WEST / SHAM COULD REVEAL NEW WEST COAST HOPES – “Hope” is the key word in Saturday’s $150,000 Sham Stakes (Grade III) at Santa Anita as only one of the 10-year-olds entered in the 1 1/8-mile race over the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita has stakes experience.
Two colts from the barns of Hall of Fame trainers loom as the likely favorites and THEY could emerge as fresh-faced contenders on the road to Churchill Downs and the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) on Saturday, May 1.
One is The Program, who is coming off a narrow victory over stablemate Indian Firewater in a Santa Anita allowance race and will be ridden by Martin Garcia. The latter returned to run second in last week’s Turf Paradise Derby. Owned by Thoroughbred Legends Stable, The Program ran fourth to another Baffert-trained stablemate, champion 2-year-old Lookin At Lucky, in Hollywood Park’s CashCall Futurity (GI).
Another likely to draw attention is Setsuko, a son of Pleasantly Perfect trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella. Setsuko has run five straight races at two-turn distances and Rafael Bejarano will be in the saddle.
Other contenders include Darley’s Kettle River, who brings a two-race winning streak into the Sham for trainer Eoin Harty; Nextdoorneighbor, a Mike Machowsky-trained son of Lido Palace who scored an impressive maiden victory at 1 1/16 miles last out; and trainer Ken McPeek’s Outlaw Man, a winner on grass in his last start.
Lookin At Lucky To Rebel? – Trainer Bob Baffert thinks reigning 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky will make his season debut on March 13, but he’s not sure if that race will be at home on the synthetic track at Santa Anita or on the road for the colt’s first test on actual dirt.
The race at Santa Anita is the $150,000 San Felipe (GII), but a trip to Oaklawn Park for the $300,000 Rebel (GII) is also possible. The latter would seem to be a logical spot for the unbeaten Conveyance, who won last week’s Southwest Stakes (GIII) at the Hot Springs, Ark. track for Baffert. But the Hall of Fame trainer and three-time Kentucky Derby winner said Zabeel International’s son of Indian Charlie could travel to the new Meydan Race Course in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to run in the $2 million UAE Derby (GIII) on March 27.
Borderland Derby a prep for Sunland Park Derby – Saturday’s $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park is a prep for next month’s $800,000 Sunland Park Derby (GIII), the race that produced surprise 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. This year the once obscure Sunland Park Derby, which earned graded stakes status following Mine That Bird’s Derby success, looms as a major Western prep for the “Run for the Roses.”
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer shipped Tango Tango from Southerrn California to the New Mexico track for Saturday’s race with bigger prizes in mind. Tango Tango was fifth to Caracortado on synthetic footing in the Robert B. Lewis (GII) at Santa Anita.
“He ran very credibly until the very end and faded a little bit,” said Hollendorfer of his colt’s run in the Lewis. “We’re trying to see if our colt can run on the dirt.”
Jamie Theriot will ride Tango Tango in the Borderland Derby against a field of opponents that includes local stars Chuchuloco and Storming Saint.
SOUTH / INJURIES SEND DRYFLY, MAXIMUS RULER TO SIDELINES; BACKTALK RETURNS FRIDAY – The racing careers of promising 3-year-olds Dryfly and Maximus Ruler will continue – but not in time for the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown campaign.
Injuries have taken both colts out of consideration for the Derby 136.
Charles Cella’s Dryfly, winner of Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones Stakes, suffered an injury to his left knee in a disappointing ninth-place finish in last week’s Southwest at Oaklawn Park that trainer Lynn Whiting said could be a stress fracture.
“It’s something he certainly has every right to come back from,” Whiting said. “It’s disappointing, but we’ve all had things like this happen.”
Meanwhile, trainer Clark Hanna said Lecomte runner-up Maximus Ruler would likely be out until late spring with a sore left front shin.
“We’re a little disappointed,” he said. “He didn’t break anything. He just needs a little time.”
Hanna said Maximus Ruler could return to racing in mid-May.
Backtalk Returns Friday at Delta Downs – Gold Mark Farm’s Backtalk, winner of the Bashford Manor (GIII) at Churchill Downs and the Sanford (GII) at Saratoga, makes his debut as a 3-year-old against five rivals in the $75,000 Sportsman’s Paradise at Louisiana’s Delta Downs.
The one-mile race will mark the Tom Amoss trainee’s return to traditional dirt following a disappointing eighth-place run on synthetic Polytrack in the Dixiana Breeeders’ Futurity (GI) at Keeneland. Miguel Mena will ride the son of Smarty Jones, who breaks from post three in the field of six.
FLORIDA / SATURDAY ALLOWANCE RACE AT GULFSTREAM ATTRACTS HOMEBOYKRIS, RADIOHEAD – A one-mile allowance race on Saturday at Gulfstream Park packs Kentucky Derby possibilities as trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. entered both the promising Homeboykris and Radiohead in the race.
Homeboykris won last fall’s Champagne (GI) at Belmont Park, but has finished fifth in two starts since then in the Remsen (GII) at Aqueduct and Gulfstream’s Holy Bull (GIII). Julien Leparoux will ride on Saturday. Radiohead, a Group Two winner in Europe last year, finished seventh in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Santa Anita and then joined the barn of Dutrow, who won the 2008 Kentucky Derby with Big Brown. He was scratched last week from the Hutcheson GII won by the Dutrow-trained D’Funnybone. Edgar Prado will ride.
Despite the credentials of the Dutrow duo, unbeaten General Maximus is the 2-1 favorite in Saturday’s race. The Nick Zito-trained Thomas Got Even could also emerge as a contender in the race.
KENTUCKY / KERA'S KITTEN TOPS BATTAGLIA MEMORIAL -- Ken and Sarah Ramsey's homebred Kera's Kitten and Bred to Win Stable's Codoy head a field of eight entered in Saturday's $100,000-added John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park -- the final prep for the March 27 Lane's End Stakes (GII), the track's major prep for the Kentucky Derby.
Saturday's race will be run at 1 1/16 miles on Turfway Park's synthetic Polytrack course.
Kera's Kitten is coming off a win in the WEBN Stakes on Jan. 30 and jockey Tommy Pompell gets a return engagement in the saddle for trainer Mike Maker. The son of Kitten's Joy has a record of three wins in five starts that include the El Joven Stakes on turf at Texas' Retama Park. Codoy makes his 2010 debut for trainer Mark Hubley. The son of Bernstein finished second to the well-regarded Interactif in the Bourbn Stakes (GII) at Keeneland and finished 12th in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf. Jockey Sal Gonzalez Jr. will ride.
Other contenders include Slewzoom and Lucky Chuck, the 2-3 finishers in the WEBN.
EAST / IMPRESSIVE STREAKS ON LINE IN LAUREL'S MIRACLE WOOD (IF WEATHER ALLOWS) -- Unbeaten Deputy Daney, winner of Aqueduct's Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, and Our Commander, perfect in three races over Laurel Park's main track, head a field of 12 3-year-olds scheduled to run in Saturday's $70,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at the Maryland track.
Weather could prove to the biggest obstacle for the field as racing was canceled at Laurel on Friday because of high winds.
Also in the field is Turf Melody, who finished sixth to Ron the Greek in the Lecomte (GIII) at Fair Grounds in his most recent start. Although the Miracle Wood often turns out to be an early prep for contenders for the Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, Turf Melody is the only Triple Crown nominee among the dozen horses in the Miracle Wood field.