(Edited press release)
A solid field of 10 sophomores has signed up for the $750,000 Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) July 18 at Colonial Downs, including Nicanor, the full brother to Barbaro who will be trying stakes company for the first time.
Nicanor has been installed as the 7-2 morning-line favorite in the 10-furlong event on the grass. Mike House’s Battle of Hastings, bred in Great Britain, is returning to the scene of his Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIT) triumph June 20 with a lifetime bankroll of better than $474,000 and is the 4-1 second choice.
Owned by Lael Stables and trained by Michael Matz, Nicanor did not race as a 2-year old, but collected a 10th and two second-place finishes in his first three races of 2009, all on the dirt. After a switch to the turf, the 3-year old colt broke his maiden by 15 1/4 lengths at Delaware Park May 13 and won an allowance by 1 3/4 lengths in his most recent start, also on grass. Jockey Jose Lezcano, who guided Summer Doldrums to victory in the ’07 Colonial Turf Cup, has the mount aboard Nicanor.
Battle of Hastings, trained by Jeff Mullins and owned by Mike House, is scheduled to arrive at Colonial Downs from the West Coast on July 14. The 3-year old Royal Applause gelding was the first Turf Cup horse to set foot in the backstretch several weeks ago, and he will maintain a similar schedule on Derby week.
After breaking his maiden in the Lucid Thinking Handicap and winning the Landini Tractors Handicap, both in England, Battle of Hastings captured a pair of stakes in America, both at Santa Anita Park. He has won five of 10 lifetime starts and has earned $474,592. Jockey Tyler Baze will pilot Mullins’ horse for the sixth straight time.
Hold Me Back, winner of the Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway Park in mid-March, is the third choice at 5-1. Trainer Bill Mott, who conditions the Giant's Causeway colt, has three Virginia Derby wins on his resume. Hold Me Back most recently ran in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), where he finished 12th after being bumped and squeezed at the start. He has been on the board in four of six lifetime starts and has earnings of $487,274. Kent Desormeaux will ride.
The first and second place finishers in the June 13 Jefferson Cup (gr. IIT) at Churchill Downs are next in line at 6-1. Owned by Darley Stable and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Florentino has been on the board in five of eight lifetime starts and has a bankroll of $167,312. Trained by George R. Arnold II, El Crespo, an A.P. Indy colt, finished second in that race by three parts of a length behind Florentino.
With an early race career that mirrors Florentino’s, El Crespo has finished on the board five times in eight starts with lifetime earnings of $167,326. Rider Alan Garcia, who won the ’08 Turf Cup atop Sailor’s Cap, will guide Florentino while Julien Leparoux, who rode Lime Rickey in this year’s Turf Cup, switches to El Crespo.
The second, third, and fourth place finishers in the ’09 Turf Cup are back to challenge. Straight Story, Lime Rickey, and Take The Points, one of two Todd Pletcher horses in the field, all seek revenge on Battle of Hastings. Straight Story missed by a head after going eight-wide, while Lime Rickey and Take The Points both fell 1 1/4 lengths shy. Jockey Edgar Prado, who has three Virginia Derby wins, will pilot Take The Points.
Rounding out the field is Affirmatif, Pletcher’s other sophomore colt who is fresh off a second place finish in the Hill Prince Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park, and Safety Valve, the only local horse in the field, who has a pair of wins at Colonial this summer for trainer Rodney Jenkins.
The Virginia Derby undercard features the $150,000 Virginia Oaks (gr. III) and the $50,000 Kittens Joy Stakes. The first race is scheduled for 12:55 p.m. EDT, while the Virginia Derby post time is slated for 6 p.m.
The field, in post position order with weights and riders:
1) Affirmatif (Chris DeCarlo, 117)
2) Florentino (Alan Garcia, 121)
3) Take the Points (Edgar Prado, 117)
4) Nicanor (Jose Lezcano, 117)
5) Safety Valve (E. Camacho, 117)
6) Straight Story (Chuck Lopez, 117)
7) Hold Me Back (Kent Desormeaux, 117)
8) El Crespo (Julien Leparoux, 121)
9) Battle of Hastings (Tyler Baze, 121)
10) Lime Rickey (Cornelio Velasquez, 117)