Back to Baffert
Getting back to Baffert's dynamic duo, it was obvious that Congaree was raring to go right from the start, as he bounced along in the paddock with his neck arched. Leaving the tunnel, he was on the muscle, his body coiled up and his tail swishing a mile a minute. In the post parade, he wanted no part of the outrider's restraint and kept pulling hard, jerking his head continuously. He concluded his antics by rearing up while walking in the gate. But he quickly settled down, and after breaking cleanly, he rated nicely for Espinoza, who had him on a nice loose rein down the backstretch. Although Congaree had only four opponents, there were some talented horses in there, such as his stablemate Special Times, whom Baffert has been very high on; Bills Paid, third in the San Miguel and Baldwin Stakes, who had been holding his own against Early Flyer, Lasersport, and D'wildcat; and Sudden Glory, fourth in last year's Norfolk Stakes behind Flame Thrower and Street Cry.
Espinoza kept Congaree about a length behind Sudden Glory down the backstretch, then all he did was lean forward a hair and that was enough of a signal to Congaree that it was time to do some running. And boy did he do some running. With Espinoza virtually motionless, Congaree just glided past Sudden Glory and was gone in a flash. Espinoza's hands never moved as Congaree opened with up with ridiculous ease, drawing off to win by 8, while never deviating an inch from the path he was on. His fractions of :23 2/5, :23 2/5, :23 4/5, :24 4/5, and :06 2/5 were very solid, and he galloped strongly. This was both a brilliant and professional effort, and makes one wonder just how good this horse really is.
Five races later came the main attraction – the long-awaited 3-year-old debut of Point Given, who was a nose away from being voted champion 2-year-old last year. The San Felipe was pretty simple. Stevens, breaking from the outside, kept Point Given wide and out of trouble, and when he asked him to pick it up nearing the far turn, the big chestnut shot to the lead, and that was about it. Point Given remained out near the middle of the track, while just loping along on the lead. He takes such humongous strides, it's hard to tell how fast he's going. Not wanting him to start goofing off out of boredom, Stevens kept his mind on business with several right-handed whips. Inside the sixteenth pole, he just waved the stick in front of the colt's right eye to let him know it's there. Point Given opened a 2-length lead at the eighth pole, while racing well off the rail, and maintained the advantage to the wire, winning by 2 1/4.
It might be wise to remember the runner-up I Love Silver
, who put in a big, wide run from 10 lengths back to finish a clear-cut second, while making his stakes debut and his first start beyond 6 1/2 furlongs. The son of Silver Ghost has a solid 1 1/8-mile to 1 1/4-mile pedigree, and is inbred (sire and dam) to Grey Flight, one of the greatest stakes producers of all time. What makes his performance even more impressive was that he was jostled pretty good coming out of the gate, getting bumped from the outside by Skip to the Stone
who knocked him hard into Indy Lead
. This is an easy-going colt, who walked around the paddock with his head down, like an old cow. He seems like the type who goes about his business like a pro, and is going to give you that big run every time.
Third-place finisher Jamaican Rum
also is one to keep an eye on after closing from last to finish a strong third, 1 1/2 lengths behind I Love Silver. The attractive gray son of Exemplary Leader (by Vigors) was really striding out beautifully through the stretch as if he were looking for more distance. A winner over Startac in the Hill Rise Handicap on turf back on Jan. 6, Jamaican Rum, in his last start, made up over 9 lengths while finishing fourth in the 7-furlong San Vicente, 2 1/2 lengths behind third-place finisher D'Wildcat, who came back to win the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream by over 10 lengths. He can sprint, run on grass or dirt, and has a good blend of speed and stamina in his pedigree. He gets his versatility from his maternal great-grandsire Norcliffe, a son of Buckpasser who sired champion sprinter Groovy, but also sired Kentucky Derby third-place finisher At the Threshold, who in turn sired Kentucky Derby winner Lil E. Tee.
On Wednesday at Gulfstream, Dogwood Stable's Distilled
, a speedy son of Hennessy who was coming off a second to Monarchos, wired his field in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race, defeating Frank Stronach's Thunder Blitz
by 4 3/4 lengths in 1:43 2/5. It was also an encouraging performance by the runner-up, who came from last off a slow pace to finish 4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher This Fleet is Due
, a highly touted colt from Bill Mott's barn.
This is how some of the major preps are shaping up: The Santa Anita Derby should attract Point Given, Palmeiro, Crafty C.T., I Love Silver, and Early Flyer, with Millennium Wind running there or one of the Eastern preps the following week. The Wood Memorial is looking like a fascinating race, with Monarchos, Congaree, and Richly Blended, three of the most exciting colts in the country likely heading that way, along with Ommadon, if he can get in an allowance race before, and another exciting newcomer Romolo's Fritzi, who goes first in the Rushaway Stakes. Burning Roma could also show up here, or possibly the Blue Grass Stakes. The Blue Grass likely will draw Dollar Bill, Hero's Tribute, Songandaprayer, Invisible Ink, Dream Run, and Holiday Thunder, Buckle Down Ben, and Meetyouathebrig, depending on how they do in the Spiral Stakes. The Arkansas Derby could attract Startac, True Concern, Strike it Smart, Jamaican Rum, and possibly Early Flyer, as Ron McAnally has had good success in this race. Invisible Ink would also be a possibility here. The Flamingo is looking like a showdown between A P Valentine and Outofthebox, with grass specialist Proud Man heading back to the dirt and Talk is Money trying to rebound from two poor efforts in Florida. And finally, the Lone Star Derby will pit Louisiana Derby winner Fifty Stars against El Camino Real Derby winner Hoovergetthekeys.