Kentucky Derby Trail: Wash Out Weekend
Photo: Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
While rain impacted racing in California and New York, High Fly cruised to victory in the Aventura Stakes in Florida.
Although last weekend saw rainouts on both coasts, including a rare cancellation at Santa Anita, there at least was a 'High Fly' hit that turned into a tape measure home run. So, while the Florida 3-year-olds moved forward, the California horses hit a brick wall and now must wait for dry weather in order to race, and even train.

If you're a California trainer, this is the time you want to have a 3-year-old with some foundation under him, as schedules have become tenuous and lightly raced horses already are playing catch-up.

While a horse like Declan's Moon, with four starts and three stakes victories, isn't affected by the bad track, the same can't be said for Fusaichi Samurai, who has already missed the San Miguel Stakes (gr. III) and now must find a race in the very near future.

"We haven't missed a whole lot with Declan's Moon," said trainer Ron Ellis. "He's not going to run until March 5 (in the grade II Santa Catalina Stakes), and I had planned on giving him at least 10 days to two weeks off anyway. So, right now, I have him jogging, which is not much different from what he'd be doing now anyway. But I'd sure like to get to galloping him pretty soon. He's a tall, light-framed horse, so he's not going to get back all that far.

"Right now, I'm not getting killed by the weather, but I'm sure there are some trainers who are, because the track is a mess. I would hate to be pressing for time and trying to get one ready who hasn't run yet or is lightly raced. Fusaichi Samurai would be the perfect example."

Ellis does have another 3-year-old prospect who is lightly raced, and that is Don't Get Mad, who was sent to him by owner B. Wayne Hughes after the colt won his first two starts impressively at Churchill Downs for Paul McGee.

"He's going to run on Feb. 13," Ellis said. "He had those two big races at Churchill, and he got sick a little bit when he first got out here. I've been set back a little, but I have gotten two works in him and his first race back isn't going to make that big a difference. Even though he's won sprinting and has shown excellent speed, I don't think he wants any part of those shorter races. I think he's a true route horse and has done what he has because he's such a classy animal."

Another lightly raced horse who has had his training interrupted is Kirkendahl, trained by the father-son team of Ted and Ted H. West (the listed trainer). "We're still on schedule with him and will run him Saturday (Jan. 15) in the San Rafael (gr. II)," Ted West said. "We had a one-day window in the past two weeks where we could actually do something serious with him, and we worked him five furlongs. It was a pretty tiring track, but he finished real strong. So, we'll just gallop him up to the race, because the track is in pretty bad shape. You'd be really rolling the dice to work a horse in the next two or three days. He's got scary kind of speed, and maybe the fact we haven't been able to train him much and have to come up to the race off gallops will help him relax early in the race."

Bob Baffert said the weather hasn't affected Roman Ruler, who popped a small abscess and "won't see the track until it dries out. So, he will have lost a week or more, but he looks pretty fit so it shouldn't matter." Baffert said he hasn't lost any time with his other promising colt Chips Are Down, an allowance winner last month. The son of Distorted Humor   breezed five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 on Jan. 6 and worked a half-mile in :47 2/5 on Jan. 12.

Flying High

High Fly, trained by Bill White for owner Charlotte Weber, could not have been more impressive winning last Saturday's one-mile Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream. The son of former mile world-record holder Atticus did everything the right away in a near-flawless performance. He was a bit erratic coming out of the gate and soundly bumped runner-up Drum Major, eventually surviving a foul claim. But after that he found a good spot and sat comfortably in third behind Magoo's Magic, who was well out in the middle of the track.

With Magna Graduate tracking in second, Eddie Castro let High Fly cruise up to the leaders at the quarter pole while still sitting with a ton of horse. He gave a couple of peeks over his right shoulder, shook the reins, then pumped his hands. In a flash, High Fly was gone. He leveled off quickly and was striding out beautifully, while still under a hand ride from Castro, who never went to the whip. High Fly ran straight as an arrow the entire length of the stretch, while increasing his margin with every stride. He crossed the wire nine lengths in front, coming home his final eighth in a solid :12 3/5. This performance moves High Fly way up in the rankings and makes him the premiere horse in Florida right now.

He has the look of a distance horse, and there are plenty of stamina influences, especially in his female family through Seattle Slew's son Slewpy, Verbatim (a good speed and stamina sire), and Northern Dancer's distance-loving son One For All. In short, this was a good way to start the year.

On the same card, Dearest Mon showed he's still very green, but also very talented when he closed strongly to wear down another exciting prospect, Devil at Sea. Dearest Mon broke a bit flat-footed and had to be hustled up to stay within a half-dozen lengths of the lead. He put in a strong, sustained move around the turn and began closing in on Devil at Sea, who looked pretty strong turning for home.

Jerry Bailey went to an early right-handed whip and Dearest Mon began to drift in a bit. Bailey switched to his left hand and the colt drifted out about five horse paths. He went back to a right-handed whip and the son of Maria's Mon came back in slightly, then finally leveled off. Now running straight, he bore down and charged past Devil at Sea several yards from the wire to win by a half-length in 1:22 4/5 for the seven furlongs. Once this colt matures a little and gets more seasoned, he could have a say in upcoming stakes.

In other Derby trail news:

-- The Jan. 8 Count Fleet Stakes, which served as a launch pad for Smarty Jones' historic Triple Crown run last year, was canceled due to unsafe track conditions at Aqudeuct. There were several nice horses entered, such as Killenaule, Tani Maru, Naughty New Yorker, Father Weist, and Daddy Joe. The following day, the San Miguel was a no-go when Santa Anita canceled.

-- Sunday's Santa Ysabel (gr. III) at Santa Anita, which was to have been the 2005 debut for Sweet Catomine, was also canceled due to rain and was rescheduled for this Sunday, Jan. 16.

-- Todd Pletcher unveiled an exciting youngster in Bantini, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus   who broke his maiden at Gulfstream by four lengths in 1:22 2/5 for Lion Heart's owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. Finishing second was the Giant's Causeway   colt Noble Causeway, whom trainer Nick Zito regards very highly.

-- Remsen (gr. II) runner-up Galloping Grocer hit the work tab for the first time this year, breezing three furlongs in :35 2/5 at Belmont on Jan. 11.

-- Fusaichi Samurai did manage to get a good work in on Jan. 6, breezing a half in :47 4/5 at Hollywood Park.

-- The Neil Howard-trained Patriot Act continued his string of solid works, breezing six furlongs in 1:14 3/5 at Fair Grounds Jan. 5.

-- Also on the work tab in Florida last week were Survivalist (:48 4/5 breezing), Premium Tap (:49 breezing), and Belmont Futurity (gr. II) winner Park Avenue Ball (:48 1/5 breezing). Stakes-winning Pavo, trained by Jennifer Pedersen, turned in a sharp five-furlong breeze in 1:00 flat at Aqueduct Jan. 11.

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