Nobiz Like Shobiz, Great Hunter, Stormello, and Scat Daddy will get most of the headlines in the Fountain of Youth and Robert B. Lewis Stakes (both gr. II), but there is undiscovered talent just waiting to take the Derby trail by storm, including a couple trained by two familiar names
We saw one on Feb. 19 when the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Flying First Class burst on the scene with a spectacular maiden victory at Oaklawn Park, in which he earned outrageous speed figures, but more on him later.
Is it possible that Bob Baffert, who combined with Lukas to win five consecutive Kentucky Derbys from 1995 to 1999, also will be unveiling a hidden star?
Baffert, who discovered a gem in 2002 when he purchased eventual Derby winner War Emblem five weeks before the race, has gone shopping again this year, and has come up with a Sweetsouthernsaint gelding named Saint Paul, who has been tearing up the track in the mornings at Santa Anita and is considered a likely starter for Saturday’s Robert B. Lewis.
Saint Paul, formerly trained at Calder by Paul Maxwell, hadn’t shown too much in his first four starts, with a second, third, and fourth on the grass and dirt. But when Maxwell put the blinkers on him in a one-mile maiden race on the dirt, Saint Paul drew off to an 8 ¼-length victory. That sent Baffert’s bloodhounds sniffing around looking to buy the horse.
According to Maxwell, their initial offer was turned down, but a second attempt at a higher price sealed the deal. Saint Paul was then sent to the McKathan brothers’ farm in Ocala for a few weeks before going to Baffert, who had bought the horse for Mike Bello, who owned Megahertz.
“If he wins the Derby, good luck to him,” Maxwell said. “He was kind of immature last year and was looking around at things, but the blinkers really helped. I’ve always thought this horse had a lot of ability.”
After being sent to Baffert, Saint Paul came down with a little virus, but bounced back and worked a half in :48 1/5, another half in :46 flat, five-eighths in :58 2/5, and seven furlongs in 1:24 4/5. Baffert has a few other Derby possibilities in Law Breaker, who goes for the WinStar Derby, and Air Commander, who worked five furlongs in :57 4/5 Monday for an allowance race next weekend, but Saint Paul, with a big effort, would be his first major two-turn stakes horse.
Another horse to watch in the Lewis, who is way under the radar despite being stakes-placed, is the late-running Boutrous, trained by Craig Dollase. The son of Tiznow turned in powerful stretch runs to win a maiden race and allowance race at Hollywood Park before finishing second in the California Derby after a nightmare trip.
Running by himself at the back of the strung-out field, some 10 lengths off the pace, Boutrous made a huge run, but was kept on the rail by jockey Kent Desormeaux. When he ran right up behind a wall of horses, Desormeaux was forced to pull back on the throttle, just as the eventual winner, Bwana Bull, was charging past him. Boutrous finally was able to split horses and get a clear run, but the winner was long gone by then. Look for big improvement in the Lewis. If Boutrous doesn’t run in the Lewis, he will return to Northern California for the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) the following week.
As mentioned in an earlier column, it is interesting to note that Boutrous’ sire, Tiznow, and broodmare sire, Forty Niner, were two of the gutsiest horses you’ll ever see and loved a good fight. They won a total of eight photos in their career, all in major stakes, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic twice, Travers, and Haskell Invitational (all gr. I) and the NYRA Mile (now the grade I Cigar Mile).
One other horse who has been training brilliantly for the Robert Lewis and bears watching is Giacomo’s half-brother Tiago, who most recently was placed first by disqualification in one of the most bizarre races in memory. Tiago was making a big run on the far turn in the 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Santa Anita Jan. 21, and seemed on his way to victory when the leader, Spankey Come Home bolted to the outside, carrying Tiago well out past the middle of the track.
The son of Pleasant Tap quickly regained his momentum, cut back to the inside of Spankey Come Home, and actually stuck his head in front nearing the wire. But, incredibly, he was nipped in the final yards by none other than Spankey Come Home, who had ducked out a second time in mid-stretch. Naturally, Spankey Come Home was disqualified.
