Haskin's Derby Report: A Valentine for Zito and a Shooting Star at Turfway
by Steve Haskin
Date Posted: 3/26/2001 10:02:30 AM
Last Updated: 4/1/2001 5:41:28 PM

Balto Star's runaway victory in Turfway's Spiral Stakes was among the top performances of the weekend.
Photo: AP/Tom Uhlman
A monster runaway victory in Kentucky, a track record in Florida, a stirring two-horse battle in the deserts of Dubai, and a four-horse blanket finish in Arkansas. After Saturday's fast and furious action on the Derby trail, racing fans all over the country will be craving a fix during next weekend's lull before the major stakes frenzies of Apr. 7 and 14.

But until then all we can do is figure out what to make of Balto Star's performance from another planet in the Spiral Stakes, A P Valentine's brilliant wake-up call in a Hialeah optional claimer, the gutsy victory of Express Tour over stablemate Street Cry in the UAE Derby, and the thrilling score by Crafty Shaw in the Rebel Stakes.

We're actually going to put the Spiral Stakes on hold to discuss A P Valentine's victory, as there no doubt will be a diversity of opinion regarding the quality of competition and blazing-fast surface. The most important aspect of A P Valentine's victory was not the scorching time of 1:40 1/5, but the fact that the son of A P Indy did everything the right way, showing brilliance, a quick turn of foot, and a good deal of professionalism, and is back on schedule to compete in the Blue Grass Stakes.

Yes, he broke Hialeah's track record for 1 1/16 miles over a track which saw his stablemate Albert the Great sizzle 1 1/8 miles in a record-shattering 1:45 2/5, but what is important is that he did it under no urging in the slightest from jockey Eibar Coa, and still managed to come home his final sixteenth in :05 4/5. Even with the lightning-fast surface, how many 3-year-olds could have run faster, without any encouragement, and how many could have closed in quicker time. We can't remember any 3-year-old ever running 1 1/16 miles that fast.

Yes, he defeated a 4-year-old named Six Fifteen who had recently been claimed for $32,000, but that horse was a solid graded stakes horse in Canada last year, finishing right behind such major U.S. stakes horses as Milwaukee Brew and Kiss a Native. He seemed to be rounding back into form, winning his last start by 2 lengths, and was now in for $150,000.

Yes, he hasn't run in a stakes this year, but let's remember, he did defeat Point Given, City Zip, Yonaguska, Ommadon and other quality horses in the Champagne Stakes last year, coming off a maiden sprint, while Point Given had already won the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Cup Juvenile.

Coa rode a smart, patient race on Saturday, not panicking after Six Fifteen bounded away to an 8-length lead midway on the far turn. All Coa did was flick his wrists slightly and A P Valentine took off, cutting into the margin with every stride. Turning for home, Coa kept A P Valentine about 6- or 7-wide and just continued to sit on him, allowing him to do everything on his own. The colt changed leads smoothly and roared past the leader, throwing his ears around. With Coa still doing nothing on him, A P Valentine quickly burst clear, while running straight as an arrow out in the middle of track. Nearing the wire he cocked his ears straight up, as if he knew his job was done.

As we said, what's important is that trainer Nick Zito now has the colt's confidence back up, and he should be ready to knock heads with Dollar Bill, Hero's Tribute, and Millennium Wind in the Blue Grass Stakes. If Zito feels he needs another week, there's also the Lexington Stakes, but we don't like horses going into the Derby without ever having run 1 1/8 miles. It's been 51 years since a horse won the Derby without a 1 1/8-mile race in him.

"I have a good feeling now," Zito said. "He was professional and he was good in the paddock. He's had two races this year, the same as Hero's Tribute, Dollar Bill, and Millennium Wind. Our first choice now is the Blue Grass, with the Lexington the second choice. I'm just grateful to Hialeah for providing us with this race."

Spiraling out of control

OK, what to make of Balto's Star's remarkable performance. If there is one thing that's obvious about the son of Glitterman, it's that when he defeats his opponents, he doesn't believe in taking any prisoners. That's three victories now by margins of 11, 12 1/4, and 12 3/4. The only thing formful about the Spiral was that 55-1 shot Halo's Stride was beaten 12 3/4 lengths. Only he wasn't supposed to beaten that far and finish second.

Balto Star, making his stakes debut and first start this year away from Aqueduct's inner track, inherited the lead when Keats broke slowly. For all intents and purposes, that was the race. Mongoose was the only horse to threaten on the turn, but Balto Star, hugging the rail throughout the race, just blasted away turning for home as if he had been jettisoned by jockey Mark Guidry. He has such a smooth, powerful stride, he just seems to build momentum as the race goes on. Like in his previous annihilation, he refused to switch leads, and it was only when Guidry shifted to a series of left-handed whips that the gelding finally switched to his right lead. Still, he ran straight and true all the way to the wire.

If ever a horse needed gelding it was Balto Star, who was so studdish early in his career he'd have erections in the paddock and try to mount the pony on the racetrack, then get studdish again at the gate. He nearly was entered for a claiming tag, but trainer Todd Pletcher decided to give one more chance after he worked like a bullet one morning. After a decent fourth in the slop going two turns, he broke he maiden by 11 lengths and hasn't looked back.

We've seen enough races at Turfway to pass judgment on front-running victories such as this until a later time. What made this performance even more remarkable was that the previous final times on the card weren't that fast, yet he sizzled the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47 1/5, which would seem to give it more credibility than some may think. Before anyone dismisses this colt because of his sprinting sire, we did mention him in last week's Derby pedigree analysis as having a very deceptive pedigree.

Although Glitterman was a sprinter and has not sired anything with stamina, it must be noted that he's been bred mostly to mares with speed-oriented pedigrees. Glitterman's sire Dewan won the 1 1/4-mile Brooklyn Handicap, and his dam, Moon Glitter, is a full-sister to Relaunch, who has sired a number of long-distance runners, such as Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Waquoit. Balto Star's broodmare sire, Devil's Bag, has sired 1 1/4-mile grade I winners Devil His Due and Twilight Agenda. But mostly importantly, Balto Star's great-grandsire in his tail-female family is Stage Door Johnny, one of the strongest stamina influences in the country. The 1968 Belmont winner also is the tail-female great-grandsire of Derby winner Go for Gin. Balto Star's tail-female family is all Greentree, and his fourth dam Musical Chairs produced Louisiana Derby winner Woodchopper, who finished a fast-closing second, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the Kentucky Derby. Also note that his dosage index is a very low 1.81.

So, now what? Balto Star will be nominated to all three big races on Apr. 14, but he is eligible for a $1 million bonus if he should win the Blue Grass or Lexington and the Kentucky Derby, so it is conceivable Pletcher could wait until the Lexington. That 1 1/16-mile race with it's short stretch would be ideal for Balto Star.

Regardless of how good this gelding is and far he wants to go, the one thing that's sure is that whenever he's out there romping loose on the lead, no one is safe.

Continued. . . .

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