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I Want Revenge, an easy winner of the Gotham Stakes
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Skip Dickstein

Ky. Derby Trail: The Total Package

March means many things to owners and trainers of horses on the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) trail. There’s the nail-biting, the sleepless nights, and the early morning phone calls that every owner dreads. And for many it sadly means the end of the road.


But with March also comes the realization for a fortunate few that they have a legitimate Derby contender and that the dream lives on. On Saturday at Aqueduct, emotions were swirling around in the warm, spring-like breezes, along with the flocks of seagulls, as owners and trainers waited anxiously to find out whether or not they would be continuing on to Louisville.


When the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) was over and I Want Revenge  had destroyed his field by 8 1/2 lengths, it meant the end of the road for most of the participants. But for I Want Revenge’s owner and breeder David Lanzman and his wife Desirae, trainer Jeff Mullins, and jockey Joe Talamo, the Twin Spires were now in clear sight, and it was apparent they were already getting high on the scent of roses.


A jubilant Lanzman planted a kiss on I want Revenge and told Talamo, “Be back in four weeks, baby,” referring to the April 4 Wood Memorial (gr. I). Desirae then gave the colt a pat on the forehead and said just one word to him, which best described his performance: “Awesome.”


I Want Revenge became the first horse on this year’s Derby trail to have answered every question. In short, he is now the complete package. He is versatile enough to be on, near, or off the pace. He is bred to run all day, but has the necessary speed you want to see. He’s won a graded stakes around two turns, and, unlike his California colleagues, he has proven he not only handles the dirt, but relishes it. He’s a magnificent-looking horse and was a standout in the paddock. He has the right temperament, never turning a hair before or after the race, even when lavished with affection and posing for photographs. He demonstrated his ability to come home fast, closing his final three fractions in :24 1/5, :23 4/5, and :06 1/5. And he wasn’t even blowing after the race, which can be attributed in good part to all that stout, rugged Argentine and English blood in his tail-female family.


His trainer has won three consecutive Santa Anita Derbys and has been to the Kentucky Derby four times, with his best finish a solid fifth by Buzzard’s Bay in 2005.


His jockey has shown he has natural talent, but at age 19, he must make sure he remains an asset and not a liability when it comes to the Derby. This one time you can attribute his over-zealousness with the whip to youthful exuberance, but he has to remember from now on that the goal is for the horse to peak on May 2, not March 7. The lofty 113 Beyer he earned could be too much too soon, but at least this is a strong, tough colt whose talent is still untapped. It’s not that Talamo was pasting him with the whip, but once I Want Revenge was well clear of the field and drawing off with every stride, while running straight as the proverbial arrow, he should have put the whip away and geared the horse down a notch in the final sixteenth. The fact is, I Want Revenge had already put Mr. Fantasy away on his own and opened up by two lengths before Talamo even went to the whip, hitting him about a half-dozen times, then once again well inside the sixteenth pole when he was some six lengths in front. Finally, he put it away in deep stretch and vigorously hand-rode him to the wire.


With that said, he has ridden the horse flawlessly from a tactical standpoint, and obviously the two get along great with each other. If this were any other situation, there would be no issues. But the Derby trail is not any other situation and every move must be a building block to the first Saturday in May. And it’s tough to build off a monster performance such as this in early March. Fortunately, Mullins is an expert horseman and he and Talamo must now make sure the colt leaves something in the tank in the Wood Memorial (gr. I). Remember, Monarchos regressed slightly in the Wood after his spectacular performance in the Florida Derby (gr. I) and proceeded to run the second-fastest Kentucky Derby in history. It’s fun to see your horse win by a pole and earn gigantic speed figures and become one of the hot Derby favorites. But the bottom line is, these are preps and should be used as such. The only thing that matters is peaking on Derby Day.


With all the pressure that comes with the Derby, even for veteran riders, and with the TV show “Jockeys” being renewed for a second season and filming to begin soon, Talamo has to keep his head on his shoulders and show a maturity beyond his years, just as Steve Cauthen did, if he’s going to win the Derby. OK, that’s our lecture for the month.


