culled to thin out the Wests’ crop of 2-year-olds to rise to leading Kentucky Derby contender is something out of an old-time Hollywood flick. But here he is a $16,000 claimer only four months ago on the threshold of Derby immortality. People still wonder how a horse with this kind of brilliance and so much quality wound up running so cheaply. The detailed explanation and the entire story behind the colt can be found below in Knocking on the Door. This is a horse you can easily rank No. 1 off his brilliant Florida Derby victory. His Thoro-Graph, Brisnet, and Beyer numbers all make him the fastest horse in the Derby. I like to hold off on speed horses until I see how the Derby field shapes up and how much speed is in there. But with him I believe he can rate off the pace if he has to, and in fact could be a budding superstar. With his unusual background, he’s a hard horse to root against. The thought of him charging down the Churchill Downs stretch eyeball to eyeball with last year’s 2-year-old champion and the Wests’ more illustrious star is the old “too Hollywood to be true” formula that was the basis for most old-time horse racing films. It is Bluegrass vs. Postman all over again (from the classic movie “Kentucky”).

Vekoma George Weaver Click Here!
Candy Ride (ARG)—Mona de Momma, by Speightstown
Talk about no respect, of the voters in the NTRA poll, eight different horses received first-place votes, none of them Vekoma, despite winning the Blue Grass with authority. Even Bellafina received a first-place vote. I had been reluctant to put him in the Top 12 because of his awkward way of going, between paddling badly and cocking his head, but he sure doesn’t let it affect his performance. Yes, he beat Win Win Win by open lengths, but he had a much better trip pressing the pace on a speed-favoring track. He actually had the fastest Thoro-Graph number of any 2-year-old last year, which is still the fastest number of any 3-year-old among the top 20 point leaders. And his Thoro-Graph number in the Fountain of Youth was faster than the two horses who finished in front of him. And judging from his Trakus numbers in the Blue Grass I will guess he’ll get another good number in the Blue Grass. He has never run slower than a “4 1/4” (in his debut), which makes him the fastest 3-year-old in the country on a consistent basis along with Game Winner. As for his unsightly stride, look at it this way, throughout history we have had lessons in beauty being in the eye of the beholder. We had the Phantom of the Opera and Christine, Cyrano and Roxane, Quasimodo and Esmeralda, and The Beast and Belle. If those beauties could see beyond the deformities we will learn to see beyond Vekoma’s unsightly action and his head cocking as long as he keeps running like he did in the Blue Grass. To those who bet him, you can be sure he looked awfully attractive opening up in the stretch. We really have no idea when or if his action will catch up to him. I remember Pine Bluff paddled his leg and he won a Preakness. Right now, all I know is that he is fast. How far he can carry his speed with the number of sprinters and speed influences in his female family we have no idea. He sure had no problem with a mile and an eighth.

Improbable Bob Baffert Click Here!
City Zip—Rare Event, by A.P. Indy
If you’re in a tizzy over him dropping several places, there simply were too many good performances last week by horses who have proven themselves at 1 1/8 miles in top class company. And he’s not even in the Derby yet. He needs a first- or second-place finish in the Arkansas Derby to earn a starting berth at Churchill Downs, and in such a talent-laden field a nose could make the difference, so he needs a better trip than he got in the Rebel Stakes when he was forced to go wide all the way, much the same way Game Winner did in the Santa Anita Derby. He gets a new rider in Jose Ortiz and gets blinkers because he’s had a tendency to lose focus in the stretch, and he’s been cocking his head in his works lately. Remember, Ortiz is the regular rider for Tacitus, so Baffert better start planning his follow-up shot. But all in all he appears to be coming into the race in good shape, and a big effort will put him back up near the top. Baffert is confident he will run big and let’s not forget he is on a very strong Thoro-Graph pattern. He did get caught at 2-5 in the Rebel and even with the wide trip, many believe a 2-5 shot should never get caught in the final furlong, especially by a horse who was on the lead and dropped back to fifth, then came on like a fresh horse. We’ll learn a lot more on Saturday when we see if the blinkers keep him more focused. There is no doubt the raw ability is there, and he still has the biggest and smoothest stride I’ve seen this year. When he is focused, he is pure poetry to watch.

