The first four scoring races of 2014 are in the books and the Kentucky Derby Report will review the action and take a look at some of the early contenders for the "Greatest Two Minutes in Sports."
The criteria for making the Kentucky Derby underwent a massive shift last year with the implementation of the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" Series, a tiered points system that places a greater emphasis upon later prep races, and nobody knew what to expect during the inaugural run.
Tanzanite Cat opened up his stakes account with a 9-1 upset of Monday's $150,000 Smarty Jones, the first of four major classic preps at Oaklawn Park for three-year-olds.
For most horsemen, having more than one Kentucky Derby prospect is never too much of a good thing. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who already has Remsen winner Honor Code readying for his three-year-old debut, will see if Mr Speaker fits the classics mold in Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.
Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith's Indianapolis certainly didn't disappoint in his three-year-old debut in the $75,460 San Pedro Stakes at Santa Anita Park on Monday. By pulling away in the stretch to score by 4 1/4 lengths, the well-regarded colt had his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert plotting a path to the Kentucky Derby.
Trainer Dale Romans issued an upbeat bulletin on Monday morning about several of his newly turned three-year-olds, including the Donegal Racing trio of Cleburne, Smart Cover and Culprit.
Cleburne and Smart Cover completed the $500 exacta for the syndicate in the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill on September 7, only to be sidelined thereafter. Culprit broke his maiden in his third start on October 27, but faded to eighth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on November 30.
The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Cairo Prince tuned up for a scheduled start in Saturday's Grade 2, $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park during a sharp half-mile breeze at Palm Meadows in :48 2/5 Sunday morning.
"We couldn't be happier. It was exactly what we were looking for," McLaughlin said. "He's ready to go."
Cairo Prince launched his career with a victories in a maiden race at Belmont and the Nashua at Aqueduct before being nosed out by Honor Code in a memorable finish to the November 30 Remsen at Aqueduct.
It's time to stop using the phrase "Louisiana-bred" as a somewhat negative modifier when describing Vicar's in Trouble, who drew off from Albano in Saturday's Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes on Road to the Derby Day at Fair Grounds to beat that rival by 6 3/4 lengths.
"That horse can really run," Larry Jones said as the trainer of the runner-up. "Where did they find him? I thought we were in pretty good position with Albano at the top of the stretch and then that winner just drew off."
Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey's Vicar's in Trouble drew off to a 6 3/4-length victory in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte at Fair Grounds, jumping straight from a 13-length win over Louisiana-bred maidens to smashing success in a Kentucky Derby prep race. Rosie Napravnik rode the Mike Maker-trained colt.
A scoring racing in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series, the one-mile and 70-yard Lecomte was worth 10 points to the winner.
The lone stakes winner among 10 rivals in Monday's $150,000 Smarty Jones at Oaklawn Park, Coastline will be seeking a measure of redemption in the one-mile event after a stumbling start resulted in an eight-place finish as the favorite in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot.
Wildcat Red breezed five furlongs over Gulfstream Park's fast main track on Thursday morning, in his lone tune-up for the Grade 2 Holy Bull on January 25.
Under jockey Paco Lopez, the Jose Garoffalo pupil went out at 7:30 a.m. (EST) following the first renovation break, and was clocked in 1:01 4/5, ranking seventh of 13 horses. It was his only work since finishing second in the Gulfstream Park Derby on January 1.
Why would a trainer ship two three-year-olds into New Orleans with such unorthodox past performances as Dennis Foster's Got Shades and Cesar Parra's Rainbow Trip for a race like Saturday's Grade 3 Lecomte? After all, the Lecomte is the centerpiece of Road to the Derby Kickoff Day at Fair Grounds, and it is for sophomores with designs on the 2014 Triple Crown later this spring.
Got Shades, a colt by Pollard's Vision, has never raced on dirt, and Rainbow Trip, a gelding by Sightseeing, has been running on the grass for his last three starts.
Easily one of the best bred colts on the Triple Crown trail, Gold Hawk will have an opportunity to live up to his formidable bloodlines when he makes his stakes debut in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte at Fair Grounds.
The Lecomte, at one mile and 70 yards, anchors the five-stakes "Road to the Derby Kickoff" day at the New Orleans track.
Early nominations are now being accepted from owners and trainers of 3-year-old Thoroughbreds who hope their young horses have the talent to the compete in the 2014 Triple Crown, the coveted series of American classic races that includes the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I), the $1.5 million-guaranteed Preakness (GI) and the $1.5 million-guaranteed Belmont Stakes (GI).
Churchill Downs has adjusted its policy on supplemental nominations to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) to make supplemental entrants eligible to make the field for the race if they have qualified on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” point system.
Undefeated Kentucky Derby Future Book favorite Shared Belief missed a scheduled workout at Santa Anita Sunday morning but is still on course for his three-year-old debut in that track's Grade 2, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis on February 8, according to assistant trainer Dan Ward.
"An abscess busted out on his right front foot," Ward explained
Windy Hill Farm's Smarty's Echo worked a half-mile in company Sunday morning in preparation for Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes, centerpiece event of the Road to the Derby Kickoff Day at Fair Grounds.
The chestnut son of Smarty Jones was caught in :48 4/5 over the fast main track.
"That work went really well for us," trainer Anne Smith said, speaking outside her barn later in the morning. "I don't know if the clockers caught them both or not, but I know what I got him in.
Everything remains on target for Nashua winner Cairo Prince, who is scheduled to make his three-year-old debut in the Grade 2, $400,000 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park on January 25.
Working in company with four-year-old Shadwell-owned colt Qeyaas, the gray son of Pioneerof the Nile breezed five furlongs in :59 4/5 on Sunday morning at Palm Meadows. Cairo Prince posted the fastest of 29 moves at the distance on the fast main track, and easily surpassed his workmate's time of 1:00 4/5.
Midnight Hawk surged past Kristo in the stretch and remained unbeaten in his stakes debut Saturday, posting a 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade 3, $98,000 Sham at Santa Anita. Trained by Bob Baffert, the Midnight Lute colt completed a mile in 1:36 2/5 with jockey Mike Smith.
The gray three-year-old also added his name to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard, earning 10 points for winning the "Prep Season" event.
The word was already out on WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stables' Constitution even before his debut in Saturday's 4TH race at Gulfstream Park, and despite a slow start, the Todd Pletcher sophomore lived up to his even-money favoritism -- and advertised himself as a hot prospect for the Kentucky Derby trail.
It is now less than 10 days until Road to the Derby Kickoff Day on January 18 at Fair Grounds, but at this early juncture the Grade 3 Lecomte, showcase race of that gala afternoon, is looking like it may end up as a duel of wills between Albano and Gold Hawk.