Lynn Roberts/Hodges Photography

Kentucky Derby Trail: Gung Ho

A look back at last weekend's races and a profile of allowance winner Hotep.

Big weekend coming up with four stakes in California, Oaklawn, and Tampa Bay, which should make for quite a bit of activity on the so-far stagnant Derby Dozen. We’ll have a closer look at these races on Friday.


Profile of the week


Although his time was nothing to rave about, anyone who saw Hotep win an allowance/optional claimer at Fair Grounds Feb. 1 had to be impressed from a visual standpoint. By A.P. Indy, out of Canadian 3-year-old filly champion Eye of the Sphynx(by Smart Strike), Hotep is a full brother to last year’s Queen’s Plate winner Eye of the Leopard .


Under Robby Albarado, Hotep was taken back farther off the pace in the six-horse field than he had been in his two previous starts. By doing so, he was able to show off a new dimension, going from fifth to first in a flash, circling horses while still under wraps. That’s what you want to see in a young 3-year-old who makes that kind of move on the far turn. You often see a horse make up ground quickly being pushed along, but when they do it with the rider sitting motionless, there’s a good chance you’re looking at a quality individual.


Hotep spurted clear of the field turning for home and steadily drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths under a hand ride the length of the stretch. When Albarado looked over both shoulders at the three-sixteenths pole you knew the race was over. The runner-up, Down With Dixie, was coming off an impressive maiden score for trainer Paul McGee, so it looks as if he beat a good horse.


With this victory, his impeccable pedigree, and being trained by Mark Frostad and owned by Sam-Son Farms, there is little reason why Hotep should not have a bright future. If he can step up in class and turn in a similar effort, while improving his speed figures, we could be looking at a budding star.


Speeding and reckless driving


When you go Eightyfiveinafifty, the last thing you want to do is blow a tire on a turn, and that’s pretty much what appeared to happen to the 2-5 favorite in Saturday’s Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct. Eightyfiveinafifty, going two turns for the first time, was rushed up to the lead by Jorge Chavez and then proceeded to spin out of control as he hit the first turn. Chavez eased him, but the colt crashed into the rail, unseating his rider, who had to be taken to the hospital. Both horse and jockey, thankfully, are OK, with Eightyfiveinafifty suffering a two-inch cut on his right hind leg, jumping the rail and running through the backstretch. He returned with equipment damage, but it was unsure whether it happened during the race or after running off.


In the meantime, Peppi Knows, the Penn National shipper who was making his first start since finishing second to Buddy's Saint in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II), wound up having a perfect stalking trip before taking over turning for home and holding off Afleet Again and Three Day Rush to win by a length. Three Day Rush was the one who took the worst of it, having the misfortune of being directly outside Eightyfiveinafifty when he blew the turn, forcing Three Day Rush to steady sharply after being carried out to the middle of the track. Under the circumstances, he ran well to be beaten 1 1/2 lengths.


This wasn’t a particularly strong race, but Peppi Knows still got the job done and should improve after returning to the running style he displayed in the Remsen.


More weekend races


The 3-year-old races got off to an early start Feb. 3 when trainer Bob Baffert ran 1-2 in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race with The Program and Indian Firewater. The latter, stretching out to two turns for the first time, was able to get away with ridiculously slow fractions of :50.50 and 1:15.12, and it took a determined effort and a :05 4/5 final sixteenth by The Program to nip him by a nose in 1:44.64. Baffert was high on The Program going into the race, especially with the way he was training, having drilled five panels in :58 2/5.


The Program is by Florida Derby (gr. I) and Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) winner Harlan’s Holiday. His second dam, Far Flying, finished third in the Mother Goose and fourth in the Acorn and CCA Oaks (all gr. I) and is a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Distaff and Spinster (both gr. I) winner Sacahuista and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) runner-up John’s Treasure. The Program’s fourth dam, Nalee, is a full sister to Hall of Famer Shuvee, winner of the Acorn, Mother Goose, CCA Oaks, Alabama, and back-to-back runnings of the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. So, we’re talking plenty of stamina on both sides.


There were two European horses in the race who were making their U.S. debuts, and both were hurt by the slow pace. Jairzihno, trained by Simon Callaghan, ran on well enough to finish third, but couldn’t make up any ground through those fast final fractions. Get a Grip, who had been purchased by Team Valor and Gary Barber after breaking his maiden on the Polytrack at Kempton, had a horrendous start, getting bumped coming out of the gate and bobbling, dropping back to last. He looked strong nearing the head of the stretch, but couldn’t sustain his move.


