Normally, a weekend that features the Lecomte Stakes from Fair Grounds and a pair of allowance races from Gulfstream is not going to cause any great tremors on the Derby trail. While this past weekend was no exception, we did have several impressive performances, by losers as well as winners, that could have an impact in the weeks ahead.
As long as no horses step forward to assert their superiority, every performance, whether it be in small stakes or allowance races, bears watching. Until one or two do step forward, we're going to have to be content with a very wide-open Derby picture.
The Lecomte drew a particularly strong field this year, pitting experienced stakes winners Jeremiah Jack
against up-and-coming stars Easfromthegitgo
and Sky Terrace
. Also in the 11-horse field were the one-two finishers of the six-furlong Sugar Bowl Stakes at Fair Grounds, Mapp Hill
and Lead by Example
Those looking for a star to emerge from the race might have found one in Easyfromthegitgo
, who just got up at the wire for his third consecutive victory. In the process, the son of Dehere gained a good deal of experience, breaking from the one-post, sitting behind horses most of the way, then putting in a determined stretch run to wear down a tough opponent in Sky Terrace.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Easyfromthegitgo looked super in the post parade, bouncing along on his toes. At the quarter pole, jockey Donnie Meche had to decide whether to try to split the battling leaders Sky Terrace and War Emblem or wait for something open up outside Sky Terrace. He chose the latter, and when an opening appeared, he snatched his colt to the outside. It took several strides for Easyfromthegitgo to change leads, but once he did, he closed relentlessly, just getting up to defeat Sky Terrace by a nose. After two dominating victories, we learned a lot more about this colt, who is out of an unraced mare by Easy Goer. Asmussen is one of the best trainers in the country, and he's just about ready to hit the big-time with a major star. This could be that horse.
We can't say enough about the performance of Sky Terrace
, who came out of the gate like a three-cushion billiard shot, bouncing off the outside horse, then getting slammed by the inside horse. He rushed up to battle for the lead, and was in a dogfight with War Emblem the whole way. He put that colt away and dug in the length of the long Fair Grounds stretch, just missing. It'sallinthechase, beaten a neck in last year's Arlington-Washington Futurity, swung five-wide at the head of the stretch and was closing fast at the wire, finishing three-quarters of a length behind the runner-up.
a good possibility to ship down for the Risen Star, and three solid colts coming out of the Lecomte, we could have a heckuva race on Feb. 17. Another colt aiming for the 1 1/16-mile race is the Dallas Stewart-trained Bob's Image
, winner of his last two at the meet.
At Gulfstream on Saturday, Nick Zito saw his main Derby hope High Star
turn in a solid effort to win a 1 1/16-mile allowance race by 2 3/4 lengths after tracking the early pace. With a good third-place finish to Repent in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes behind him, the near-black son of Private Terms has shown he can compete with the best, likes Churchill Downs, and can handle the slop.
Although you might be put off by his 4.50 dosage index, it is important to note that his broodmare sire, Polish Navy, sired Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, and his tail-female family is loaded with Elmendorf staying blood. Second dam, Red Ember, won the California Oaks; third dam, Everglow, is the dam of grade I Santa Barbara winner Comedy Act, and fourth dam, Strike Oil, is the dam of the distance-loving Oil Power, winner of the 1 5/8-mile Lawrence Realization as well as the Hawthorne Derby. Strike Oil also produced Spout, winner of the 1 1/2-mile Lancashire Oaks in England. This also is the family of Hollywood Turf Cup winner Alphabatim and Beldame and Top Flight winner Oil Royalty.
Perhaps the most impressive performance of the day was that of third-place finisher Flying Free
. With only two lifetime starts, and coming off a six-furlong maiden victory, the son of Fly So Free was stretching out to two turns for the first time. At the start, he was stepping backward and broke dead-last. Rene Douglas kept him at the back of the pack for the first half-mile, then yanked him to the rail down the backstretch. He brought the colt off the rail and split horses on the far turn, charging from eighth to challenge High Star for the lead at the head of the stretch. Flying Free reached even terms with the winner, but he understandably couldn't sustain his move, eventually getting nipped for second by the promising Peekskill
Before the race, trainer Carl Nafzger told the colt's owner Elizabeth Valando, "We don't know what's going to happen. We're throwing this colt a helluva learning curve today, and if he learns from it and runs well, we've got a real nice horse." Nafzger is undecided where to go next with him, but wherever he shows up, he definitely is one to watch. His dam, Sunblaze, is by Alydar out of Santa Margarita and Hollywood Oaks winner Princess Karenda.
Nafzger said his top filly Belterra
has been nominated to the Triple Crown, but is in "very light training," and he's "just playing with her right now."
In the following race, White Flame
, recently purchased and turned over to Niall O'Callaghan, scored a gutsy victory, tenaciously holding off Say No Maw to win by a neck. The son of Langfuhr, who had won his last two dirt starts impressively at Calder, set the early pace while under intermittent pressure from favored Red's Top Gun. He put him away at the quarter pole after briefly losing the lead, then after opening a clear lead in midstretch, was challenged by Say No Maw. White Flame battle back gamely, stretching out his neck in the final yards. This is a long-bodied colt whose female family is inundated with French blood. He is inbred 5x5 on his dam's side to the great stallion Prince Rose.Other News
Two interesting seven-furlong stakes will be run next weekend. The Hutcheson at Gulfstream will feature Spectacular Bid winner Maybry's Boy
against the undefeated Cashel Castle, who has been working for his 3-year-old debut at Classic Mile in Ocala. The son of Silver Ghost has won all three of his starts by a combined 19 1/2 lengths, including an eight-length romp in the Hoosier Juvenile.
The San Vicente at Santa Anita will pit Hopeful winner Came Home
against San Miguel winner Popular
and the undefeated Werblin
.Request For Parole
, runner-up in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, turned in a sharp 5-furlong work in 1:00 1/5 at Turfway Park for his 3-year-old debut in Saturday's WEBN Frog Stakes.
Bobby Frankel, who had given some thought to shipping Santa Catalina winner Labamta Babe
to Gulfstream for the Florida Derby, said the colt probably will remain at Santa Anita and point for the San Felipe Stakes before heading East for the Wood Memorial. Frankel used the New York route for his 2000 Derby runner-up Aptitude.
The more we think about it, the more we feel Nokoma's
poor effort in the Holy Bull should be thrown out. Todd Pletcher said the colt simply got tired. With Gulfstream's track playing so slow, you just don't know how it affected him. Horses must be dead-fit, and assistant Cindy Hutter said the colt was getting tired in his works, so maybe he just came up short. Had he been right there, he would have been No. 1 on our list, so we'll give him another chance. We still feel this is a very talented colt, with a great Derby pedigree.