Hard times in the Big Easy

With all due respect to Fifty Stars, who ran an excellent race to win the Louisiana Derby by two lengths, this race was a total throwout. Basically, we learned absolutely nothing. If anything, we came away with more respect for Dollar Bill and Hero's Tribute than we had before the race. Dollar Bill, especially, turned in a courageous effort, nearly falling approaching the three-sixteenths after clipping heels with Gracie's Dancer. We won't even get into why Pat Day decided to take the rail route when he had Dollar Bill clear throughout most of the race, and could have moved to the outside anytime he wanted until 102-1 shot True Concern came charging up on his outside like a runaway train at the five-sixteenths pole.

In fact, down the entire backstretch, there wasn't a horse anywhere near him in front or behind. But that's another matter. The fact is that after going down to his knees, Dollar Bill recovered and immediately took off on his own. Day gave him a few smacks with the whip, but he was up in the saddle and not really riding him hard. Dollar Bill angled to the rail and was flying at the end, finishing fourth, beaten a neck and a head for second. This colt is for real, and definitely established himself as a leading Derby contender.

Dallas Stewart said he came out of the race fine, with not a scratch on him, and he'll look ahead now to the Blue Grass Stakes. Stewart was noticeably disappointed, but said, "He's a runnin' s.o.b."

Hero's Tribute also ran a huge race, considering the trip he had in his first start around two turns. Fair Grounds, with it's endless stretch, is a tough spot to make your two-turn debut, especially when you don't get a chance to run. Hero's Tribute was stuck down on the rail the whole way and had to wait for Millennium Wind to make his move three-wide before he could get out. But by then, Sam Lord's Castle had moved up on his outside, sealing him in. Now he had to wait for Sam Lord's Castle to get clear of him. By now, he was behind a wall of horses and appeared to be going nowhere. Dollar Bill had already committed to the inside, so that was not an option. Chavez finally was able to steer him to the outside nearing the quarter pole, but True Concern came flying by just as he began his move, taking away the outside route. Turning for home, Hero's Tribute and Chavez were trapped, with not a speck of daylight. The only possible opening on his inside was quickly occupied by Fifty Stars, who weaved his way between horses, beating him to the punch. Chavez kept looking for a hole, but none ever opened. He finally got clear on the outside and followed True Concern. Hero's Tribute leveled off and came charging on the far outside, just missing catching Millennium Wind for second. Despite the eventful trip, he was bright and alert after the race, and Ward said it was as if he hadn't even run. This was a great learning experience and should set the colt up for a huge effort in the Blue Grass Stakes. He still has a tendency to look around and lose some of his concentration, so Ward will put blinkers on him. Like his stablemate Monarchos, Hero's Tribute is bred to run all day, making this a dynamite one-two punch.

As for Millennium Wind, he had a good, clean trip, but for his first start in two months, fourth start of his career, and first start outside California, this was a very encouraging effort. The big question with this colt are those nasty lesions that keep popping up on the back of his feet.

Yes, there was a winner of this race, and as we said, Fifty Stars ran a big race, beating Hero's Tribute to an opening between a tiring Gracie's Dancer and Millennium Wind. He was able to slip through, then cut to the inside of Millennium Wind for clear sailing to the wire. It looks as if the Lone Star Derby will be next for the son of Quiet American, sire of 1999 Derby winner Real Quiet.

And what about the move by True Concern, who four races back had finished fifth for a $50,000 claiming tag for Buddy Delp? Claimed by Tom Amoss, the son of Concern has improved steadily and seems ready to come into his own. Amoss told jockey Eddie Martin to lay back and make one run with him, but Martin was not prepared for what was to come. True Concern took off and came flying from dead last like someone had given him a hotfoot. At the quarter pole, he was running out of his mind, much like his sire did in the 1994 Travers, when he came from the clouds and just missed catching Holy Bull. It was uncanny how much he looked like Concern. The move came too soon and he simply couldn't sustain it down that long stretch. Still, he was only beaten 2 3/4 lengths. Amoss, who is expecting a huge Ragozin number, believes this colt is Derby material and expects him to be a late nominee. He'll try to prove it in one of the three big stakes on April 14.

The Star dims, while 'Keys' turns on ignition again

We have no idea how good Hoovergetthekeys is, but he sure has looked impressive in his last two starts. The son of Mt. Livermore destroyed his field in the El Camino Real Derby, winning by 7 lengths in a sharp 1:40 4/5 for the 1 1/16 miles, and was striding out beautifully in the final furlong. He has a fluid stride and keeps his head and shoulders down and seems to get excellent leverage. Of course, he still has to show what he can do outside Golden Gate, but he really is devouring his opposition up there, and who knows? He's won his last two in romps over a muddy track and a super-fast track. As for his name, don't worry about it. The better he gets the cuter it will sound. At least we hope so.

Startac, the overwhelming favorite, never seemed to get hold of the track and was climbing right from the start. When he finally put in his move, it was way too late, and he got caught in tight quarters, taking a few licks, while remaining on his left lead. This was a race Simon Bray can throw out, and hope the colt can make amends next time. The track was wet and incredibly fast, favoring speed. Bray said he knew he was dead the day before. He hasn't lost any confidence in the colt, but he only has one race left to show that he belongs in the Derby picture, and that could come in either the Santa Anita Derby or one of the three races on April 14.

No Pas de Deux for Golden Ballet

It's strictly a solo act for the queen of the 3-year-old fillies, as Golden Ballet continued her winning way, taking the Santa Anita Oaks by a length in a quick 1:41 4/5 for the 1 1/16 miles. The daughter of Moscow Ballet turned back one challenge, then edged clear and maintained her length advantage to the wire, coming home in :06 3/5 for the final sixteenth. Now it's up to Team Valor and company to decide whether she takes on the boys in the Santa Anita Derby.

One other race of note over the weekend, d'Wildcat annihilated his opposition in the 7-furlong Swale Stakes, winning by more than 10 lengths in 1:22 1/5, but with all the speed in his pedigree, he'll no doubt be kept at shorter distances.

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