Kentucky Derby Trail: Allowance Races Heating Up as New Players Emerge

Kentucky Derby Trail: Allowance Races Heating Up as New Players Emerge
Photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Smarty Jones, the "Philly Phenom" winning the Count Fleet Stakes.
We're all pretty well set in our minds who the leading Kentucky Derby (gr. I) contenders are based on 2-year-old accomplishments. But now, the second wave has made its initial impact and it's time to seek out new budding stars.

Although several recent allowance races have produced some promising candidates, such as Borrego and Dwango at Santa Anita and Gradepoint at Fair Grounds, we could have a big one coming up Wednesday at Gulfstream Park.

Notorious Rogue, a colt with a bright future, will face off against the Nick Zito-trained Pies Prospect in a seven-furlong allowance race. Notorious Rogue hasn't run since finishing fifth in the Champagne Stakes (gr. I), and this is just a prelude to two-turn races, where he should show big improvement. The son of Victory Gallop was a tall, leggy individual last year, and trainer Mark Hennig decided to give him some time to fill out and mature. Prior to the Champagne, he broke his maiden impressively by 2 1/2 lengths going 6 1/2 furlongs at Saratoga. Then, in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), he was moving with the eventual winner Silver Wagon, but had nothing but a wall of horses in front of him. When a small hole opened at the top of the stretch, jockey Eibar Coa was beaten to it by Jerry Bailey, on Silver Wagon. Notorious Rogue had to steady slightly then wait for the winner to go through before following him. He closed well in the final furlong to get third, just behind runner-up Chapel Royal. Bailey picks up the mount for this race.

This colt has a nice way of moving and has a look of class about him. Although his broodmare sire is the speed-oriented Clever Trick, he is inbred 5x4 to major classic and stamina influences Tom Rolfe and Hail to Reason, which accounts for his 2.33 DI.

Pies Prospect has started only once, but was very impressive winning a seven-furlong maiden race at Aqueduct by 5 1/4 lengths at odds of 20-1. By Crafty Prospector, his broodmare sire is the multiple stakes-winning Bates Motel, a son of English Derby winner Sir Ivor, and his maternal great-grandsire is Horse of the Year Arts and Letters, a son of Ribot who won the Belmont Stakes and 2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. So, his female family could more than compensate for the numerous speed influences in his sire's family. John Velazquez will ride for the first time.

Several others to watch in this race are last-out maiden winners Away to Boston, Frisky Spider, Classy Migration, Desert Border, Legend's Silver, and Classic Wine. The second division, run two races later, is not nearly as strong a race, and while there are a few stakes-placed horses in the field, none look to be potential standouts. Two who might have a future are Dashing Deputy and Blushing Indian, 3rd in the Cradle Stakes.

Catching up on what has happened in recent weeks, Smarty Jones, the "Philly Phenom", took his show on the road and ran off and hid in the Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct, his first race around two turns. There are major questions regarding his distance capabilities, but so far, the son of Elusive Quality has been sensational in all three of his starts. In the Count Fleet, he rated beautifully most of the way in third, showed good acceleration around the far turn, and left the others quickly when set down in the stretch. Now, it's off to Arkansas.

At Santa Anita, Borrego, a son of El Prado, out of a Strike the Gold mare, was impressive in his dirt debut, defeating the promising Dwango by 1 1/2 lengths in a 1/16-mile allowance race. The winner boasts a 1.40 DI.

Bobby Frankel's newly acquired Ice Wynnd Fire closed well in the final furlong, but was beaten a nose by Hosco in a 6-furlong allowance/optional claimer and should improve off this race. Frankel has himself a top-class grass horse in Greek Sun, who drew off to win the Hill Rise Stakes by 4 lengths, and is now two-for-two, both on the turf.

Dick Mandella added to his impressive roster of Derby candidates when he sent out Spellbinder, a son of Tale of the Cat, to break his maiden by three-quarters of a length over one of Bob Baffert's main hopes, Wimbledon. Spellbinder was making his fifth career start, but Mandella says he's just learning what it's all about. Baffert remains very high on Wimbledon, and says the son of Wild Rush is still green and will improve dramatically next time out with blinkers.

Baffert also has high hopes for Teton Forest, a son of Forestry who won first time out by 1 1/2 lengths in a sharp 1:21 4/5 for the 7 furlongs. His dam, Tomorrow's Child, was a stakes winner of almost $500,000. Teton Forest has a 2.20 DI. But making his debut on Jan. 3, he is at the mercy of Apollo, the last horse to win the Derby who did not start at 2...in 1882.

In the Tropical Park Derby (gr. IIIT) on the grass, Kitten's Joy made it three in a row for trainer Dale Romans with an impressive 4 1/2-length victory in 1:46 4/5 for the 1 1/8 miles. This followed turf scores at Churchill Downs and Belmont Park. He has also run well on the dirt, getting beaten a head in a mile maiden race at Belmont, in which he finished ahead of the promising Gradepoint. Kitten's Joy is by El Prado, and is inbred to Northern Dancer, Tom Fool, and Hail to Reason. He has a strong DI of 1.14.

Gradepoint, a son of A.P. Indy, made it two in a row by winning a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Fair Grounds for Neil Howard. Previously, he had broken his maiden at Keeneland at the same distance. His tail-female family is a Who's Who of Fred Hooper breeding and he has a 2.00 DI.

At Sunland Park, Hi Teck Man was beaten in the Riley Allison Futurity, but turned in a solid effort to finish second. Another to watch out of that race is 5th-place finisher Willionaire, who should improve at longer distances. At Laurel, White Mountain Boy won the Maryland Juvenile Championship at 1 1/8 miles, sprinting clear early and galloping home by 6 lengths. He is by Meadowlake, but has plenty of stamina in his female family.

Recent maiden winners include Tacky, who won big in the slop at Golden Gate, and Zakocity, who beat the Todd Pletcher-trained Battle Hero at Gulfstream. Also at Gulfstream, Allen Jerkens sent out All Hail Stormy to a 5-length maiden victory in 1:09 4/5.

The Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) on Jan. 17 is likely to attract Silver Wagon; Second of June, his conqueror in the What a Pleasure Stakes; and the Zito-trained El Prado Rob. Zito will send Iroquois (gr. III) and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) winner The Cliff's Edge to Oaklawn for the Rebel Stakes (gr. III) and Arkansas Derby (gr. II). Two top 2-year-olds awaiting the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) on Feb. 14 are Nashua (gr. III) and Remsen (gr. II) winner Read the Footnotes and the undefeated king of Calder, Sir Oscar, winner of all six of his races.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) winner Action This Day is still on target for the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) on Jan. 17. A victory will set up a much-anticipated showdown with the exciting Lion Heart, either in the San Felipe (gr. II) or Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). Although the Hollywood Futurity winner's statistics have been impressive, his strongest attribute has been visual. Simply put, he looks like an exceptional horse just by his overall presence and the way he does things. And don't forget the colt who finished second to him at Hollywood off just one sprint, St Averil, another colt with great potential.

Remember the name Purge, who has resumed training for Pletcher, breezing a half in :50 3/5 at Palm Meadows. The son of Pulpit turned in one of the most impressive maiden victories of the year at Saratoga, combining courage and push-button acceleration.

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