I Want Revenge, a son of Stephen Got Even, out of the Argentine-bred Meguial, by Roy, had done all his racing on the synthetic surfaces in California. He showed great promise when he was beaten a nose by Pioneerof the Nile in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) at his home track of Hollywood Park last December. But when he turned in a flat performance in his 3-year-old debut, finishing third in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) as the 2-1 second choice, the decision was made to send the horse east to see how he’d handle the dirt.


“He was never comfortable on that track,” Mullins said. “They had gotten a bunch of rain and the track was spotty, and never did get hold of it.”


Lanzman added, “We were so confident going into in the Lewis. At the top of the stretch we almost started walking down to the winner’s circle. Even Joe said it was just a question of how much he was going to win by. But he never kicked it in. When I talked to Joe he said the horse was just spinning his wheels. Watching him struggle with that surface, we decided right then to come here and put him on the dirt. I raced his dam, and when we ran her on anything but firm dirt she got her butt kicked. But when we ran her on firm dirt she ran great.”


Lanzman, who won the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Sprint with Squirtle Squirt, bought Meguial privately after she had finished second in the group I Argentine Oaks and Argentine 1,000 Guineas. “I’m not in the breeding business; this was my first broodmare,” Lanzman said. “I spent hours on eNicks looking for a mating, and Stephen Got Even is who came up on the screen with the most quality points.”


Mullins agonized all week whether to keep the blinkers on I Want Revenge, not knowing if they helped or hurt him in the Robert Lewis, or whether they had no effect at all. It wasn’t until the day of the race that he made his decision.


“I watched a few races here and saw the way the track was playing and figured I’d leave them on,” he said.


The biggest surprise in the Gotham was seeing Imperial Council and Haynesfield drop so far off the pace, racing at the back of the pack. Imperial Council, who was still seven lengths back at the three-sixteenths pole and looked like he had no shot to hit the board, put in a strong rally to get up for second, a neck in front of Mr. Fantasy. Considering it was his first two-turn race and he was taken completely out of his game plan, this was an excellent performance and he should only improve off it. An attractive, racy-looking colt, he also looked terrific in the paddock and is still one to watch.


“He came out the race fine and is on his way back to Florida,” trainer Shug McGaughey said Sunday. “We’ll freshen him up a little, and if everything is right, we’ll send him back up there and run him in the Wood Memorial (gr. I). I think he’ll learn a lot from this race. He finished strong and when he gets on that bigger track at Aqueduct I think it’ll suit him a lot better than the inner track. I was surprised to see him that far back. There was no pace, and when he finally got going the race was already over. I thought he’d be right in behind the speed. Rajiv (Maragh) said he dropped his hands on him and the horse relaxed really well, but fell back farther than he thought he would. I feel we accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish except for winning and this wasn’t a win-or-else race.”


West Point’s Terry Finley said after the race that Mr. Fantasy likely will not continue on the Derby trail, and could be pointed for the Preakness.


Lanzman, who celebrated his birthday the day before the Gotham, has I Want Revenge’s half-brother in the Barretts 2-year-old sale March 10. “I think his brother just got pulled out of the sale,” he kidded. “His price just went up. I’m on cloud nine right now.”


After the race, Desirae watched the replay, and as I Want Revenge drew off, she again used few words to describe what everyone was feeling: “Oh…my…God.”


Euros Vie for Spot in Kentucky Derby


Although we can expect a bit of controversy when the American horse with the 20th highest graded earnings gets left out of this year’s Run for the Roses, we all have to face the fact that there is an automatic spot open to the winner of the Kentucky Derby Challenge at England’s Kempton Race Course March 18.


From the looks of it, there could be several interesting 3-year-olds looking for that spot.


One horse who has had designs on the Derby Challenge Stakes is Markyg, an English-trained son of Fusaichi Pegasus , out of the Storm Cat mare Spring Pitch who is two-for-two on Kempton’s all-weather track and certainly bred for the dirt.


Markyg, trained by Karl Burke, proved a useful 2-year-old on grass, with his best effort coming in a third-place finish at odds of 22-1 in the seven-furlong Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot.