Looking at the race objectively, the field came home slow, and Spankey Come Home and third-place finisher Time Squared both ran poorly in their next starts – the Risen Star (gr. III) and Sham Stakes (gr. III), respectively. But Tiago has since turned in six-furlong works in 1:13, 1:12 2/5, and 1:12 3/5, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in his first stakes appearance.
If you're looking for a couple of potential breakout performances this weekend keep a close eye on the Shug McGaughey-trained Sightseeing and Rescue Party, both of whom will be entered in allowance races. Sightseeing, second in the Nashua Stakes (gr. III), ran a big race finishing second in his 3-year-old debut, despite not being fully wound tight for the race. He should be tough to beat going 1 1/8 miles Saturday. Rescue Party will be entered at 7 1/2 furlongs, and he could be any kind, judging by his sensational maiden score. If McGaughey is Derby-bound this year, we'll know it after Saturday.
As for the Fountain of Youth, we all know what Nobiz Like Shobiz is capable of, and Scat Daddy has already proven his class. The latter’s five-furlong breeze in 1:01 Saturday was his first work since the Feb. 3 Holy Bull. Drums of Thunder looks to be improving rapidly and should move forward off his second in the Holy Bull. Stormello’s travel plans, as of Tuesday morning, were still up in the air, as trainer and co-owner Bill Currin was waiting for word on a FedEx flight to Florida. But he’ll go in either the Fountain of Youth, where Currin desperately wants to run, regardless of the cost, or the Robert Lewis, with a possibility of waiting a week and running in the Louisiana Derby. Currin wants to take on Nobiz Like Shobiz in the worst way and put an end to what he terms an Eastern bias.
If there was ever a horse who was ready for his 3-year-old it’s Stormello, who has had eight works, including three at five furlongs, two at six furlongs, one at seven furlongs, and one at a mile. After working a mile in 1:39 1/5, he went five furlongs in a bullet :58 1/5, fastest of 63 works at the distance.
In the next tier is Adore the Gold, who has shown a great deal of potential and is looking to stretch out after a game victory in the Swale Stakes (gr. II) in fast time. A big race in the Fountain of Youth and he will zoom up near the top of the pack. Just behind him are Delightful Kiss, Johannesburg Star, Chelokee, and Meritocracy, who would have to step way up. The Todd Pletcher-trained Sam P. could go here or in the Robert Lewis. Despite his well-beaten fourth in the Holy Bull, the feeling is that this still is a horse with a lot of potential, and on his best day is one to watch, regardless of which race he runs in.
The big weekend actually gets off to a rousing start on Thursday with Godolphin's undefeated Nashua Stakes (gr. III) winner Day Pass entered at Nad al Sheba in the about 1 1/8-mile Al Bastikaya as a prep for the UAE Derby (UAE-II) on March 31. Although he won the Nashua convincingly, it was Day Pass' maiden victory at Belmont that suggests he is no ordinary horse. After breaking dead-last, he made an amazing run -- a flat-out sustained run from gate to wire -- outside horses that you just don't see, especially at Belmont and especially from a first-time starter.
Lukas flying first class to Louisville
Wayne Lukas is excited. I mean really excited. Lukas, who lost his main Derby hope Pegasus Wind to an ankle injury this year, is flying high over Flying First Class, a son of the Lukas-trained stallion Perfect Mandate, whom he considered one of the fastest horses he ever trained.
Flying First Class not only destroyed a good maiden field by eight lengths in 1:09 4/5, coming home his final quarter in :24 1/5 against a strong headwind, he received a monster 107 Beyer Speed Figure and an even more impressive “3 ½” on the Ragozin Sheets, according to Lukas.
The last time Lukas won the Kentucky Derby was in 1999, shortly after he was elected to the Hall of Fame. He is hoping history can repeat itself this year, as he recently learned he has been elected to the Quarter-Horse Hall of Fame, becoming the only person ever to be elected to both the Thoroughbred and Quarter-Horse Hall of Fame.
“This is really an honor, because it also takes in cutting horses, reining horses, and many others,” Lukas said. “Right now, I’m really excited about this colt. He’s something else. He’s a big, grand-looking horse who weighs 1,200 pounds, maybe a little more. He has a great mind, and I thought he was something special right from the beginning.
