Emerging Stars to Shine at Fair Grounds

Although this weekend’s action is headed by the grade III Southwest Stakes, El Camino Real Derby, and Sam F. Davis, and the 3-year-old debut of Imperial Council, a race to keep a close eye on is the 8th at Fair Grounds on Saturday.

The 1 1/16-mile allowance race features two horses who could emerge as exciting additions to the Kentucky Derby trail based on their most recent victories, in which neither was touched with the whip.

The more advanced of the two is Captain Cherokee, from the same team that brought you Curlin  – Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen. But the more brilliant of the two is Montecore, whose maiden score at six furlongs on Jan. 29 was a thing of beauty to watch.

The son of Hold That Tiger, trained by Steve Klesaris, set a solid pace of :22 3/5 and :46 2/5 while under snug restraint. When several horses came charging up on his outside, he shrugged them off with disdain and drew clear with the utmost ease, as jockey Jesus Castanon never moved a muscle other than to look behind him several times. He opened up on his own to win by 8 1/4 lengths in 1:10 2/5, earning an 82 Beyer figure. Despite the ease of his victory he still closed his last two furlongs in :11 4/5 and :12 1/5. He probably could have won by 15 in 1:09 and change had Castanon asked him to run at any point. This colt floats over the ground and now it’s just a question of how far he can stretch out.

His sire was a mile-to-1 1/8-mile horse, but his dam is by Gulch and his tail-female family is strong, with Grey Dawn II (by Herbager) as his great-grandsire. His dam also traces to Reneged and there is inbreeding to Sir Gallahad and Teddy. It will be interesting to see how he stretches out on Saturday. Like the exciting Haynesfield and Mr. Fantasy, he is a New York-bred. He was purchased for Puglisi Racing at the Ocala Feb. 2-year-old sale for $400,000.

Captain Cherokee, by Sir Cherokee (by Cherokee Run), also has more of a nine-furlong sire line, but his dam is by Dehere and his third dam, Berkut, by the great  Sea-Bird, is a full-sister to the classy French colt Gyr, who won the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and was second to Nijinsky in the English Derby.

In his last start, he tracked a slow pace along the rail, was trapped for most of the way, and then bulled his way through a small opening along the inside and drew off to win by three lengths, earning an 83 Beyer figure. He also was never touched with the whip and still came home his last quarter in :24 1/5 under Robby Albarado, who rides him back on Saturday. He was purchased at the Barretts March sale for $650,000.

If either of these two colts win in impressive fashion they will be hot commodities for the Louisiana Derby (gr. II).

There is another interesting horse in here that should be mentioned. Becky’s Express, bred and formerly owned by Stonerside Stable, was turned over to Darley Stable following their purchase of Stonerside’s horses and property. At the time, he had turned in two horrible performances on Arlington’s Polytrack. Trainer Mike Stidham sent him to Fair Grounds to run on dirt for the first time and dropped him in for a $25,000 claiming tag. The son of Congaree  romped by 10 1/2 lengths going a mile and 40 yards. Stidham then put him back in for $25,000. This time he won by six lengths and was claimed by Tom Amoss for Maggi Moss. Now he moves up to allowance company. His Beyers don’t stack up with those of Montecore and Captain Cherokee, but he’s an interesting horse nonetheless, just to see how he makes jump in class.

You also have the speedy Northern Prince, who is coming off a second, beaten 1 3/4 lengths in 1:09 4/5, earning a 91 Beyer. The son of Northern Afleet will be stretching out following four sprints. The Larry Jones-trained Doc’s Leader also has speed. Louie Roussel’s Cool Lion is coming off a solid maiden score at a mile.

With a good deal of speed in the race, it will be interesting to see what Montecore does breaking from post 2. If he’s to be a Derby contender, he can’t afford to get hooked in a speed duel stretching out from six furlongs, but who knows if anyone has the ability to run with him for very long.

Another interesting item on the Derby trail was the first official work by the undefeated Futurity (gr.II) winner Charitable Man, who breezed three furlongs in :37 2/5 at Palm Meadows Friday.