Following a disappointing fourth against maidens at Ascot, he was put on the synthetic surface and responded with a half-length victory going a mile. Out for more than four months, he returned in a seven-furlong handicap and scored by two lengths under 133 pounds, giving 10 pounds to the runner-up and nine pounds to the third-place finisher.


Markyg was a $110,000 buy-back at the Keeneland September yearling sale. Sent to the Tattersalls April 2-year-old sale he was sold for $206,913 to the BBA Ireland, acting for Maura Gittins.


Another promising colt heading for Kempton is Team Valor’s Gitano Hernando, an easy winner at Wolverhampton going 1 3/16 miles in his only start on a synthetic track. The son of Hernando, who won under 129 pounds in a 12-horse field, is considered more of a Belmont Stakes (gr. I) horse at this point, but a big performance in the Challenge could redirect him to Churchill Downs.


Some of the leading trainers in Europe have expressed interest in the Kentucky Derby Challenge.


Aidan O’Brien is considering Born to be King, a maiden winner at Gowran Park by Storm Cat; Chief Lone Eagle, a maiden winner at Leopardstown by Giant’s Causeway; or Great Wisdom. John Gosden, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic with Raven’s Pass last year, lists as possibles: Nawaadi, a son of El Corredor who won his only career start on Polytrack at Great Leighs; Close Alliance, also a maiden winner on the Polytrack at Great Leighs; Mafaaz, who won on Polytrack at Kempton in his career debut; and Red Spider, a son of Red Ransom who was an impressive winner on Polytrack at Kempton before running poorly in the group I Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster on grass.


Other Challenge possibles are Deposer (John Best), the intriguing filly Pachattack (Gerard Butler), Haashad (Mark Johnston), and Formula and Weald Park (Richard Hannon).


Bubbling under the surface


It is now March 10. Is it possible there are still so-called under-the-radar horses out there that many people aren’t that familiar with?


The answer is yes, and several will show up this weekend looking to catapult themselves near the top of the Derby lists.


One horse who caught our attention when he finished a close second in a maiden race despite a nightmare trip is Wise Kid, who has since come back to win his next two races at Oaklawn. In that maiden race, the son of Lemon Drop Kid , trained by Tim Ritchey, overcame a bad start and traffic problems along the inside and still was beaten only a neck by Buzzin and Dreamin, who came right back in the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) off that race and finished a solid third at 64-1 behind consensus Derby favorite Old Fashioned.


Wise Kid had a clean trip next time out, made big run from 11 lengths back, and was able to wear down a loose-on-a-big-lead Good Sermon, who had been third, beaten 1 1/4 lengths, in the aforementioned maiden race. The margin likely would have been greater had Wise Kid not kept lugging in during the stretch run. Good Sermon boosted the form by coming back and breaking his maiden next time out by 2 3/4 lengths.


In Wise Kid’s next start, Ritchey got permission from the stewards to add blinkers off a victory in order to correct the colt’s greenness. Wise Kid ran into Buzzin and Dreamin again, who trainer Wayne Lukas was sending right back in 11 days. This time, Buzzin and Dreamin was no match for Wise Kid, who kept a perfectly straight course after tracking a slow pace in the slop and drew off to a 4 1/4-length victory, the same number of lengths Old Fashioned had beaten Buzzin’ and Dream in the Southwest.


In his three races, Wise Kid’s Beyer figures have gone from 75 to 76 to 88. He still has a ways to go and may turn out to be more of a Belmont horse, but he’s progressing the right way, Ritchey feels confident in bringing him back in 15 days in the Rebel Stakes (gr. III), and he is bred to run all day, being out of a Seeking the Gold mare. His third dam is Six Crowns (by Triple Crown winner Secretariat out of Triple Crown winner Chris Evert), who is the dam of champion Chief’s Crown. Look for this horse to keep improving.


