West Point Derby Contenders Work
Photo: Benoit
El Gato Malo is undefeated in three starts.
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Three top contenders from the West Point Thoroughbreds string prepared for starts in graded stakes while breezing for their respective trainers Feb. 21. Led by 4-year-old Awesome Gem, the worktab also included potential Derby contenders El Gato Malo and Saratoga Russell.

Graded stakes winner Awesome Gem turned in his last major work prior to the March 1 Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) when he breezed a bullet six furlongs in 1:11.60 at Hollywood Park. Under regular jockey David Flores, Awesome Gem broke off eight lengths behind his workmate before inhaling that one at the sixteenth pole and passing him well before the wire.

“He couldn’t have worked any better,” trainer Craig Dollase said of the Awesome Again  gelding. “He came out of the San Antonio (gr. II) breathing fire, and has trained magnificently. We circled the Santa Anita Handicap as one of our main objectives for 2008 back in the fall. We could not have hoped for a better work heading into the race."

Awesome Gem, bred in Kentucky by Runnymede Farm, Catesby Clay and Peter Callahan, was third in the Feb. 9 Santa Anita Handicap, beaten just 1 ½ lengths. Before that effort, he finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I) with a late rally behind Curlin and Hard Spun.

West Point’s leading candidate for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), El Gato Malo, drilled six furlongs at Hollywood in preparation for the March 1 Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita. Also under Flores, the El Corredor gelding went off by himself before picking up another worker at the half-mile pole. He clocked the distance in 1:13.80 and galloped out strongly past the wire.

“David (Flores) was thrilled with the breeze,” Dollase said. “El Gato Malo has been tearing down the barn. We’ve had our hands full (with him)… all systems are go for the Sham.”

El Gato Malo, bred in Kentucky by Kenneth Roberts, is unbeaten in three career starts over synthetic surfaces. He last won the Jan. 12 San Rafael Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita by an emphatic 6 ¼ lengths.

In Florida, trainer Rick Violette sent Saratoga Russell, an authoritative 10 ¾-length allowance winner earlier this month at Gulfstream Park, through a sharp half-mile in :48.40 at Palm Meadows. The 3-year-old son of Trippi is scheduled to make his next start in the March. 8 Gotham Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct.

“This is a very talented 3-year-old,” Violette said. “With colts like him you must think about the Triple Crown races. He looks like he will go two turns, but you never know until they do it. We're a little behind where we'd ideally like to be, but if you're going to take a chance now's the time to do it.  This could be a special horse."

Saratoga Russell was bred in Florida by Briggs/Cromartie and John Lankshear.

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