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.
Charles Fipke's Unbridled Forever, who emerged as the 8-1 third choice in the wagering when the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager closed earlier this month, breezed six furlongs Saturday morning in 1:12 2/5 in preparation for the upcoming Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks on Louisiana Derby Day March 29 at Fair Grounds.
Paul and Andrena Van Doren's Delta Jackpot winner Rise Up worked with blinkers on when he posted a four-furlong move in :48 1/5 on Mardi Gras morning, and 10-time Fair Grounds trainer champion Tom Amoss advised Saturday afternoon that his colt will have blinkers on for his next start, which has yet to be determined.
St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds' Ring Weekend grabbed the early lead and never looked back in Saturday's Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby, springing the 14-1 upset in his first start outside of maiden company. Trained by Graham Motion and ridden by local ace Daniel Centeno, the Tapit gelding paid $30 to win and earned 50 points toward the Kentucky Derby.
Stabled at Los Alamitos, a hotbed of Quarter Horse-style speed for decades, the three-year-old California Chrome demonstrated his own Thoroughbred twist on early flash with an electric score in the Grade 2, $300,500 San Felipe at Santa Anita on Saturday.
Euphrosyne finished second in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Honeybee at Oaklawn Park, but was presented with the win following the disqualification of Sugar Shock by the stewards. Sent off the 8-1 fourth choice, the bay daughter of Harlan's Holiday paid $19.20 with jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. in the irons.
Cairo Prince, likely favorite for the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 29, took another step toward the race with a half-mile work on Saturday.
Top Billing, one of the most celebrated prospects for the $1 million Florida Derby and Triple Crown, sustained an injury during a workout at Payson Park Saturday morning that has knocked the Shug McGaughey-trained colt off the Triple Crown Trail.
Remsen hero Honor Code, who had been mentioned as a candidate for the March 15 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, will instead make his reappearance in Wednesday's 8TH race at Gulfstream Park. The Kentucky Derby hopeful will meet only four foes in the 1 1/16-mile allowance race, including flashy debut maiden winner Social Inclusion.
Sweet Reason, a dominating winner of the Spinaway at Saratoga last summer, made a successful sophomore debut at Aqueduct Friday, taking a $67,620 nonwinners-of-three allowance for three-year-old fillies by a half-length.
Gulfstream Park Derby winner General a Rod will make his next start in the $1 million Florida Derby on March 29, trainer Mike Maker confirmed Friday morning.
Undefeated morning-line favorite Bayern has been withdrawn from Saturday's Grade 2 San Felipe because of a bruised hoof, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert confirmed Thursday afternoon.
"Bayern out of San Felipe," Baffert tweeted. "Bruised inside quarter. Was looking forward to seeing him run Saturday. Be OK soon."
The 90th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass has attracted an all-star list of 191 nominees, Keeneland announced Thursday. Scheduled for April 12, the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass is one of the country's premier three-year-old preps, offering 100 points to the winner on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
The first of five Grade 1 stakes held during Keeneland's Spring Meet is the $500,000 Ashland, and a total of 133 sophomore fillies have been nominated to the April 5 feature. Contested at 1 1/16 miles, the Ashland historically showcases classic-bound fillies, with the winner earning 100 points on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.
As long as there are no bumps along the way, highly regarded Honor Code's road to Louisville for the first Saturday in May is coming through Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Vinceremos' bid for a $1 million bonus continues on Saturday when he faces nine rivals in the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby over 1 1/16 miles.
A runaway winner in both career starts, Bayern will step up to make his stakes debut in Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 San Felipe at Santa Anita. The 1 1/16-mile test is part of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring series and offers points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers.