EAST (Maryland, New York) / UNCLE MO STILL DERBY-BOUND DESPITE WOOD LOSS, TOBY’S CORNER EARNS TRIP TO RUN FOR THE ROSES. Although his once-perfect record is now scarred with its first setback, Repole Stable’s Uncle Mo is still bound for Churchill Downs and an expected start in the 137th Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) on Saturday, May 7.
Also heading to Churchill Downs will be owner-breeder Dianne Cotter’s Toby’s Corner, the horse that sent a tremor through the racing world when he rushed past heavily favored Uncle Mo to win Saturday’s $1 million Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct.
Toby’s Corner rallied from last and overcame significant traffic woes under Eddie Castro to get up in the final strides to defeat the late-running Arthur’s Tale and Uncle Mo, who held third along the rail. The winner covered 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.93.
The win was the fourth in five races for Toby’s Corner, who suffered his only setback in a third-place finish to Stay Thirsty, Uncle Mo’s stablemate, in Aqueduct’s Gotham (GIII). If all goes well in the next few weeks, Toby’s Corner will be one of two Kentucky Derby starters saddled by Graham Motion, who also trains Team Valor International’s Vinery Racing Spiral (GIII) winner Animal Kingdom.
Trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole reported Sunday that Uncle Mo came out of his setback well and plans to ship the 2010 juvenile champion to Churchill Downs on April 18 have not changed. Uncle Mo’s only physical issue was a small cut on his foot when he hit himself, or “grabbed a quarter,” during the race, his first at the distance of 1 1/8 miles.
“We’ll see if we can get him prepared to step up,” Pletcher said. “It was not a typical Uncle Mo performance, but I do not feel like the mile and an eighth was an issue.”
Pletcher said blood tests would be performed on Uncle Mo on Tuesday, which he said is standard practice in his stable for any horse “that doesn’t perform to our expectations.”
The result of Saturday’s race is considered the biggest upset in the Wood Memorial since eventual Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown legend Secretariat finished third to Lucien Laurin-trained stablemate Angle Light and Triple Crown rival Sham in the 1973 running.
Toby’s Corner was back at Maryland’s Fair Hill training center on the morning after his memorable Wood Memorial win, which was the first race in which Motion had outfitted the colt with blinkers.
“I wasn’t expecting him to beat Uncle Mo, the horse was so hyped up,” Motion said. “He’s a steady, improving horse who needed the distance, and the mile and an eighth and blinkers were a good combination for him.”
Motion said Toby’s Corner would train up to the Kentucky Derby over the synthetic Tapeta surface at Fair Hill and would ship to Churchill Downs shortly before the Kentucky Derby.
Toby’s Corner is a son of Bellamy Road, who won the 2005 Wood Memorial by a record 17 ½ lengths before he finished seventh as the favorite behind 50-1 longshot Giacomo in Derby 131.
Earlier on the Wood Memorial card, favored J J’s Lucky Train overcame traffic problems and rallied from fifth to edge Vengeful Wildcat by a neck in the $200,000 Bay Shore (GIII) at seven furlongs.
Jose Ferrer rode the son of Silver Train, who was coming off a victory in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Maryland’s Laurel Park on Feb. 26 and a runner-up finish to Wood winner Toby’s Corner in Aqueduct’s Whirlaway. J J’s Lucky Train, who improved his career record to 5-2-0 in eight races and lifted his earnings to $257,000, covered the distance for trainer Bill Anderson in 1:22.54.
WEST (Arizona, California, New Mexico) / MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE GIVES BAFFERT THIRD DERBY HOPE, RECORD SIXTH WIN IN SANTA ANITA DERBY – In a running of the $1 million Santa Anita Derby (GI) that appeared wide open after injuries knocked pre-race favorites Premier Pegasus and Jaycito out of the starting gate, newcomer Midnight Interlude launched a strong stretch rally to edge front-running Comma to the Top by a head and give three-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert an interesting third option for this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Victor Espinoza, who won the 2002 Kentucky Derby for Baffert aboard War Emblem, rode Arnold Zetcher’s son of War Chant, who was coming off an 8 ½-length victory in a one mile maiden race in his previous start. Midnight Interlude completed the Santa Anita Derby’s 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.66 over a fast surface as an on-track crowd of 31,523 looked on at the Southern California track.
Mr. Commons finished third and Silver Medallion, the 5-2 favorite, was fourth.
The win by Midnight Interlude was a record sixth Santa Anita Derby victory for Baffert.
"“I never won a Santa Anita Derby with a horse off a maiden race like this, but he was training well and his last race was a great race,” Baffert said. “He’s just figuring things out now.”