Long Range Toddy Steve Asmussen
Take Charge Indy—Pleasant Song, by Unbridled's Song
He’s another who had to be lowered to make room for others. But I still think a lot of him and feel he is improving in leaps and bounds. And he has a lot more mileage under him than his main opponents, having already competed at a mile or farther five times, winning or placing in five stakes. The reason I lowered him as opposed to any of the others is that, while his Thoro-Graph numbers are improving, his number in the Rebel was significantly slower than those of Improbable and Game Winner due to his ground-saving trip. So it looks as if he needs to jump at least three points in the Arkansas Derby to repeat. He will be the great defender of Oaklawn Park, as he attempts to hold off the onslaught of California invaders Omaha Beach, Improbable, and Galilean, as well as Country House from the Bill Mott barn. With everything that’s happened since the Rebel he seems to have fallen a little under the radar, but a victory could actually make him the Derby favorite or no worse than second choice. This is a gorgeous horse who could become a fan favorite heading into the Derby with a victory Saturday.

Spinoff Todd Pletcher
Hard Spun—Zaftig, by Gone West
Lowering this colt from No. 5 really hurt, and I have to admit, now that I have a phone betting account, I actually played him in the last two Future Wagers, figuring there is no way I’m going to get 35-1 on him on Derby Day. But this year you never know. Like with Win Win Win and Omaha Beach, I’ve been going by gut instinct with him, believing he is a very talented colt. Even with the six-week layoff to the Derby and getting caught in the Louisiana Derby, I feel strongly he needed that race badly coming off only one allowance laugher at Tampa Bay in 7 1/2 months. If you go into a major stakes a Fair Grounds race a little short, that long stretch can seem endless. I liked his :48 4/5 breeze in his first work back and expect Pletcher to give him several serious works leading up to the Derby. He now looks like Pletcher’s main hope, along with Cutting Humor, and we’ll see who Johnny V decides to ride at Churchill Downs. It would be hard to go off this colt, who is just coming into peak form and looks to have a world of ability. He is lightly raced and will have only two starts in the last nine months and a six-week layoff going into the Derby, so, as I said, keep a close eye on his works. If I like what I see, he could very well creep his way back toward the top.

Tax Danny Gargan
Arch—Toll, by Giant's Causeway
He is obviously the best claiming story other than Maximum Security, and claimed from Claiborne Farm no less. I love that he was able to lay seven lengths off the pace in the Wood Memorial, put in a strong run and then go toe to toe with Tacitus, hanging tough despite being crowded late by the winner, while finishing nearly three lengths ahead of the late-running Haikal. He has three straight mile and an eighth races under him. I didn’t put him in the Top 12 after the Withers because it was a three-horse photo with horses of unknown quality, the runner-up seemed to be coming back at him at the wire, and his Thoro-Graph number regressed three points off his third in the Remsen. But I am now sold on him. Despite coming into the Wood a fresh horse off a two-month layoff and several very fast works over the deep Belmont training track, he never was headstrong and was content to sit way behind the battling leaders. Unlike Jason Servis with Maximum Security, they went to the claiming well once too often, getting away with it for $30,000 and then losing him for $50,000. The reason he is a number of places below Tacitus is because the winner had a far worse trip early, but I loved the way he ran, even getting passed in the stretch, which I usually frown upon. We now know he is versatile and doesn’t need to be close to the pace, and with his stamina-laden pedigree it makes him a legitimate contender who comes into the Derby with a great foundation under him. Unlike many of the others, there is absolutely, unequivocally no question he will relish the mile and a quarter. Too bad they dropped him from the Future Wager field; he is a live longshot.

By My Standards Bret Calhoun
Goldencents—A Jealous Woman, by Muqtarib
He is another who had to be reluctantly lowered and probably will be forgotten come Derby Day. When you have six weeks off before the big race it’s natural for him to be out of sight, out of mind. Although he looked as if the added distance shouldn’t be a problem, his pedigree still raises questions. But like several of the others, he is improving at the right time. However, he still has a ways to go. Although he improved his Thoro-Graph number three points off his maiden score, he still has to improve at least another three points to be competitive with the top horses, and he has to do it in the Derby off a six-week layoff. He is by a young stallion, so we can’t say Goldencents, who was a sprinter/miler for most of his career, can’t sire a classic horse. We just don’t know, and when trying to assess these Derby horses who are so close together, you have to go by something, and Goldencents’ sire, Into Mischief, also is a question mark over a distance of ground. They said Distorted Humor, Elusive Quality, and Boundary were not classic sires, so we’ll just have to wait and see. All we can go by right now is the way he came off an impressive maiden victory and won the Louisiana Derby. But now he has to step it up a notch, perhaps a few notches.


