Will High Fly run back to the form shown in winning the Aventura?

Will High Fly run back to the form shown in winning the Aventura?

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo

Kentucky Derby Trail: High Fly Can Fly High Again

Nick Zito is licking his chops after last weekend's impressive victories by Sun King and Andromeda's Hero. Now, he tries to put the finishing touches on his four-horse feast when he saddles High Fly in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) and Noble Causeway in an allowance race. All indications are that Zito will be flying high once again.

Upon further study, I am now of the opinion that High Fly's last start was a throw-out, and that he is the horse to beat in the Fountain of Youth. Sure, he got hung wide in the first turn of the Holy Bull (gr. III), but was that the reason he didn't have anywhere near the stretch kick he did in his nine-length romp in the Aventura? Horses often take a step backwards off a big effort, but when you get right down to it, the worst thing that could have happened to him in the Holy Bull was to turn in another monster effort, with two big Kentucky Derby (gr. I) preps still to come.

Not that his former trainer Bill White did anything wrong with him, but the son of Atticus is now in the barn of a Triple Crown specialist. High Fly turned in a sharp five-furlong work in :59 3/5, and looks ready to return to his form in the Aventura. Unlike his race in the Holy Bull, in which he ducked in badly nearing the wire and jumped back to his left lead, he was the ultimate professional in the Aventura, running straight as an arrow the length of the stretch. The stark contrast between the two stretch runs suggests the Holy Bull was an aberration and that the real High Fly will show up again on Saturday. Of course, we don't know yet if he has distance limitations, but it would seem inconceivable that he ran the way he did in the Holy Bull because of the nine-furlong distance.

Of course, he'll be facing some new faces in the Fountain of Youth that we don't know that much about. For instance, we have no idea right now just how good Bandini is. The son of Fusaichi Pegasus  is one of the few truly exciting colts seen so far this year, and he will be the big unknown factor. And Holy Bull runner-up Kansas City Boy (by Boston Harbor) should improve off that race, especially if he draws out a bit farther and doesn't have to commit to the lead. If he draws down on the inside again, then look for trainer Kenny McPeek to enter his late-running Wild Desert (Wild Rush) to try and pick up some of the pieces. Then there is Defer (Danzig), who like Andromeda's Hero, failed to show much zip going seven furlongs, but will relish the stretch-out to two turns.

Two other unknowns are California invaders Papi Chullo (Comeonmon), runner-up in the Sham as a maiden, and General John B (Sweetsouthernsaint), runaway winner of the Turf Paradise Derby.

Also expected to run are Hutcheson (gr. III) runner-up Park Avenue Ball (Citidancer); Dearest Mon (Maria's Mon), who also is looking to prove he's a lot better than he showed in the Holy Bull; Calder invader B. B. Best (Yes It's True) and possibly Natural Phenomenon (Arch).

It should be noted that when Read the Footnotes captured the Fountain of Youth last year, he became the first winner of the race since Pulpit in 1997 not to win wire-to-wire. For six years in a row, the 1 1/16-mile race had been won on the front end, and Read the Footnotes wasn't too far off the pace either, sitting in third most of the way. The Fountain of Youth has always been a speed-favoring race, and speed should be feared again this year..

As for last Saturday's races, Sun King showed that last year's class leaders are still the ones most likely to succeed, just as Proud Accolade (Yes It's True) showed in his authoritative Hutcheson victory. Not only did Sun King manhandle two talented and promising youngsters in Survivalist (Danzig) and Monarch Lane (Maria's Mon) in the one-mile allowance race, he ran almost two full seconds faster than the other (granted, weaker) division and made an awesome appearance in the post parade. In fact, I have not seen a better-looking physical specimen this year.

Sun King, who earned a solid 104 Beyer, looked to be more of one-paced grinder last year, and, in fact, looked that way nearing the quarter pole Saturday when jockey Edgar Prado gave him a single right-handed tap with the whip as wake-up call. But once in the stretch, the son of Charismatic did find another gear and kicked away from Monarch Lane and Survivalist to win by 5 3/4 lengths under a hand ride, throwing his ears up at the wire.

