Bob Baffert showed his stable's depth last week at Santa Anita, sending out a pair of impressive winners in Fed Biz and Bodemeister.
They did not compete at the stakes level, winning an entry-level allowance and maiden special weight, respectively, but both colts appear capable of making an impact on this year's Kentucky Derby trail.
And while deep with talent all winter, the Baffert stable probably needed a boost following the disappointing efforts of Liaison and Sky Kingdom in the recent Grade 2 Robert Lewis Stakes.
Make way for a rising star.
Facing only four rivals, Fed Biz displayed good tactical speed before powering his way to a 5 3/4-length victory on Thursday, easily widening his advantage as he completed his final furlong in an excellent :12 2/5.
The lightly-raced colt is still learning, waiting to switch leads while attempting to lug in during the stretch, and craves more distance than a mile, but we got a glimpse of what Fed Biz can offer.
And there is no telling how deep the well runs for this exciting three-year-old.
A $950,000 purchase for owner Kaleem Shah at the 2010 Keeneland September sale, the son of Giant's Causeway hails from a classy female family that includes Pulpit, Johannesburg and Tale of the Cat.
Fed Biz recorded an even fourth when making his career debut at six furlongs in late November and broke his maiden when making his first start at two turns on December 30, edging clear to a 1 3/4-length decision in the one-mile test.
He garnered a 100 BRIS Late Pace and 98 Speed rating, both career bests, and those numbers are eligible to increase significantly as he continues to develop at longer distances.
Baffert is talking about winning a fourth Kentucky Derby with him. And jockey Rafael Bejarano exclaimed on his way back to the winner's circle, "This is my Derby horse, buddy."
One thing is for certain: Fed Biz will be heavily supported when he makes his stakes debut in either the March 10 San Felipe at Santa Anita or the March 17 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
Bodemeister delivered an electrifying performance Saturday, thrashing a well-regarded group of maiden rivals by a 9 1/4-length margin, and owner Ahmed Zayat has named a good one in honor of the Hall of Fame trainer's son, Bode.
The Virginia-bred colt took advantage of optimal conditions -- speed performed well all day at Santa Anita -- but Bodemeister turned in a remarkable performance nonetheless. The front runner accelerated away from competition in breathtaking fashion, notching a 101 BRIS Speed rating, one of the best figures in Southern California this year.
After making a belated career debut on January 16, finishing second to a wire-to-wire winner at 5 1/2 furlongs, Bodemeister thrived while stretching out to two turns. Baffert said he will send the Empire Maker colt straight to a stakes race off the maiden win.
Bodemeister must buck a long-standing trend with no racing experience at two, but conventional approaches to the Kentucky Derby have proven meaningless in recent years. And distance should not be an issue with his pedigree.
Bodemeister's talent could carry him a long way over the next 2 1/2 months.
Trainer Todd Pletcher captured the lone graded race for three-year-olds last week, saddling Thunder Moccasin to a sharp victory in Saturday's Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes at seven furlongs, but the winner will not be pointed toward the Derby, focusing instead upon one-turn races.
Pletcher was represented by another prospect at Gulfstream Park with possible classic aspirations.
Spring Hill Farm remained perfect in second career outing, scoring by 1 1/4 lengths in a one-turn mile allowance Saturday, and will be heading to stakes company next out. He did not finish with the same gusto that he displayed in his career bow, a 6 1/4-length victory at seven furlongs January 14 that netted him a 110 BRIS Late Pace rating, and his 94 Speed rating Saturday was disappointing. But Spring Hill Farm also caught a sloppy, sealed track that he may not have cared for.
The dark bay colt is very quick, leading wire-to-wire in both starts, and it will be interesting to see how he fares at longer distances. Out the Grade 2-winning Pleasant Colony mare Colonial Minstrel, the son of Smart Strike possesses stamina influences throughout both sides of his pedigree.
Three graded stakes are scheduled this weekend, including Sunday's Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes. The seven-furlong test will feature the return of Creative Cause, one of the leading Derby prospects entering 2012.
Creative Cause likes the track at Santa Anita, posting a convincing 3 1/4-length score in the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes two starts back, and the Mike Harrington-trained colt exits a commendable third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The gray colt will likely face a short group of rivals.
Oaklawn Park will offer the Grade 3 Southwest on Monday and the one-mile event could be split into divisions due to an overflow of entries. Four Southern California invaders, including Secret Circle and Castaway from the Baffert shedrow, have shipped to the Hot Springs, Arkansas, track.
Longview Drive, the third-place finisher in the Sham Stakes and Delta Jackpot Stakes for Jerry Hollendorfer, and maiden winner Unbridled's Note are the other West Coast shippers.
Junebugred and Reckless Jerry, the respective one-two finishers in the January 16 Smarty Jones Stakes, top the local contingent for the Southwest.
With local victories in the California Derby and Gold Rush Stakes, Russian Greek is the horse to beat in the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby on Saturday at Golden Gate Fields. The Hollendorfer pupil heads a cast of 10 in the 1 1/16-mile Tapeta event, which will serve as an audition for Lucky Chappy.
Fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, Lucky Chappy opened 2012 with a runner-up in the grassy Kitten's Joy Stakes at Gulfstream on January 21 and the Team Valor colorbearer is not being pointed toward the Kentucky Derby presently.
However, he could accompany stablemate Animal Kingdom, who is readying for the Group 1, $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 31, on his trip to Dubai. Lucky Chappy will earn a berth in the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby if he handles Tapeta Saturday.