His winner’s share of the Santa Anita Derby purse secured a spot for Midnight Interlude in the starting gate for the May 7 Kentucky Derby, which could also include Baffert-trained stars The Factor, the expected favorite in next Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) at Oaklawn Park, and Jaycito, who is expected to recover from a foot abscess that knocked him out of the Santa Anita Derby and prep for the Kentucky Derby in Keeneland’s Coolmore Lexington (GII) on April 23.
If all three horses continue to do well and make it to Churchill Downs for the 137th Derby, it figures to be a hectic week for Baffert.
“I love that,” Baffert said. “I wish I had the whole field.”
Anthony’s Cross finished fifth in the Santa Anita Derby, and was followed across the finish line by Indian Winter, Bench Points, Quail Hill and Offlee Wild Boys.
Midnight Interlude’s Santa Anita Derby victory came in his fourth career start, The first of those came on Jan. 29, which gives Baffert’s newest star some significant Kentucky Derby history to overcome.
The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby without the benefit of at least one race as a 2-year-old was Apollo. He won the Kentucky Derby in 1882.
Meanwhile, Santa Anita Derby runner-up Comma to the Top is again a candidate for a journey to Churchill Downs for Derby 137.
Trainer Peter Miller had said before and immediately after Saturday’s race that the winner of the CashCall Futurity (GI) was due for a break non-stop winter campaign. But Daily Racing Form reported Sunday that there could be a change of heart regarding the Kentucky Derby.
“The way he ran and after Uncle Mo’s loss and everything else, I think we may need to re-evaluate and keep our options open,” Miller told the DRF’s Steve Anderson. “I’ll discuss it with the owners.”
Miller said a final decision on Comma to the Top’s status for the Run for the Roses might not be made until early in Kentucky Derby Week. The Derby will be run on Saturday, May 7.
MIDWEST (Illinois, Kentucky) / JOE VANN ROLLS IN ILLINOIS DERBY, BUT UNLIKELY FOR KENTUCKY DERBY – If a 3-year-old Thoroughbred trained by Todd Pletcher is considered talented enough to win a major stakes race, he is usually nominated to run in the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown.
With that in mind, it’s safe to assume that Zayat Stables’ Joe Vann, a dominant 4 ¼-length winner over 11 rivals in Saturday’s $300,000 Illinois Derby (GIII) at Hawthorne, has been a late-developing, if pleasant, surprise to the Pletcher barn. The son of Silver Deputy was not nominated to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown in either the early or late nomination periods.
Joe Vann blossomed in a pair of wins during the winter at Maryland’s Laurel Race Course. On Saturday he turned back a stretch challenge from New York invader The Fed Eased and drew away to his easy win in his stakes debut. Zoebear rallied late to nip The Fed Eased for second, and Sour finished fourth.
The winner ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.9. His record is 3-1-1 in eight races with earnings of $217,615.
Favored Watch Me Go, the winner of the Tampa Bay Derby (GIII), finished sixth.
AIR SUPPORT GRABS NARROW WIN IN KEENELAND’S TRANSYLVANIA – Stuart Janney III’s Air Support rallied in the middle of the turf course to catch pace-setter Great Mills in the final jump to win Friday’s $100,000 Transylvania Stakes (GIII) by a nose on Friday’s opening day of the 15-day Spring Meet at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington Kentucky.
Rajiv Maragh was in the saddle aboard the 3-year-old son of Smart Strike, who closed from last in the field of nine to the get the win before an opening day crowd of 22,747. Air Support covered 1 1/16 miles on a firm Keeneland grass course in 1:41.99.
Adirondack Summer finished third, just a neck back of the runner-up. Team Valor International’s favored Pluck, winner of the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last fall at Churchill Downs, never threatened and finished seventh.
SOUTH (Arkansas, Louisiana) / THE FACTOR SHARP IN FINAL WORK FOR ARKANSAS DERBY – George Bolton and Fog City Stable’s Rebel (GIII) winner The Factor prepared for a road trip to Oaklawn Park for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (GI) with a strong six-furlong work on Sunday at Santa Anita that completed his major training for his final prep for the Kentucky Derby.
The 3-year-old son of War Front covered the distance in 1:12.20, which just missed tying for Sunday’s fastest work time at the distance.
The Factor is scheduled to board a plane on Tuesday for the flight to the Hot Springs, Ark. track. A victory in Saturday’s race could make The Factor the favorite to win Kentucky Derby 137.
Other horses considered as likely starters in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby include San Vicente (GII) runner-up Sway Away, Southwest (GIII) runner-up Archarcharch, Sam F. Davis (GIII) winner Brethren, Southwest (GIII) runner-up J P’s Gusto, Rebel (GIII) runner-up Caleb’s Posse, Elite Alex, Dance City, Alternation, Truman’s Commander and Saratoga Red.