Kentucky Derby Trail: New 3YO Schedule in Florida Gets First Test

Kentucky Derby Trail: New 3YO Schedule in Florida Gets First Test
Photo: Equi-Photo/Bill Denver
Aventura winner High Fly tops field for Saturday's Holy Bull.
Gulfstream Park's reshuffled schedule of 3-year-old races gets its first test in the Feb. 5 Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) when Kentucky Derby (gr. I) hopefuls are required to stretch out for the first of three 1 1/8-mile stakes. Some observers believe this new series could result in a mass exodus from Florida following the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II). on March 5.

Gulfstream officials apparently did not consider any possible repercussions when they set up the final three distance stakes to fit their own schedule, rather than consider the entire Derby picture and the placement of the Florida Derby (gr. I) on April 2. Horsemen who do not wish to buck history and go into the Derby off a five-week layoff, something that has not been successful in nearly half a century, will have to look elsewhere following the Fountain of Youth. Those who do stay and go for the million-dollar purse in the Florida Derby will do so knowing they most likely will have to train up to the Kentucky Derby.

They could choose to wait another week and point for the Wood Memorial (gr. I), but that race too has been moved back one week, forcing trainers to wait four weeks to the Derby. The only trainers who have been successful doing that in the past 20 years are Charlie Whittingham, D. Wayne Lukas, and Bob Baffert. One trainer who will be attempting it with two horses is Ron Ellis, who likely will point Declan's Moon for the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) and Don't Get Mad for the Wood Memorial.

In addition to the Holy Bull, which will feature the exciting undefeated colt High Fly, impressive winner of the Aventura Stakes, there will be four other stakes for 3-year-olds on Saturday – the 1 1/8-mile Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, the seven-furlong Hutcheson (gr. III) at Gulfstream, the one-mile WEBN Stakes at Turfway Park, and the one-mile Miracle Wood at Laurel.

But the stakes are only a part of Saturday's festivities. There are several allowance and maiden races carded at Gulfstream that could have an impact on the 3-year-old picture. Among those entered in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race are impressive maiden winner Bandini, a talented son of Fusaichi Pegasus   from Todd Pletcher's stable; maiden winner Indy Storm, trained by Nick Zito; the Bobby Frankel-trained Vitruvian; and Reverberate, who is coming off a solid third behind Dearest Mon and Devil at Sea in a classy allowance race.

A seven-furlong allowance test earlier on the card drew a strong field, including Shug McGaughey's runaway maiden winner Survivalist, and Zito's exciting prospect, Andromeda's Hero, as well as several other talented colts in the field of 12. Either one of these two impeccably bred colts could emerge from this race as a hot Derby prospect if they run back to their last race.

One horse to watch in a nine-furlong maiden race is another Zito colt, Noble Causeway, who has been second to Dearest Mon and Bandini and is still a bit green.

The Hutcheson Stakes, which normally is dominated by sprinters, has some big-name colts hoping to go on to bigger and better things. The big matchup looks to be between Laurel Futurity (gr. III) winner Defer, trained by McGaughey, and the Pletcher-trained Champagne (gr. I) winner Proud Accolade. Pletcher also has his recent allowance winner Vicarage entered. The field is rounded out by Futurity (gr. II) winner Park Avenue Ball, Devil at Sea and Carson's Bridge.

Proud Accolade looks to have an advantage at the shorter distance, assuming he's back in form after poor efforts in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and Hollywood Futurity (gr. I). Defer only needs to be competitive and show some kick in the stretch in what is basically a sharpener to set him up for the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II). The same can be said of Park Avenue Ball, who must improve on his speed figures to show he belongs with these kind of horses. Devil at Sea is another who is capable of running a big race after his 10 1/4-length maiden victory and a good second to Dearest Mon in 1:22 4/5.

Which brings us to the Holy Bull. If High Fly runs anything even close to his explosive score in the Aventura, he should be extremely tough again in a field that includes Aventura runner-up Drum Major, who should improve after a terrible start, in which he was creamed by High Fly shortly after the break. But the new face to keep an eye on is Dearest Mon, who has won his last two starts as if he has a bright future. It's just a question whether he's ready to handle a horse as talented as High Fly at this time. He looks to be sharp enough after his :59 flat work at Palm Meadows for Rick Violette..

If you're looking for a good price in here, the smart horse could be Criminal Mind, a consistent closer who is coming off a strong second to the highly regarded Harlington going 1 1/8 miles in the slop. This son of Cryptoclearance, trained by Stan Hough, has run five straight strong races and is out of a sensational female family that is loaded with class and stamina. You can probably get monster odds on him in the future book if you know anyone in Vegas.

Zito has an interesting colt in his new addition, G P's Black Knight, another consistent closer, who has plenty of stakes experience at Calder and a ton of stamina. Kansas City Boy, an 8 1/4-length maiden winner at Churchill Downs, is coming off a close third in the Lecomte Stakes for Kenny McPeek.

Saturday's nine-furlong Sham Stakes should also bring out some top Derby prospects, headed by Hollywood Futurity runner-up Giacomo, a son of Holy Bull whose only victory was a 10-length romp in a maiden race at Santa Anita going 1 1/16 miles; the undefeated Cal-bred Uncle Denny, who has a blue-blood pedigree and tons of talent; San Miguel (gr. III) winner Going Wild, stretching out from six furlongs for D. Wayne Lukas; Iced Out, a fast-closing second in the San Rafael Stakes (gr. II); Southern Africa, fourth in the Hollywood Futurity; and Patrick Biancone's highly touted maiden Chekhov.

Giacomo and Going Wild drew posts 10 and 9, respectively, and you can expect the latter to show good speed, coming off sprints and being on the lead in all of them in blistering half-mile fractions. Lukas has been working on getting him to relax, so we'll see how successful he's been. Uncle Denny looks like a promising colt who should relish the nine furlongs. His victory in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes was boosted when runner-up Iced Out came back to finish second in the San Rafael.

There were some serious works this week, headed by Declan's Moon's easy five-furlong spin in :59 4/5 without raising a sweat. Roman Ruler, who is ready to burst back onto the Derby scene in the Feb. 13 San Vicente (gr. II) drilled five furlongs in :58 4/5, while Golden Gate Derby winner Buzzard's Bay, zipped his five panels in :58 2/5.

In New York, Galloping Grocer continued his string of sharp works, drilling five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Belmont for the Whirlaway Stakes. Diamond Isle, a stakes-placed colt with a bright future had his first two breezes of the year at Gulfstream for Kenny McPeek. Zito's big horse, Sun King worked five furlongs in 1:01 2/5 at Palm Meadows. The regally bred Harlington, undefeated in two starts, drilled five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 at Palm Meadows; and at Oaklawn, Rockport Harbor went an easy five furlongs in 1:02 1/5.

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