Of all the top 2-year-olds from last year, he and Proud Accolade are the only ones who will have more than two starts before the Derby, which history says is big advantage.

Survivalist is still a work in progress and should move forward off this race. He simply did not have the speed to match strides with Sun King going a mile. He could catch up to the top 3-year-olds when they stretch out to 1 1/4 miles, but he has to start showing he can compete with these kind of horses. Monarch Lane ducked out badly from the outside post leaving the gate and ran a good race for a horse with only one career start under his belt. The Derby looks like it's too soon for him, but that doesn't mean he won't head that way if he steps way up in stakes competition next time out.

Andromeda's Hero is one of the more interesting and appealing new faces around. The son of Fusaichi Pegasus  took all the worst of it in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, but still found a way to win, and win with authority. Breaking from the 12-post, he was rushed out of the gate by Rafael Bejarano, but still got hung 6-7 wide by the Todd Pletcher-trained Killenaule, and remained very wide down the backstretch. Bejarano steered him toward the inside going into the far turn, but ran right up behind a four-horse wall nearing the quarter pole. In the stretch, he checked out the first opening he saw, but that began to close, so he eased out a little farther. When the second opening also closed, he continued to ease out until he finally saw clear sailing.

After two left-handed and two right-handed whips from Bejarano, Andromeda's Hero burst clear and was drawing away with every stride at the end, as if he were just beginning to run. Granted, the late fractions were slow, including a mile in 1:40, and the 3-year-old filly stakes earlier on the card was run three-fifths faster, but this still was a big step forward for this colt, who boasts as strong a classic and distance pedigree as you'll see on this year's Derby trail. His tail-female family is all King Ranch and Darby Dan breeding, and those are two of the last remaining major class and distance influences in America.

-- Finally, we'll get a chance to see the undefeated Declan's Moon (Malibu Moon ) when the 2-year-old champ makes his long-awaited 3-year-old debut in Saturday's Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II). Judging from his works, he should be plenty sharp for the race. Normally, a good second or third wouldn't be that bad for a comeback race, but with only two Derby preps scheduled, he really needs to be tested and be right there at the wire. A defeat wouldn't be the end of the world as long as he gets a good tough race in him. He could get another tussle from Giacomo, as he did in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I). The son of Holy Bull threw a shoe in his third-place finish in the Sham and has been working sharply since.

Declan's Moon also should have his work cut out for him trying to run down the classy speed horses Spanish Chestnut (Horse Chestnut) and Going Wild (Golden Missile), both of whom were tenacious in their respective stakes scores in the San Rafael (gr. II) and Sham. If Declan's Moon can beat these three and several other quality colts, we'll finally have ourselves a solid Derby favorite.

-- Saturday's Swale Stakes (gr. II) shouldn't have too much bearing on the Derby picture, with Straight Line (Boundary) being the only major stakes winner from last year. Of course, the brilliant Lost in the Fog (Lost Soldier) is the one they all have to catch, and judging from his first three races, that may be a futile endeavor.

-- A nine-furlong non-winners of one other than allowance at Gulfstream will feature several up-and-comers, such as Noble Causeway (Giant's Causeway ), winner of a maiden race at the same distance; stakes-placed Diamond Isle (Gilded Time), making his 3-year-old debut; and possibly Vitruvian (Lemon Drop Kid ), who could be a real sleeper after his second to Bandini, which was a lot better than it looks on paper..

-- Team Valor's Becrux rebounded from a pair of dull efforts by winning the Almutawakel conditions race at Nad al Sheba by 6 3/4 lengths. Equipped with a tongue-tie by trainer Mike de Kock, the son of Glen Jordan won the about 1 1/16-mile race on the front end, defeating the second and fourth-place finishers of the UAE Two Thousand Guineas, a race in which he finished 13th. Off this victory, Becrux now will get a chance in the March 26 UAE Derby (UAE-I), after which he could head to America to prepare for the Kentucky Derby.