Getting back to the NTRA poll, eight horses received first-place votes, none of them the Blue Grass or Louisiana Derby winner which shows you what a crazy, wide-open year this has been. We’re even going to have two former claimers and a maiden in the field, and all three have good credentials, finishing first or second in 100-point stakes. 

There are some very live horses knocking on the door, including ANOTHERTWISTAFATE, who I had to drop because he is currently at No. 23 on the points leaderboard. So he likely will have to run in the Lexington Stakes to try to pick up the needed points. A victory there and he could easily make his way back on. Having run six weeks before the Derby, that probably is a good spot for him anyway even if he didn’t need the points. But, as mentioned last week, it could negate the altitude angle. If there is such a thing, you want to use it in the Derby as Mine That Bird did, not in the Lexington. I do love that he is still training at Sunland Park and blazed a half-mile in a bullet :46 4/5.

Two other very live Derby horses who will run in the Arkansas Derby looking for an upset or at least a second-place finish are GALILEAN and COUNTRY HOUSE, who I wrote about last week. Country House has some flexibility with 30 points and in the No. 24 spot. But Galilean, with only 7 1/2 points, definitely needs a first or second-place finish. Flavien Prat was thrilled with his six-furlong work in 1:14 3/5 and he now looks to be Jerry Hollendorfer’s last shot at getting in the Derby with INSTAGRAND likely going back to shorter distances. Galilean was in the Top 12 for a number of weeks and he should be ready for a much-improved performance with a better trip than he got in the Rebel Stakes. I still believe this is a very talented horse.

As for Country House, hats off to Bill Mott for running him back in three weeks and then another three weeks to the Kentucky Derby. That is as old-school as you’re going to get these days. Yes he’s doing it partly because of the points and the $1 million purse, although he could have taken his chances with 30 points, but he has no reservations about doing it with this particular colt.

Assistant trainer Riley Mott said, “With another type of horse we would probably just let it be, but we feel he is a true mile and a quarter type of horse that could certainly be right in the mix in the final eighth if he gets the right set up, so this is why we would like to get him into the field. Another reason to run him back in Arkansas is because we feel he’s a sort of a throwback type of horse that just gets better the more you do with him. He’s a big, hardy type of horse that’s very tough physically and mentally so he should improve the more he runs.” Yep, old school alright. And a very interesting tout for Country House as a Derby horse.

Speaking of points, sitting at No. 20 right now is BOURBON WAR, who is another trying to get in the race and also could be a live longshot, as his Florida Derby was a lot better than it looks on paper, and he does have a big turn of foot he can use on the far turn or in the stretch. In the Florida Derby he definitely was hurt by the slow early pace and rapid final three furlongs. I can see him rebounding in the Kentucky Derby.

Going into the Wood Memorial I was looking to see if HAIKAL was just a one-turn closer because of his pedigree and his come-from-the-clouds running style. Well, he  wound up finishing third, but he ran like a two-turn closer, so I actually feel better about him now as a Derby horse. He didn’t have than same late burst he’s shown in his other races and maybe that final furlong did get to him. But he showed that he does belong in the Kentucky Derby.

Also, it was good to see SIGNALMAN rebound off his poor effort in the Fountain of Youth, just getting nipped on the wire for second in the Blue Grass. He always seems to find himself on the inside and Saturday was no different. He is a one-paced grinder and does have to show a little more punch in the stretch, but he is a big long-striding horse and the mile and a quarter should suit him well, especially over a track on which he scored his biggest victory.

As promised last week, here is the story behind MAXIMUM SECURITY. First off, his sire wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire, so Gary West told his longtime racing manager and bloodstock agent Ben Glass to sell him and find a farm who would buy half-interest. Although the asking price was cheap, no one wanted to stand him. Finally, a syndicate from South America bought him and sent him to Brazil. The dam, Lil Indy, had sold for a meager $2,200 as a yearling before being purchased by Glass for $80,000 in foal to Pioneerof the Nile. The resulting foal finished out of the money in all five of her starts. Lil Indy’s third foal, a full brother to Maximum Security, ran for $7,500 to $10,000 claiming races and finished out of the money in six of his final seven races.

