Steve Haskin's Weekend Preview: Bullish Weekend on Tap

Steve Haskin's Weekend Preview: Bullish Weekend on Tap
Photo: Adam Coglianese
This weekend's February feast of 3-year-old races, which actually began on Thursday at Gulfstream Park, promises to unveil several leading Triple Crown contenders, with a heavy emphasis, as usual, on Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert, and Nick Zito. The focal points will be the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) and the return of First Samurai in the Hutcheson (gr. II).
The weekend got off to a good start with a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream, with two promising, well-bred colts – Corinthian and Jazil – finished one-two, respectively, hinting at better things to come. Both colts have super pedigrees and can only keep getting better. Corinthian, who exuded a great deal of class in his maiden victory at Aqueduct, saved ground from the 1 post, but was trapped behind the leaders, enabling Jazil to get first run on him with a clear outside move. Javier Castellano abruptly steered him to the outside through a narrow seam, and found himself five-wide turning for home. He quickly collared Jazil, leaning in on him inside the eighth pole, but Jazil kept battling, and was beaten only three-quarters of a length, while finishing 3 1/2 lengths ahead of the third-place finisher, High Blues, who was coming off a good third behind Hesandoldsalt and Sunriver in a strong allowance race. What was impressive were the final fractions of :24, :24 3/5, and especially the final eighth in :12 2/5 to complete the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49 3/5.
Corinthian, by Pulpit, was a $385,000 yearling purchase, while Jazil, a son of Seeking the Gold, went for $725,000. The impression from this race is that we haven't seen anywhere near the best of these two colts, who should be able to keep moving forward.
As for this weekend's races, the main story line of the Holy Bull is whether Barbaro handles the dirt as well as the grass. If he does, then we're looking at a serious Derby contender who will catapult to the top of the class, right alongside Stevie Wonderboy and Brother Derek. If he doesn't, we're looking at a wide-open race with just about anyone in the field capable of winning. What a Pleasure winner Saint Augustus, one of three Pletcher horses entered, is coming off a poor performance in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. III), so he's a question mark.
The two who should have a major say in the outcome at good price are My Golden Song and Sunriver. The former had a terrible trip in the Aventura Stakes, breaking slowly from the rail, and then being rushed up and getting trapped behind horses. A big, long-striding colt, the son of Unbridled's Song had nowhere to go until it was too late. He ran well in the final furlong to finish third behind Doctor Decherd and Itsallboutthechase, who has as strong a distance pedigree as you'll find. Another big effort here, and you can start seriously thinking Derby with this son of Devil His Due.
Sunriver, a full-brother to dual champion Ashado, has not run in a stakes, and was beaten in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race last time out by the promising Hesanoldsalt, but he was forced wide going into the first turn after breaking from the outside post, and was three-wide the rest of the way. He ran on strongly to be beaten three-quarters of a length, finishing 2 1/4 lengths behind High Blues, and he could be a factor in here if he takes a step forward off that effort. He had previously broken his maiden going 1 1/8 miles, defeating Achilles of Troy, who went on to win the Count Fleet Stakes by 14 lengths.
One horse who is coming up to the race off a series of sharp works is Flashy Bull, who hasn't run since finishing a game second to Bluegrass Cat in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II). Zito will be represented by Hemingway's Key, who is undefeated in two starts.
The 7 1/2-furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) will serve as First Samurai's coming out party, but he won't have an easy time of it with several brilliant colts in there. Expect the Pletcher-trained Keyed Interest to take in a lot of money after winning his first two starts, including an impressive 6-furlong allowance score, in which he won by 5 1/2 lengths in 1:09 2/5. Blazing Rate and Catcominatcha both have run well in stakes going two turns, with the latter also winning the one-mile Iroquois (gr. III) at Churchill Downs. The Calder-based City Attraction has won two in a row at seven furlongs for Ralph Ziadie, but the horse to watch at a decent price is Fabled, who could surprise if he finally gets a clean trip and doesn't have to squeeze his way through horses, as he's done in his last two starts. In his last start, he finished second to Rehoboth, who is running in the Holy Bull. He has a bullet half-mile work in :47 since that race and should get clear sailing from the outside post.
A seven-furlong allowance race earlier on the card will feature the grade I-placed Superfly, making his 3-year-old debut for Zito, and the Steve Asmussen-trained Noonmark, who hasn't run since blowing away a maiden field at Belmont by 10 1/4 lengths in 1:03 4/5 for the five furlongs last October. Pletcher is also represented in here by Mantoloking, who was impressive breaking his maiden in November at Aqueduct, but showed little in a one-mile allowance race on Jan. 15.
If there is one trainer who is laying it all on the line this weekend, it is Baffert -- who runs Point Determined and Royal Legacy in an allowance and maiden race, respectively, on Friday, and Bob and John and Sky Diving in Saturday's Sham Stakes. Baffert still feels Royal Legacy could be his best one, and with blinkers off, he should have no excuse, although he'll be against some promising colts, including Presidential Cause and first timer Bronzino.
Point Determined drew the rail in a one-mile allowance, in which he'll be facing some tough opponents in Kiliminjaro, who trainer Patrick Biancone said probably will need this race; the hard-knocking The Five J's; Twisting Road, a highly regarded colt from the Eoin Harty stable; and the Dick Mandella-trained Refinery. But Point Determined has shown tremendous improvement and should be able to handle this bunch.
Baffert looks to have the Sham Stakes field over the proverbial barrel with Bob and John, who has a huge class and experience edge in the field of six. Sky Diving will also get a lot of play after his 14-length maiden victory at Bay Meadows, but the horse to watch in here as a possible upsetter is Sacred Light, who closed like a rocket to finish third behind Bob and John last time out while going extremely wide at the top of the stretch.. The son of Holy Bull leveled off beautifully and just missed second by a nose. He looks off his last race to be at a disadvantage in a small field, but he showed excellent tactical speed when breaking maiden the race before, and simply looks like a horse who is coming into his own for trainer Dave Hofmans.
An interesting horse to watch Saturday is Sweetnorthernsaint in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel. He has the dubious distinction of getting disqualified in a race he won by 16 lengths. He then journeyed to Aqueduct, where he broke his maiden by 7 3/4 lengths in a sizzling 1:09 flat. He should have no trouble stretching out to a mile. His main competition is expected to come from Maryland Juvenile winner Vegas Play and runner-up Creve Coeur, as well as Nine Best, who is coming off two impressive victories going a mile and seven furlongs.
At Turfway, Final Copy, winner of the Turfway Prevue, will try to establish himself as the dominant horse at Turfway when he runs in Saturday's WEBN Stakes.
Oaklawn Park will have a couple of races worth watching. Friday's allowance race features up-and-comers Mr. Pinstripes, Steppenwolfer, and Kings Challenge, as well as the Wayne Lukas-trained Sharp Attack, who is trying to rebound off a couple of poor efforts. On Sunday, the much-anticipated return of Music School finally should take place in a mile allowance race. The son of A.P. Indy was scratched from a six-furlong allowance last weekend due to a sloppy track.

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