On Feb. 4, Hall of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas made his presence felt, sending out Northern Giant to a wire-to-wire, 11 1/4-length victory in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Oaklawn. The son of Giant's Causeway  was making his sixth career start, coming off a third and a second in his two previous starts. Although his final time of 1:47.15 appears to be extremely slow, it must be noted that in the following race, for 3-year-old allowance horses, the 8-5 favorite, Brewer, covered the same distance in 1:48.53.


The action returned to Santa Anita the following day, with the West Point colt Boulder Creek overcoming a pushing and shoving match to win a 1 1/16-mile maiden race by one length over the fast-closing favorite Ziggy's Stardust. Boulder Creek, a son of Tapit , has hit for the cycle in his first four career starts, finishing first, second, third, and fourth, saving the best for last. He obviously still has a lot to learn, as he kept trying to get in down the stretch, while on his left lead, and was leaning on pacesetter Brace Yourselves. Judging from this race and his last, when he wore blinkers for the first time, he’s a fighter and can take it when it gets rough.


Although Ziggy’s Stardust is still a maiden after three starts, don’t be surprised if trainer Jerry Hollendorfer says “the heck with it,” and runs him next against winners, even in a stakes. That’s how good this son of Maria's Mon has looked in his three career starts. Breaking from the far outside in the 10-horse field, he lost ground the entire way, had to swing five wide turning for home and was lengthening his stride beautifully in the final furlong. At the wire it looked like he was just getting started. In his first two starts, a fast-closing fourth and third, he ran into two talented colts in Hawaiian Springs and Concord Point. The two horses he split in his third to Concord Point–Leothelion and Nextdoorneighbor–both came back to score impressively.


On Saturday at Gulfstream, front-running Wildcat Frankie was fully extended to win a one-mile allowance race, but doesn’t look like he wants to go much farther than that, especially with a :27.51 final quarter.


Looking much more like a Derby horse was maiden winner Day of Destiny, who ran down a tough horse on the lead in pace-setting Chasing Ted. The son of Distorted Humor , trained by Chad Brown, tracked a stiff pace and had enough left to run down the leader in 1:23.22 for the seven furlongs. Distance should be no problem for this colt, whose first two dams are stakes winners, but there is speed in his female family through Afleet.


Sunday at Fair Grounds saw Fast Alex, a fast-closing third in his debut, stretch out from six furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and score a 1 1/4-length victory. He is by Afleet Alex , out of the Unbridled mare Unaffordable.


Finally, on Sunday at Gulfstream, Interactif, favored at 4-5, was beaten a nose by the multiple stakes-winning Bim Bam, again pressing the pace the whole way, as he did in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. We’ve made our feelings known that this colt is much more effective coming from far back with a late run, and his pedigree suggests a return to the dirt should be forthcoming in order to see once and for all if he is Kentucky Derby material. He’s shown he has the class, the dirt pedigree, and the closing kick to at least give it a shot. He can always go back to the grass if it doesn’t work out.


Bim Bam certainly was no major surprise, having won and placed in stakes on the grass and dirt. In nine career starts, he has never finished out of the money. His pedigree (Deputy Wild Cat—Laurel Light, by Colony Light), as his record suggests, is an excellent blend of grass and dirt, and there is plenty of class and stamina on top and bottom. This is not a horse to be taken lightly, and there is no reason why he also shouldn’t return to the dirt after winning the Foolish Pleasure and finishing third to Jackson Bend in all three divisions of the Florida Stallion Series.


Horses to watch


One of the most impressive maiden defeats last year was the second-place finish by Our Dark Knight, who had a horrible trip in his career debut at Saratoga. The son of Medaglia d'Oro  is back on the work tab for Nick Zito and turned in a strong half-mile drill in :47 4/5 at Palm Meadows Saturday, the fourth fastest of 51 works. Watch out for him when he shows up in the entries.


Also working well for Zito is the Mineshaft  colt, Fly Down, who showed an excellent turn of foot breaking his maiden at 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs in November. The horse who ran second to him, First Dude , came back to break his maiden by almost three lengths at Gulfstream Jan. 30. The third-place finisher, Down With Dixie, also won his next start impressively, and the then finished a solid second to the highly promising Hotep in an allowance race.


Zito’s other 3-year-old to keep an eye on is Ice Box , an allowance winner going 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Jan. 18. He should show up in Saturday’s Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) at Tampa Bay Downs, which is expected to draw a strong field headed by the unbeaten house horse Uptowncharlybrown .


All those waiting for Noble's Promise  to return to the work tab, the Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) winner breezed three furlongs in :37 at Gulfstream Saturday. One of the most honest juveniles seen last year, the son of Cuvee also finished second in the grade I CashCall Futurity and third in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I).


Also returning to the work tab after a brief absence was champion Lookin At Lucky , who Baffert caught in :50 for the half-mile.