“After finishing second in his debut at Turfway last September, I gave him some time off because of a shin. I really didn’t want to run him back at six furlongs. Tim Ritchey, John Servis, Tony Reinstedler, and Bob Holthus all loved their horses in the race, and he just destroyed them. He got a “3 ½” on the Ragozin Sheets, and you rarely even see horses going into the Derby off that kind of number. What made it even more amazing is that he came home as fast as he did against a 30 mile-an-hour headwind, where the flags were practically flying off the poles. And he galloped out seven furlongs in 1:22 3/5.”
Now, it’s on to the Rebel Stakes (gr. III). As for Flying First Class having to go into the Kentucky Derby off only four career starts, the always upbeat Lukas said he looks at that as more of “an advantage than a disadvantage.”
“That’s perfect,” he added. “If there’s one thing I don’t have to worry about, it’s getting this horse fit.”
For those who like horses inbred to top-class mares (also known as the Rasmussen Factor), Flying First Class is inbred top and bottom to Somethingroyal, dam of Secretariat.
In other Derby news:
-- Trainer Rick Violette, fearing a “bounce,” has been taking it easy with Summer Doldrums, who is coming off a huge effort in the Whirlaway Stakes. Instead of working him, Violette has elected to “undertrain” him, giving him long gallops and two-minute licks. With the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) getting closer (March 10), Violette likely will work him sometime this week.
-- Doug O’Neill said all is well with his four Derby hopefuls. Great Hunter will make his 3-year-old debut in Saturday’s Robert Lewis; Liquidity runs in the Louisiana Derby; Notional will go in either the Florida Derby, depending on what Nobiz Like Shobz does, or wait for the Wood Memorial (gr. I) a week later; and Cobalt Blue will point for the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II).
-- Jamie Sanders, who has been a familiar sight on the backstretch for years showing off her trick pony, has already started teaching Southwest winner Teuflesberg to do tricks. Whenever she asks “Jo Jo,” as he’s called, if he’s being a good boy, the horse nods his head, after which he gets his usual treat.
Teuflesberg is named after a hill in Berlin, actually spelled Teufelsberg, which translates to Devil’s Mountain. It was built by the Allies after Word War II from the rubble of Berlin’s bombed out buildings. It is estimated that the amount of rubble is equivalent to 400,000 buildings. Buried underneath the hill is a Nazi military-technical college designed by Albert Speer that the Allies were unable to demolish, so they began dumping rubble on top of it.
-- Peachtree Stable’s Twilight Meteor turned in a strong stretch run to win Saturday’s Hallandale Beach Handicap on the grass for Todd Pletcher. Now it’s back to the main track (he won the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Stakes on Keeneland’s Polytrack surface) for the Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II), after which he could return to Keeneland for the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). Peachtree also owns Fountain of Youth hopeful Meritocracy.
-- Saturday’s 7 1/2-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) could be a stepping stone to the Derby trail for Forefathers, Spin Master, and possibly Out of Gwedda and Bold Start. Watch out for Bold Start, who has worked brlliantly with blinkers and will wear them for the first time Saturday.
-- If you're loking for a longshot angle in an allowance race at Gulfstream Saturday, the highly regarded Mister White Socks, who ran a disappointing race in is last start, was found to have a lung infection. He's been working well for Kiaran McLaughlin and could bounce back in a big way.
-- WEBN winner Joe Got Even will attempt to become the house horse to beat in the Lane’s End Stakes when he heads Saturday’s Battaglia Memorial at Turfway.
-- Street Sense is getting sharper by the day, as evidenced by his bullet five-furlong work in 1:00 1/5 at Palm Meadows Tuesday. Sham winner Ravel, who looks to be on target to have only one more start, in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), worked a solid five furlongs in 1:00 at Hollywood Park. Returning to the work tab after three weeks was another Pletcher horse Soaring By, who breezed five furlongs in 1:00. Boyd Gaming’s Delta Jackpot winner Birdbirdistheword has had three works and is right on schedule for his debut in the Louisiana Derby. Belmont Futurity runner-up C P West also has had three works, all at three furlongs. His trainer, Nick Zito, might have a good one in recent maiden winner Optimistic Steve. Spectacular maiden winner Curlin has been working sharply at Fair Grounds for new trainer Steve Asmussen.