Maximum Security was a late foal, born May 15, and his knees didn’t close (the bones didn’t fuse together). West, with over 100 horses, needed to get rid of those who didn’t measure up, and this colt, physically and family-wise, certainly didn’t measure up. They decided to wait until July for his knees to close so they could eventually run him for a claiming tag. They sent him to Jason Servis along with several other maidens they needed to cull and told him to move them along. But this colt immediately came down with sore shins, so they had to wait for him to get healthy.

The colt hadn’t shown anything on the farm or at the track in the morning, so when Servis told Glass he wasn’t working that well, Glass said to just put him in for $16,000. But once he got over his shin problems and was ready to run, Servis noticed something about him and told Glass, “You know, this horse may better than we think. Maybe we should run him for $40,000.” But having just practically given his sire away because no one wanted him, having just sold his dam for a meager $11,000 after having paid $80,000 for her and seeing her go off to Korea, having seen his sister, Lily of the Nile, sell at the sale as a 4-year-old for a paltry $3,000, and with his siblings having done nothing on the track, they decided to stick with the original plan to run for a $16,000 claiming tag figuring people would see he’s a homebred with a dismal family history and assume they were just trying to get rid of a crooked horse.

Even though Maximum Security surprised everyone by romping by 9 3/4 lengths, with no one claiming him, the following month Lily of the Nile sold again, this time for only $5,000. Now, three months later, here is that one-time reject, a winner of the grade 1 Florida Derby, a winner of all four of his starts by an average margin of 9 1/2 lengths, and one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby, and somewhere out there, someone has his dam for $11,000 and his half sister by Pioneerof the Nile for $5,000.

As Glass said, “I honestly don’t have the answers. All of a sudden this colt woke up. You just never know in this game. When you have over 100 horses you have to move some of them along. Dr. David Lambert once told me a horse’s heart develops by racing and putting stress on it because it isn’t fully developed before they run. Sometimes you can’t tell about a horse until they test out their heart. We don’t even know yet if he’s just a horse for course or if he’s this good. It was totally different with Game Winner. The first time we breezed him I sent a text to Gary saying “We just breezed the next Gun Runner (another son of Candy Ride).”

Don’t forget about PLUS QUE PARFAIT and GRAY MAGICIAN, both coming off superb performances in the UAE Derby. With them it’s all about whether they can recover from the trip to and from Dubai and having a hard race., and then improving their U.S. form.  Plus Que Parfait is another who is guaranteed to love the mile and a quarter, even though he already showed that winning at 1 3/16 miles. His sire Point of Entry won several mile-an- a-half races and is inbred to class/stamina specialist His Majesty through his son, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony, and his daughter Andover Way, the dam of distance-loving Dynaformer. Plus Que Parfait’s female family is inundated with stamina. Gray Magician’s pedigree has more question marks, but with the amount of ground he lost in the UAE Derby, it is safe to assume the 1 1/4 miles will be no problem.

With the Derby trail so wide open and the battle for points so intense and the possibility of several top horses getting left out, you can expect some disgruntled trainers and owners if two of the spots are occupied by foreign-trained horses. We already know that the Japanese-trained and bred MASTER FENCER is heading to Louisville after finishing second in the nine-furlong Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama. The 16 points he earned makes him the point leader of the Japanese nominated horses. Master Fencer was back in last early and was under the whip a long way out. He did demonstrate of a good turn of foot to circle the field, sweeping by everyone around the turn, only to get hung very wide at the head of the stretch. He continued on strongly but was outrun by the victorious Der Flug to be beaten 1 1/2 lengths. The extremely tight turns might have hurt him in this race as he tried to corner while running so wide, but could help him make the transition to American racing. The race, however, was on a right-handed track, so he will have to make that transition.

Master Fencer is by Sunday Silence’s grandson Just A Way, out of a Deputy Minister mare. His second dam is by Broad Brush and his third dam is by Chief’s Crown, so there are plenty of U.S.-bred horses in his pedigree.

The other spot we won’t know about until we see how the Aidan O’Brien-trained U S S MICHIGAN and ANTILLES, both sons of War Front, do in the Woodford Reserve Cardinal Conditions Stakes over a mile on the Polytrack surface at Chelmsford. U S S Michigan is coming off a victory at Dundalk going six furlongs, while Antilles won his last start at Naas going seven furlongs.

