Sunday was Todd Pletcher day at Gulfstream Park as the 2010 Kentucky Derby-winning conditioner unleashed a pair of rapidly rising prospects in El Padrino and Algorithms. Pletcher also sent out Broadway's Alibi, who romped by 16 3/4 lengths in the Grade 2 Forward Gal Stakes for fillies.
A five-time Eclipse Award winner for leading trainer, Pletcher experienced a slow year in two-year-old stakes -- he did not have a starter in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Jockey Club victor Gemologist was his only major Kentucky Derby candidate entering 2012 -- but his situation has changed.
Pletcher is now loaded with a deep assemblage of talent that includes unbeaten Discreet Dancer.
El Padrino made the first splash Sunday, winning a 1 1/16-mile allowance event by a widening two-length margin. He closed powerfully to overhaul Take Charge Indy, who turned in a superb effort finishing 13 3/4 lengths clear of third, and the runner-up looked like a winner when opening up a three-length advantage midway on the far turn.
Take Charge Indy brought nearly $100,000 in graded earnings into the race -- finishing second in the Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity, fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity and fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile -- and remains a promising Derby hopeful going forward. A son of A.P. Indy, the Pat Byrne-trained colt is out of multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Take Charge Lady.
El Padrino inhaled the runner-up in the final sixteenth of a mile and registered a whopping 111 BRIS Speed rating.
A close third when making his stakes debut in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes in late November, El Padrino looks like a star in the making. He broke his maiden two starts previously, scoring by 12 3/4 lengths at Belmont Park, and the Pulpit colt possesses an ideal pedigree for the 1 1/4-mile Derby distance. Out of a Giant's Causeway mare, the chestnut hails from a classy female family that features a nice mix of speed and stamina.
The sealed track was listed as "good" following an afternoon storm and the conditions could dampen one's enthusiasm for El Padrino's victory. But it's easy to get excited following such a sensational performance.
Casual Trick will need to rebound after faltering as the 9-5 favorite. A maiden winner sprinting at Churchill Downs two starts back, the well-bred colt finished second when making his two-turn debut in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day but got off to a stumbling start Sunday. He recovered to stalk the pace in third during the early stages but began to retreat upon reaching the conclusion of the far turn, weakening to eighth.
Trainer Nick Zito can blame both the wet track and start, and the two-time Derby winner hopes to draw a line through Casual Trick's effort.
The Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes was the main event at Gulfstream Park and featured an impressive victory from Algorithms, who blew past champion two-year-old Hansen to win by five lengths. Now three-for-three in his career, Algorithms easily broke his maiden last June but was not seen again until mid-December, winning a 6 1/2-furlong allowance event at Gulfstream over the well-regarded Consortium, who trailed the field in the Holy Bull.
The Holy Bull was contested at a one-turn mile, so Algorithms has never traveled two turns, but the bay colt is by Bernardini out of a Cryptoclearance mare. That's an encouraging pedigree on paper for classic distances.
Algorithms netted a career-best 105 BRIS Speed rating on Sunday over a track downgraded to sloppy. He rated in second before pouncing in the stretch.
Hansen stumbled at the start but quickly grabbed the lead after the break, establishing an opening split in :23 3/5, but refused to settle on a clear lead and whipped through a second quarter-mile in :22. The gray colt was softened up by the time he reached the stretch and readily gave way to the winner, but managed to save second by a half-length.
Hansen can move forward off the setback, but the effectiveness of the one-dimensional speedball at longer distances is a legitimate concern.
Consortium was bumped at the start of his stakes bow and never fired in a last-place effort. That was not a true indicator of the Bernardini colt's ability.
Let's take a look back at some other key developments in January:
Discreet Dancer won his first career start on December 3, defeating Florida-bred maiden rivals by 9 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream, and stepped up with aplomb to face open company in an entry-level allowance on January 7, scoring by 5 1/2 lengths at a one-turn mile. The long-striding chestnut recorded Speed ratings in the upper 90s while winning under wraps both times.
He is expected to make his highly-anticipated stakes and two-turn debut in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on February 26.
From the first crop of miler Discreet Cat, Discreet Dancer is a half-brother to the speedy Travelin Man, winner of the seven-furlong Swale Stakes, but his female family holds some notable stamina influences. His third maternal dam is responsible for Duke of Marmalade, a multiple Group 1 winner at distances up to 1 1/2 miles, and this is the extended family of A.P. Indy, Summer Squall and Lemon Drop Kid.
Out of Bounds looked the part of a serious Kentucky Derby contender when capturing the Grade 3 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita on January 7.
