CALIFORNIA / TWO NEW NAMES IN SATURDAY’S RESHAPED SHAM – The weather-delayed $150,000-added Sham Stakes (Grade (III) at Santa Anita picked up two new names when entries were dropped for a second time for the 1 1/8-mile prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) that is now set for Saturday, March 6.
But the overall makeup of the race looks very familiar as 10 3-year-olds are set to enter the starting gate and only one is a stakes winner. The race was postponed for a week because of continued drainage problems in Santa Anita’s synthetic Pro-Ride course.
The most highly-regarded among the horses that will bid to take a major step toward status as a Kentucky Derby contender include the Mike Machowsky-trained Nextdoorneighbor, the likely favorite; Setsuko, trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella; The Program, who hails from the barn of three-time Kentucky Derby winner Bob Baffert; Kettle River, who has crafted a two-race winning streak for trainer Eoin Harty; and Outlaw Man, who makes his synthetic track debut following maiden win on the turf for trainer Ken McPeek.
The field’s only stakes winner is Wolf Tail, who took the Graduation Stakes at Del Mar for trainer Doug O’Neill, but has failed to win in four consecutive races since that outing.
The two new faces in the Sham are Marcello, third for trainer Bob Baffert in the Baffle Stakes on the Santa Anita grass on Feb. 13, and Boulder Creek, who enters the Sham off one career victory. Straightomidnight and Viva Macho were entered in the Sham last week, but did not return this time around.
EAST / AWESOME ACT HEADS FIELD OF 10 IN AQUEDUCT’S GOTHAM – Much like the Sham Stakes on the West Coast, Saturday’s $250,000 Gotham Stakes (GIII) at New York’s Aqueduct will make 10 3-year-olds in search of a reputation-building victory.
One of the 3-year-olds that hopes to establish Kentucky Derby credentials has come a long way in search of that goal. British-based Awesome Act has traveled from trainer Jeremy Noseda’s home base to New York for his first race since a fourth-place run behind Pounced in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita.
The son of Awesome Again, winner of the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) and Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs, is the 7-2 morning line favorite for the 1 1/16-mile Gotham and will be ridden by Eclipse Award-winning jockey Julien Leparoux
Others hoping to boost their respective profile in the Gotham are Whirlaway winner Peppi Knows; the Todd Pletcher-trained Three Day Rush; I’ve Got a Fever; and the unbeaten New York-bred Yawanna Twist.
DUBAI / VALE OF YORK FADES, BUT STABLEMATE MENDIP SHINES – Thursday’s Al Bastikiya Stakes at Dubai’s glittering new Meydan Racecourse served as an inauspicious 3-year-old debut for Vale of York, but unbeaten stablemate Mendip impressed for hometown Godolphin Racing.
Vale of York, who handed U.S. 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky his only defeat in last fall’s Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), faded in the stretch in his first race of 2010 and finished fifth. But Mendip, a son of Harlan’s Holiday, drew away easily over the synthetic Tapeta surface to win by 6 ¼ lengths under Frankie Dettori for trainer Saeed bin Suroor.
The winner traveled behind a very slow pace and covered 1 3/16 miles in 1:59.42.
Mendip is nominated to the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown and both colts are scheduled to run next in the $2 million UAE Derby on March 27.
FLORIDA / LENTENOR, INTERACTIF PASS ON PALM BEACH, LOOK TO DIRT – The high-powered connections of a pair of 3-year-olds that loomed as likely contenders for Saturday’s Palm Beach (GIII) on the Gulfstream Park turf will pass on that race and look toward runs on dirt.
One is Lael Stable’s Lentenor, the full-brother to 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro who has raced only on grass. But trainer Michael Matz has talked of his colt’s Kentucky Derby potential and told Daily Racing Form that he would “probably look for something on the dirt.”
Lentenor is coming off a second-place run on turf last time out.
“I don’t want to ruin him for one race,” Matz said. “If he gets beat on ability, that’s a different story. There are plenty of options out there.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Interactif, winner of Keeneland’s Bourbon Stakes (GIII) last fall, would make his next start on “dirt or synthetics.”
Bim Bam, who upset Interactif in Gulfstream’s Hallandale Beach on turf, heads a field of nine in the 1 1/8-mile Palm Beach.
SOUTH / FAST ALEX ENTERS LOUISIANA DERBY PICTURE – James Tafel’s Fast Alex thrust himself into the picture for the Louisiana Derby (GII) with a victory in a Monday allowance race at New Orleans Fair Grounds.
The son of Afleet Alex is owned by James Tafel, who owned and bred 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, and is trained by Greg Geier. He rallied past favored Island Soul to take the mile and 40 yard race and win for the second time in three races.
LOOKIN AT LUCKY LIKELY FOR REBEL – It appears more likely that that the 2010 debut of Bob Baffert-trained 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky will come in the Rebel Stakes (GII) on March 13 at Oaklawn Park. The race would be the first on dirt for the son of Smart Strike.
“The Rebel would be a good spot,” Baffert said. “It’s dirt and I could see how he handles it.”
Baffert had also been looking at the San Felipe (GII) at Santa Anita on the same day, but said Tiz Chrome, a disappointing fourth in the Robert B. Lewis (GII), could run in that race.
DERBY FUTURE BET OPENS – Betting on Pool 2 of the 2010 Kentucky Derby Future Wager is set to open Friday at noon (all times EST). Lookin at Lucky and Eskendereya are co-favored horses, but the mutuel field, or “all others”, the 7-2 overall choice. Wagering runs through Sunday, March 7 at 6 p.m. Information and real-time odds are available at www.kentuckyderby.com