With most of the Tampa talk focused on General Quarters and his human interest story, the Sam F. Davis (gr. III) runner-up Sumo has gone virtually unnoticed. But this son of Fusaichi Pegasus, trained by Graham Motion for Arthur Hancock, is improving with every race and is bred to run all day. His tail-female line is all stamina, made up of the best Darby Dan and C.V. Whitney blood, with names like Dynaformer, Roberto and Gulfstream Park Handicap winner Court Recess. His third dam, Quatre Saisons, is the granddam of grade I winner Honey Ryder. This is a tail-female family that has strong inbreeding to Man o’War and Sir Gallahad.


His first start at Tampa, a mile and 40-yard allowance race on a good track, had to be seen to be believed. After opening a five-length lead in the stretch, he started pulling him up, totally losing his action as if he were coming to a complete stop and ducking to the outside. In a flash, his lead was gone and he was passed on the inside, with another horse pulling alongside him on his outside. Then, as quickly as he had lost his action he got it back, leveling off and surging forward to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths. He didn’t beat much, but it still was quite extraordinary to see.


In the Sam Davis, Sumo broke from post 10, tracked the pace after going three-wide into the first turn. He was fanned four-wide turning for home, and although he couldn’t catch General Quarters, who had a ground-saving trip throughout, he was striding out beautifully at the end, finishing three lengths ahead of Musket Man, earning a 94 Beyer. He’s now finished first or second at Tampa, Laurel, and Delaware Park. Watch for him at a price in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). But even if he can’t handle General Quarters again or Hello Broadway, he’s still a horse to keep an eye on when the distances stretch out.


Following in the footsteps of his conqueror Dunkirk, Santana Six, who finished second to the Todd Pletcher colt in his career debut, came back to break his maiden on the front end for Nick Zito, earning a 95 Beyer (Dunkirk came back with a 98). Although his margin was only 1 1/4 lengths, the runner-up, Polished, finished 11 3/4 lengths ahead of the third horse in a 12-horse field.


Santana Six is by Hold That Tiger, winner of the group I Grand Criterium in France, third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles, and second to Mineshaft  in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I). His dam is by Florida Derby (gr. I) winner Cape Town, who is by Seeking the Gold, out of Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Seaside Attraction, also the dam of champion Golden Attraction. Santana Six’s second dam, Brush Back, is by the top-class sire Broad Brush, out of a Chieftain mare.


Keep a close eye on Mythical Power, who was relentless breaking his maiden by a neck over front-running stablemate Street Car going a mile on March 6. Trained by Bob Baffert, this son of Congaree is progressing the right way and Baffert has always been high on him. He posted a solid time of 1:37 1/5 and the runner-up finished 8 1/2 lengths ahead of the third horse.


Several others, some new faces and some old forgotten faces, who are worth watching in next weekend’s stakes extravaganza are Flat Out , who could be ready for a big performance in the Rebel Stakes; and Terrain, a top-class 2-year-old, who has been working lights out for his 3-year-old debut at Fair Grounds. Three horses in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) looking to move forward off defeats are Flying Pegasus, Giant Oak, and Free Country. Flying Pegasus, who could be a far superior horse than most people think, and Giant Oak both had been ranked fairly high on our Derby Dozen, and a big performance by either on Saturday would shoot them right back near the top. Even a big rebound race from Poltergeist in the Rebel or Free Country in the Louisiana Derby could spring them back into the mix, as it could an up-and-comer like Captain Cherokee.


Where is Stardom bound?


Judging from their comments, Stardom Bound’s connections do not seem as inclined to try the colts in the Santa Anita Derby (gr.I) as they did before her desperation nose victory in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I), especially after earning an 87 Beyer figure. Whether or not she’s up to handling the boys, let’s not ignore the fact that she showed true heart and a dogged determination to pull out this win after having to go some nine-wide turning for home.


It certainly was not her best effort in terms of speed and dominance, even though most everyone thought she would improve in leaps and bounds off her debut in the Las Virgenes (gr. I). But horses often will regress second race back off a layoff, and perhaps she ran harder than people thought in the Las Virgenes when only 70% fit. The Oaks did tell us something about her we didn’t know before and that is she certainly has the will to win. The fact is, she’s won five grade I stakes in a row and that is an incredible achievement. There is no doubt Bobby Frankel and IEAH Stables will do what’s best for her.


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