The Eoin Harty-trained colt showed little in his first couple of starts last year, breaking his maiden in a slow time going seven furlongs at Hollywood Park on December 10, and was overlooked at 10-1 in a short five-horse Sham field. But Out of Bounds delivered an inspired performance in his first attempt at two turns, rallying strongly past the leaders in deep stretch to win going away by a half-length, and appeared to want much more ground than the one-mile distance.
Another son of the Darley stallion Discreet Cat, Out of Bounds is out of 2001 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Unbridled Elaine and distance should be no problem for the gangly colt. He will likely target the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 10.
Alpha turned heads with a six-length debut score at Saratoga and recorded a non-threatening second to Union Rags when making his second career start in the Grade 1 Champagne. He was fractious at the gate and spit the bit after a half-mile in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but the Kiaran McLaughlin pupil bore little resemblance to that performer when making his sophomore debut in the January 7 Count Fleet Stakes, winning in a professional manner over the inner oval at Aqueduct.
A son of Bernardini out of a Nijinsky II mare, the well-bred colt cruised to a 2 1/2-length decision in the one-mile and 70-yard Count Fleet and posted a career-best 100 BRIS Speed rating. He's an exciting prospect for Godolphin Racing, who elected to keep their best Derby prospects in the United States over the winter instead of shipping to Dubai. That decision could reap rewards with Alpha.
Fair Grounds kicked off its "Road to the Derby" with the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes on January 21 and Mr. Bowling proved best in a tight three-horse finish, edging recent maiden winner Z Dager by a head with the wide-trip Shared Property another half-length back in third.
Mr. Bowling won two straight starts at Delaware Park last year, including the two-turn Dover Stakes, before concluding 2011 with a third in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. By first-crop sire Istan, who stands at owner Brereton Jones' Airdrie Stud, the Larry Jones-trained colt received an ideal trip but did not run very fast in the Lecomte, netting only a 95 BRIS Speed rating. He will look to keep improving in the Grade 3 Risen Star Stakes on February 25.
Z Dager saved ground the entire way and after waiting briefly at the top of the stretch, rallied determinedly to just miss in his first start against winners. The Steve Asmussen runner has potential, but he'll need to keep showing more in upcoming starts.
Third-placer Shared Property is probably the one to watch going forward. Winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity last September, the dark bay gelding was making his first start since a sixth in the Breeders' Futurity in early October and lost ground on both turns after breaking from post 13. The Tom Amoss trainee closed down the middle of the stretch over a track that was kind to speed all afternoon and should benefit from the comebacker.
Three graded stakes -- Robert B. Lewis, Withers and Sam F. Davis -- will be offered this weekend.
The $200,000 Bob Lewis at Santa Anita features the one-two finishers in the CashCall Futurity, Liaison and Rousing Sermon, as well as fourth-placer Sky Kingdom, who came back to trounce allowance foes at Santa Anita on January 12.
Baffert will send out both Liaison and Sky Kingdom in the 1 1/16-mile heat. The latter is a son of Empire Maker and out of a Kingmambo mare, so he owns a mouth-watering pedigree for the Derby, but Sky Kingdom's Speed numbers are a little light. Liaison is by Indian Charlie, who throws a lot of sprint/middle-distance specialists, but the sophomore may receive enough stamina from his mare, a daughter of Belmont Stakes winner of Victory Gallop. However, Liaison possesses only a career-best 94 Speed figure and needs to show more as a three-year-old.
Rousing Sermon improved when stretching out to a route three starts back, winning the California Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, and exits a pair of close seconds to Liaison in the CashCall Futurity and Real Quiet Stakes. The California-bred colt appears to be training forwardly in preparation for Jerry Hollendorfer and has a big chance on Saturday.
Alpha is a potential standout in the $200,000 Withers, which has been dramatically altered this year. Modeled after the English Two Thousand Guineas, the Withers is one of the oldest stakes races in New York and was traditionally contested over a mile at Belmont Park in May. NYRA has moved it to early February over the inner track at Aqueduct and stretched it out to 1 1/16 miles.
Dale Romans will be represented by King Kid, who ships in for the Withers off a third-place performance in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year's Day.
Tampa Bay Downs offers the $250,000 Sam F. Davis and the the 1 1/16-mile event is expected to attract State of Play, a good-looking winner of the grassy With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga who recorded a disappointing 12th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Trained by Graham Motion, the Team Valor-owned colt has never raced on dirt, but the same connections captured last year's Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom in his dirt debut. Gulfstream Park Derby winner Reveron is another potential top draw.