Still waiting for Sunland Derby winner CUTTING HUMOR to return to the worktab (This was sent in before Tuesday’s works). It’s been more than two weeks, so we’ll see when he shows up. If John Velazquez decides to go with Spinoff he will need a new rider.

We’ll also wait to see when Shug McGaughey decides to send CODE OF HONOR to Kentucky. He works beautifully at Payson Park, but I want to see how he handles Churchill Downs. He is another who gets a pass in the Florida Derby because of the pace scenario, but I would have liked to have seen him make a little more of an impact with the ground-saving trip he had. He still needs to learn how to keep a straight course in the stretch, which he does in his works. I don’t know whether he’s getting a bit tired or loses focus at the end of his races. He did seem to pull himself up in the Fountain of Youth, so he is another  who is still a work in progress and has to get it all together, and now.

It’s too early to tell how good this crop is. These horses are not fast if you go by all the speed ratings, but it does seem to be a very deep crop with a number of live longshots outside the Top 12 and in the mutual field in the Future Wager. Everything will finally come into focus after Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, which will have a major impact on the Derby picture.


The Thoroughbred industry caught a slight breather April 6 as the actual subject of racing and the Triple Crown series took the main stage. Splendid racing returned to Central Kentucky as Keeneland hosted a gaggle of graded stakes with its Central Bank Ashland Stakes (G1) and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) as its centerpieces, and Aqueduct delivered the goods with its Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G2) program.

Still, events in Southern California were on everybody’s mind. Nary a conversation started in the Keeneland paddock where the topic didn’t quickly veer to, What’s going on in California; what do you think about California; or what’s going to happen in California?

The Stronach Group’s Santa Anita Park was able to conduct the meet’s biggest card, featuring the Santa Anita Oaks, Derby, and Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino (all G1) without incident, but field size was an issue. The grand Bellafina defeated just three in the Oaks; the Bob Baffert-trained Roadster edged the Baffert-trained Game Winner in the six-horse Derby, with the same number contesting the Big ’Cap that had been delayed from its original date of March 9.

The game is on tenterhooks, not just in Southern California, but across the country. Despite announced efforts by TSG and the California Horse Racing Board to make racing safer at Santa Anita, they continue to face the fact 23 horses have died there since Dec. 26. The fatalities have come in both races and training, and on the dirt and turf courses.

New medication policies are in place and new rules regarding use of the whip await a 45-day comment period. Plans for the April 12 program to be contested without riding crops might be a good idea on paper, but wouldn’t those races be best served as betless exhibitions? Also, who is to know what will surface at the CHRB meeting the same day? California Sen. Dianne Feinstein has weighed in, calling on the CHRB to suspend all racing at the track.

The situation at best is both vague and fluid.

In any business it is wise to hedge one’s bets. It seems some California-based trainers are doing just that. Peter Miller sent out Spiced Perfection to win the seven-furlong Madison Stakes (G1) April 6 at Keeneland. While it’s not that newsworthy for a California-based trainer to ship a horse to Kentucky for a grade 1 event, it is what he said after the race that held some weight.

“We’re going to be a lot more visible here in Kentucky,” he said. “It’s great racing, with great racing institutions and tracks and people. I’m looking forward to running a lot more in Kentucky in the next year.”

Miller, who has 75 horses in training in Southern California, noted he’d like to have anywhere from 20-30 at Churchill Downs or Keeneland.

“We haven’t worked out the particulars about the number of stalls, or whether we’re going to be here and ship over to Churchill,” he said.

Sounds like he’d like to spend more time in L.A. And by that we mean the “Louisville area” or “Lexington area,” not “Los Angeles.”

He’s not alone.

Ben Huffman, racing secretary for both Keeneland and Churchill Downs, said he’s received many calls from many trainers in the Southern California area requesting information regarding stabling this spring and summer. However, stall applications were due some time ago. Increased purses for the Churchill meet with the added revenue from the instant racing at Derby City has made the spring/summer meet under the Twin Spires more attractive, but Huffman said that was noticed by East Coast horsemen during the Breeders’ Cup last fall.

“Only one (Southern California) trainer applied at the time (applications were due),” Huffman said. “The trainers that are calling now are doing so with trepidation in their voices. They don’t know what to do. Their lives, their families are in Southern California. They don’t want to leave, but they don’t know what’s to come.

“If we can help, we’re going to, but I don’t know what kind of numbers we are dealing with.”

We’re not sure, either, but let’s remember: We’re all in this together.

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