FLORIDA / FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH SETTING FOR DEBUT FOR TO HONOR AND SERVE … UNCLE MO POINTED TO TIMELY WRITER – Saturday’s $400,000 Fountain of Youth (Grade II) at Gulfstream Park is usually a heavily scrutinized prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), and this year’s renewal clearly ranks as the event of the weekend as it provides the setting for the 2011 debut of major Derby hope To Honor and Serve.
Live Oak Plantation’s impressive son of 2006 Preakness (GI) winner Bernardini is one of the 2011 Derby scene’s “Big Three”, along with Repole Stable’s unbeaten champion Uncle Mo and Robert LaPenta’s Holy Bull (GIII) winner Dialed In. The winner of the Remsen (GII) and Nashua (GII) at Aqueduct last fall was the fourth choice (and third-ranked individual horse) at 10-1 in Churchill Downs’ recent opening pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, trailing Uncle Mo (7-2) and Dialed In (8-1). The mutuel field, or ‘all others’, was the pool’s favorite at 2-1.
To Honor and Serve is trained by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, the all-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs who has yet to come close to winning the biggest race beneath the Louisville track’s venerable Twin Spires. He drew post seven in a field of eight 3-year-old Thoroughbreds in the 1 1/8-mile Fountain of Youth and will be ridden by John Velazquez.
“His schedule has worked out exactly as we had planned,” Mott told Thoroughbred Times. “We think he’s doing well enough, and it’s time to get him started and kind of get the ball rolling.”
Top competition for Mott’s colt could come from Soldat, the runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last fall at Churchill Downs who dazzled onlookers when he romped by more than 10 lengths in a Gulfstream Park allowance race run over a sloppy track on Jan. 21. The son of War Front is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who finished second in the 2005 Kentucky Derby with Closing Argument.
Other major players include Gourmet Dinner, winner of the Delta Jackpot (GIII) and third in the Holy Bull; and Shackleford, Casper’s Touch and El Grayling, the 1-2-3 finishers in a Feb. 5 allowance race at Gulfstream Park.
Kentucky Derby candidates will be on display earlier on the Gulfstream card in the seven-furlong $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes (GII), which attracted a field of 10 headed by the unbeaten Crossbow. The McLaughlin-trained son of Bernardini is unbeaten in three races.
Saturday’s third race at Gulfstream will also draw interest from Derby fans. The 1 1/8-mile allowance is headed by Arch Traveler and Nacho Business, both coming off recent wins. Also in the field is Cool Blue Red Hot, who was a distant runner-up in the race won by Soldat
Meanwhile, owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher announced early in the week that champion Uncle Mo would make his 3-year-old debut in the $100,000 Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream Park rather than the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (GII) at Tampa Bay Downs. Both races are scheduled for March 12.
“If the Timely Writer doesn’t fill, we’re very comfortable going to the Tampa Bay Derby,” said Pletcher. “I wouldn’t expect a large field in the Timely Writer.”
Uncle Mo has not raced since his emphatic victory in the $2 million Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Churchill Downs in early November.
WEST (Arizona, California, New Mexico) / THE FACTOR LIVES UP TO NAME IN SAN VICENTS – The road to the Kentucky Derby has run through Arizona a couple of times, but has never yielded a serious contender from that state.
That could change Sunday when trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s Indian Winter starts as a strong favorite in the $50,000 Turf Paradise Derby at 1 1/16 miles at Turf Paradise in Phoenix.
The winner of Santa Anita’s San Pedro was scratched last week by his trainer from a run against the victorious The Factor in the San Vicente (GII) at the Southern California track. Hollendorfer, trainer of 2010 Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Blind Luck, feared his late-running colt would be hindered by a Santa Anita dirt track that has favored speed horses.
“We’re just trying to get a race in him and teach him something on an unbiased track,” Hollendorfer said.
Southern California-based trainer Doug O’Neill will ship Special Kid to New Mexico’s Sunland Park on Saturday for the $100,000 Borderland Derby. Two other California invaders, Fusa Code and Expecting Cash, are expected to be contenders for trainer Steve Asmussen.
SOUTH (Louisiana, Arkansas) / IMPRESSIVE BIND NOT A DERBY 137 CANDIDATE – A sparkling victory in his career debut last Saturday at New Orleans’ Fair Grounds stamped Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Bind as a horse with a big future. But his connections said this week there is no chance the exciting son of Pulpit would be pointed toward the May 7 Kentucky Derby.
Trainer Al Stall Jr., who guided Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Blame to victory in last fall’s $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) at Churchill Downs, Bind won his six furlong debut by 9 ½ lengths is a scorching 1:08.80 under jockey Anna Napravnik.
But the team behind Bind did not nominate him to the Derby and Triple Crown.
“I’d love to have a horse pointing for the series,” Stall said this week. “But we just didn’t know when he’d be ready.”
Stall said Bind might not run again until the Keeneland meet opens in early April.
SOUTHWEST STARS LIKELY FOR REBEL – The top stars from Monday’s Southwest Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park are expected to meet again in the $300,000 Rebel Stakes (GII) on March 19, the next step on the Hot Springs, Ark. track’s road to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown.
The victorious Archarcharch, runner-up and beaten favorite J P’s Gusto and third-place finisher Elite Alex are all expected to return in the Rebel, the track’s final prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI). Archarcharch is trained by Churchill Downs veteran William “Jinks” Fires.
Another horse that apparently earned a shot at the Rebel field was Alternation, who won a Monday allowance race at Oaklawn. The win was Alternation’s third in four races.
EUROPE / MONT PELATO STARTS DERBY TRAIL IN FRANCE – A Sunday race run at a small track near the French Riviera could have Kentucky Derby implications when Triple Crown nominee Mont Pelato runs in the $75,000 Prix Policeman at Cagnes-sur-Mer racecourse.
The race will be run at the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles over a synthetic surface known as Fibersand. Trainer Christophe Ferland said a win would earn Mont Pelato a trip to the U.S. to compete in Keeneland’s Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI).