Stately Character, winner of the Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Calder

Stately Character, winner of the Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Calder

Jim Lisa

Ky. Derby Trail: Thursday Thrills

Two rocket ships will be launched at Gulfstream Park on Thursday, and don’t be surprised if a few of the passengers wind up landing in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.


Gulfstream has carded a pair of 1 1/8-mile allowance races, and both came up strong, with several in each race looking like potential major players on the Kentucky Derby trail, including a couple that were highly touted in the last column.


Those two are Idol Maker, from Todd Pletcher’s barn, and the Kenny McPeek-trained Danger in Society. Both drew the two inside posts, respectively, in the second division and could dominate that race, although a few others, such as Bruce N Autumn, A.P. Cardinal, and Theregoesjojo look like they have ability.


The first division came up extremely deep, with Free Country, Sincero, Atomic Rain, Stately Character, Pressure Point, and Stormalory all appearing to have a bright future.


Idol Maker, a son of Empire Maker , was impressive winning his career debut going a mile at Belmont, but then ran a disappointing fourth, beaten 13 lengths, to Old Fashioned in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) as the 3-1 second choice. This colt has been a problem child for anyone who has had their hands on him, mainly Pletcher and his father J.J., who gave him his early training. This is a horse who has numerous quirks and wants things done his way. First off, he detests the whip, as he showed in his debut when he flung his tail straight up in the air each time he was hit. He’s had a tendency in the past to bolt, almost jumping over the fence, and was so picky about his stall that Pletcher had to try out several stalls before he found one the colt liked. Because of that, he even had to school him the detention barn before his debut, putting him in the same stall, bringing him the same feed, and pretty much doing the same routine each time.


As owner Jim Scatuorchio said, “Todd is earning his money with this horse.” J.J. put it simply: “This horse hasn’t been easy.”


But the bottom line is, he has a ton of ability, and so far hasn’t exhibited any of his weird habits in the afternoon, other than informing his rider to lay off the whip. You had to love the way he rated off the pace in his debut, breaking from the rail, and then coming through a narrow opening on the inside to win by 1 1/2 lengths. He has the pedigree and the looks, and if he can keep his head on straight he should develop into a serious horse. For now, you have to be willing to forgive his Remsen performance, and a big effort on Thursday will have him back in the right direction.


His main competition should come from Danger to Society, who was very professional breaking his maiden at a mile at Churchill Downs in his career debut, defeating two talented colts in Final Judgement and Saratoga Sinner, both of whom you’ll likely be hearing from. By Harlan’s Holiday, he has a ton of stamina in his female family, and ironically, was bred and sold by Starlight Stables for $300,000. Starlight Stables owned Harlan’s Holiday, with whom McPeek won the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) before having the horse taken from him following the Preakness Stakes and turned over to Pletcher.


Zayat Stables, which is developing quite a 3-year-old arsenal with CashCall Futurity (gr. I) winner Pioneerof the Nile, as well as the promising Professor Z and Soul Warrior, may have another good one in Bruce N Autumn, a son of Lemon Drop Kid , who closed strongly in his debut at Churchill Downs to finish fourth, beaten one length before breaking his maiden in a game effort on the grass. When the Tropical Park Derby (gr. IIIT) was canceled this year, the plans for the colt changed and trainer Dale Romans elected to put him back on the dirt in this spot.


A.P. Cardinal, formerly trained by Cam Gambolati, has been turned over to Kiaran McLaughlin after finishing a well-beaten fourth to Old Fashioned in an allowance race. The son of A.P. Indy was impressive winning his career debut going six furlongs at Monmouth, but was thrown right into the Champagne Stakes (gr. I) and tired badly after pressing the pace to the quarter pole.


McPeek also sends out Theregoesjojo, who turned in a spectacular stretch run to break his maiden at first asking at Churchill Downs, going five furlongs in a sharp :57 4/5. He was then fourth in the Bashford Manor Stakes on July 5 as the 7-5 favorite, but hasn’t run since. This is a big stretch-out for the son of Brahms, but many trainers are in the same predicament because of the odd configuration of Gulfstream and the inability to run 1 1/16-mile races.


In the first division, you have proven stakes performers Atomic Rain, second in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes coming off a five-furlong maiden race, and Stately Character, winner of the Foolish Pleasure Stakes at Calder. You also have Sincero, who finished a good fourth in the In Reality division of the Florida Stallion Stakes after a dreadful start. He finished first in his only other two starts, getting disqualified in his debut and romping by 6 1/2 lengths going a mile and 70 yards following the In Reality. He is improving with every start and looks dangerous. All three horses are bred for distance, which gives this race all the more significance.


Darley Stable’s Stormalory finished fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) in his last start for Bill Mott, but in his previous start was beaten a neck by Kentucky Jockey Club winner Beethoven. So he does have ability.


Two horses having to come off sprint debuts are Free Country, another McPeek-trained colt, who blew his opponents away in the Churchill Downs slop coming from 10 lengths back at the top of the stretch to win going away, and Pressure Point, a son of Point Given, who wired his field in his career debut at Churchill Downs.


One to check off


It’s early in the year, but we’ve already seen a potential star in the making in a six-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream Saturday. The winner, Checklist, looks like he could be something special after easily defeating the highly touted More Than Willing, yet another McPeek-trained 3-year-old. Trained by Pletcher and owned by Starlight Partners, the son of Gone West had jockey John Velazquez looking back over both shoulders four times before he even got to the quarter pole. Despite pressing fractions of :21 4/5 and :44 4/5, Checklist was never asked to run, with Velazquez just hand-riding him the entire length of the stretch, while continuing to look back. More Than Willing ran a good race, finishing 4 3/4 lengths ahead of the third-place finisher, but could never threaten the winner.


Checklist’s dam, Yearly Report, is inbred to Seattle Slew through General Meeting and Slew o’ Gold, two grade I winners at 1 1/4 miles. With other names like Nijinsky, Riverman, Northern Dancer, and Foolish Pleasure in his female family, distance should not be an issue. His only drawback is getting a late start due to bucked shins, so, with only a six-furlong maiden race under him, and no starts as 2-year-old, he does having catching up to do.


Another colt to watch is the aforementioned Soul Warrior, who ran off to a  3 3/4-length maiden victory going a mile and 40 yards at Fair Grounds on Dec. 29. The son of Lion Heart dominated his opponents despite racing greenly. His pedigree is not conducive to 1 1/4 miles, with Meadowlake as his broodmare sire, but if he has one thing in his favor it is having an RF (Rasmussen Factor) inbreeding to the mare Nothirdchance, dam of Hail to Reason and Meadowlake’s dam, Be Suspicious.


Zayat’s other promising 3-year-old, Professor Z, who we’ve been touting since he finished an excellent third in a maiden race, has been sent to Oaklawn Park, where he’ll point for the Smarty Jones Stakes and Southwest Stakes (gr.III). His last two victories were impressive and he looks like a colt who is moving forward.


Zayat’s big horse, Pioneerof the Nile , got a good taste of life in Bob Baffert’s barn, working five furlongs in :58 2/5 Jan. 4, the fastest of 80 works at the distance. Baffert feels strongly this is his ticket to the Derby.


Although Notonthesamepage appears to be more of a sprinter-type, the son of Catienus opened a lot of eyes Saturday with a dazzling 8 1/4-length romp in the Spectacular Bid Stakes (gr. III), covering the six furlongs in a scorching 1:08 2/5. Trainer Wesley Ward will stretch him out in the one-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) and see where the colt takes him.


At Aqueduct, New York-bred Haynesfield justified his favoritism in the Count Fleet Stakes by tracking the pace and then drawing off in the final furlong. It was more workmanlike than his previous wins against state-breds, but the victory still established him as a legitimate Derby contender.


Also at Aqueduct, much was expected from Toulouse Lautrec after his second to Quality Road in his career debut, but he got caught up in a speed duel with Haitian Sensation stretching out to two turns, and the pair were inhaled in the final yards by Darley Stable’s Tranquil Manner, a royally bred son of A.P. Indy out of the top-class Composure.


Another race of note over the weekend was the victory by Copper Cascade in a one-mile maiden race for trainer Mark Hennig. He is by Grand Slam out of $600,000 earner Topicount and is inbred to Buckpasser among others.