With a mere 70 days until the Kentucky Derby, thoughts are turning toward the 20 three year olds who will make up the all-star cast on the first Saturday in May. Two stakes races on Saturday, February 22, have the biggest Derby points thus far going towards the winners – the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream and the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. The winners of each race will receive 50 points towards getting in the starting gate at Churchill Downs.
Trainers have shipped in some of the best equine pilots from Santa Anita to take mounts at Fair Grounds, and we anxiously wait to see if a star will emerge from the shadow of big name runners like Top Billing and Ria Antonia. Could it be Medal Count, Intense Holiday, Rise Up, Almost Famous or General a Rod? We shall see in a few short hours.
Fountain of Youth (Gr. II) 3 year olds: I’m a huge fan of Joel Rosario but he better not ride Top Billing the way he did Strong Mandate, or we’re gonna have a problem. If Top Billing gets a bad trip, I think Commissioner will come up and steal it. I’m curious to see Almost Famous run, but don’t like the jockey on this colt. After Luis Saez lost the Donn Handicap to Lea, I’m wondering if he’s ready. If he can ride Wildcat Red with confidence, I’m willing to put Wildcat Red on my Derby list. It’s a bold statement, I know. Javier Castellano is certainly ready for a trip to Churchill Downs and he’s on General a Rod for Mike Maker.
Davona Dale (Gr. II) 3year old: Todd Pletcher has two, Stopcharginmaria and Onlyforyou, and they’re both good, but Catalano’s Aurelia’s Belle could be the spoiler. I’ll take Javier Castellano on the Pletcher horse Onlyforyou, which I’ve gone to before. The Darley Stables’ owned Penwith is the McLaughlin runner and I’ll take her too.
Canadian Turf (Gr. III) non-3s: I really like Reload in this one, Castellano again, this time for Shug McGaughey. However, Joel Rosario is on two good ones at Gulfstream, Top Billing in the Fountain of Youth, and the entry here, Bad Debt, for Trombetta. I’m torn for the show spot with Unbridled Ocean and Joha.
Rachel Alexander (Gr. III) 3 year olds: Streaming. It’s Steaming. Good pedigree on this horse (Smart Strike – Teeming, by Storm Cat), and good past perfs. Three for three in career starts at hitting the board, two of them in Grade I company, including a win in the Hollywood Starlet and second in the Las Virgenes. Martin Garcia keeps the mount for Bob Baffert.
Got Lucky is also 3/3 in career starts including a win in the Demoiselle (Gr. II) at Aqueduct. She has the pedigree – daughter of A.P. Indy, and the connections, Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, and trainer Todd Pletcher.
Of course Ria Antonia’s “win” in the Breeders’ Cup brings the most attention to this filly. Regardless of the infamous bump, she is still a decent runner and deserves respect. She gets the gutsy Joe Talamo this time around. Her usually pilot, Castellano, is in Gulfstream. Talamo is a different kind of rider, not afraid to take risks down the stretch. I’m anxious to see how it plays out.
Risen Star (Grade II) 3 year olds: It sure got interesting with the scratch of Bond Holder. I’m looking for horses to dominate. I have not completed my Derby list. I’m waiting to see if a horse in this race steps up. I know the focus is on Vicar’s in Trouble, Intense Holiday, and Gold Hawk, but I’m watching two others: Rise Up and Son of a Preacher. As they say in racing, a horse could “come out of the clouds” and win, and in this case take the Derby points too. I’m hoping the Amoss colt can Rise Up and do just that!
Of note – Non-Three Year Old Stakes Races:
Bayou Handicap: Oh, geez, there’s that horse Eden Prairie again! The filly sticks with regular rider Rosie Napravnik for the one and one sixteenth at Fair Grounds. She runs well here with two recent non-graded stakes wins in the Pago Hop and Krantz Memorial. This could be another winner for Eden Prairie. The spoiler could be Starstruck. Has respectable finishes against tougher company in graded stakes races. Most recently finishing third in the Krantz Memorial. Class Included is the oldest mare in the race, and definitely has experience on her side. In her entire career, the worst she has ever finished was 7th in 2012. Definitely has the class and experience to win this one. Joe Talamo gets the mount on the Ramseys’ horse, Awesome Flower, for Mike Maker. Awesome Flower is the daughter of Flower Alley and Formalities Aside, by Awesome Again, but does not do well in graded company. She won the Lady Canterbury at Canterbury Park in July 2013, and has only one non-graded win since then. But, with these connections and Talamo on board, anything can happen.
Mineshaft (Gr. III): Corey Nakatani came to win on Prayer for Relief. Period. Micromanage is a good horse too, with Mike Smith aboard, but Mike isn’t really putting forth his best effort on the track lately. He looks like a jockey who’s just going through the motions. I like the #4 in here, Ground Transport, son of Big Brown. Runs well at Fair Grounds – no less than a second place finish in recent starts there. He’s entered in the Fair Grounds Handicap (Gr. III) as well, but with tougher company: Daddy Nose Best, Gentleman’s Kitten, Potomac River and Skyring will make the Fair Grounds ‘cap a good race.
I look at pedigree as a guide when selecting horses. In the Bayou, Street of Gold looks good with the pedigree – daughter of Street Sense – Harriett Lane by Giant’s Causeway, but is not producing. The same is true for Afford in the Mineshaft. Ironically, Afford is the son of Street Sense – Unaffordable by Unbridled. Both are the offspring of Street Sense, and both ridden by Brian Hernandez. It’s irony, that’s all I’m saying.