By Gary West, special to KentuckyDerby.com
Last year, for the first time since 2008, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert didn’t saddle a horse in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands. But he could have. In fact, he could have sent out a few horses to pursue the roses. But having won the most famous of races three times, Baffert understood the Derby’s demands and its toll. He knew the sort of horse needed if there was to be any chance for success. And, he said, since he and his owners didn’t just want to participate but rather wanted to win, they would rather pass the race if they didn’t believe they had such a horse or the horse wasn’t ready for a top effort.
Rebel Stakes winner Hoppertunity was doing well Sunday morning and preparing to board a plane back to Southern California where a final decision will be made in the coming weeks about the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby April 12. Trainer Bob Baffert said he won't know until closer to the race if it will be Hoppertunity or one of his stablemates returning to Oaklawn for one of the last preps before the Kentucky Derby on May 3.
Trainer Art Sherman said there was "a chance" that Grade 2 San Felipe hero California Chrome could run in the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Derby on April 5, but any firm plans for the California-bred colt's next race were still undetermined as of Sunday morning.
Ron Sanchez, principal of Rontos Racing Stable Corp., said a decision is expected by midweek regarding the sale of three-year-old sensation Social Inclusion, who cruised to a 10-length allowance victory over well-regarded Honor Code at Gulfstream on March 12. The bay colt is trained by Manuel Azpurua.
Hoppertunity not only got the best of three other rivals in a close finish in Saturday's Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, the bay colt also survived a stewards inquiry and jockey objection for interference in the stretch run to earn his first stakes victory.
Unbeaten three-year-old filly Onlyforyou was euthanized on Saturday after suffering multiple fractures while galloping out from a workout at Palm Meadows Training Center. She was timed in 1:02 for five furlongs over the fast dirt prior to the tragic incident.
Cairo Prince, the likely favorite for the $1 million Florida Derby on March 29, worked five furlongs Saturday morning in 1:00 4/5 at the Palm Meadows Training Center. Off since his authoritative display in the Holy Bull on January 25, the three-year-old went in company with elder stablemate Elnaawi and forged ahead in the final stages of the exercise.
Trainer Steve Asmussen, newly-named as a finalist for the 2014 class in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, was at Oaklawn Park on Friday morning to supervise final preparations for his charges competing in Saturday's three graded stakes, but it's $600,000 Rebel contender Tapiture who is generating the buzz.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer confirmed on Thursday that his unbeaten champion two-year-old male Shared Belief would be skipping the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass on April 12 at Keeneland and is officially off the Kentucky Derby trail.
Joel Rosario, who rode General a Rod to a victory in the Gulfstream Park Derby on January 1, will be back aboard the three-year-old in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 29, trainer Mike Maker confirmed on Friday.
Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey was encouraged with how Honor Code was doing on the morning after making his long-awaited three-year-old debut.
Racing for the first time since beating Cairo Prince by a nose in the Grade 2 Remsen on November 30, Honor Code was asked for run by jockey Javier Castellano after a half-mile to get into contention but never challenged Social Inclusion.
Following Social Inclusion's record-setting allowance victory at Gulfstream Park on Thursday, owner Ron Sanchez of Rontos Racing Stable is considering offers to purchase the three-year-old Pioneerof the Nile colt.
Under a hand ride from jockey Luis Contreras, Social Inclusion romped by 10 lengths over the well-regarded Remsen winner Honor Code in 1:40.97 for 1 1/16 miles, eclipsing the track record of 1:41 set by Devil's Cave on February 16.
Constitution will make his stakes debut in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 29. Unraced at two, the Todd Pletcher-trained colt has captured both starts this winter at Gulfstream Park.
"He's doing very well and we're planning to run him in the Florida Derby," Pletcher said. "It was really just a matter of picking out which race we were going to run in. I think he's been very impressive in both of his starts, so it was just a matter of trying to pick the correct Derby prep for him. This time of year they're all competitive."
Heavily favored Honor Code went down to defeat Wednesday at Gulfstream Park as Social Inclusion parlayed an uncontested lead into a track-record setting performance in a $61,500 open allowance for three-year-olds.
Speed dominated the scoring preps last weekend as California Chrome and Ring Weekend won convincingly.
California Chrome lit up the track in the San Felipe, drawing away impressively to a 7 1/4-length decision at Santa Anita. He posted the second-fastest winning time in the race's history (1 1/16 miles in 1:40.59) and earned a 102 BRIS Speed rating, the top figure in a Kentucky Derby points race this year. The California-bred colt was favored at 7-5 and led wire to wire for the first time in nine starts.
The first in a potential series of rubber matches between Tapiture and Strong Mandate is set to occur Saturday in the Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, a 1 1/16-mile prep for $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 12.
By Gary West, special to KentuckyDerby.com
Every year, for at least a week and sometimes two, the road to the Kentucky Derby seems to veer through Oz, not that monkeys start flying or lions talking, but just about everything that happens elicits a “Really?” or at least raises an eyebrow. Everything, in other words, moves the needle on the surprise meter. Well, this past week was that week.
The pressure is off Art Sherman. By earning 50 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby with California Chrome's dazzling victory in Saturday's Grade 2 San Felipe, the door to Louisville, Kentucky, and the Run for the Roses on May 3 was opened wide.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Thank You Marylou swept past Whomping Willow and 2-5 favorite Sweet Whiskey to return a convincing winner in Sunday's $75,000 Any Limit Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Unraced since placing in a roughly-run Adirondack at Saratoga last August, the Mike Maker filly showed no rust as she drew off by 2 1/2 lengths.
Honor Code, who will make his much-anticipated 2014 debut on Wednesday at Gulfstream Park, breezed four furlongs in :47 4/5 Sunday morning over the fast main track. Out of action since defeating Cairo Prince in the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct on November 30, the son of A.P. Indy schooled in the paddock Sunday afternoon, and will face four rivals in an 8 1/2-furlong allowance test on Wednesday.