Fire Slam's gritty triumph in the Lecomte Stakes worthy of notice.

Fire Slam's gritty triumph in the Lecomte Stakes worthy of notice.

Alexander Barkoff

Kentucky Derby Trail: Have We Got a Mile and a Quarter Horse For You

There were several interesting 3-year-olds who competed this weekend, in both stakes and allowance races, but one stood out as a colt to keep a close eye on when the distances stretch out.

Let's put the stakes on hold for a while and turn our attention to the allowance races run over the weekend. Each week, we'll try to focus on one new face to emerge on the Derby scene. Although there were no eye-popping victories, one horse who made a big impression was Shadwell Stable's Mustanfar.

Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden for the first time by John Velazquez, this big, good-looking chestnut turned in a powerful stretch run and was relentless as he bore down on the A.P. Indy colt Suave, who was eventually disqualified for shutting off the rail on Swingforthefences.

Wearing blinkers for the first time after a disappointing effort in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II), Mustanfar was totally focused as Velazquez swung him out at the head of the stretch and set him down for the drive. What impressed us the most was his long, powerful stride and smooth action, and the fact that he came home his final sixteenth in a shade over :06 seconds flat, and that is motoring. His time of 1:44 1/5 for the 1 1/16 miles was four-fifths faster than the second division run two races later that looked on paper to be the stonger of the two races.

Being he is a big horse, McLaughlin gave him time after the Remsen, in which he was bumped coming out of the gate, and put the blinkers on for his 3-year-old debut. They obviously made a big difference. McLaughlin has always been high on the colt, who has never missed a day's training; has never had shin problems or as much as a cough. "He's a very interesting horse in that respect," McLaughlin said. Even clockers have taken notice of the way he moves in the morning. Although not a fast worker, he did turn in a sharp 5-furlong drill in 1:00 4/5 at Palm Meadows on Jan. 14, the second fastest of 19 works at the distance.

Now for his strongest attribute. If you're looking for a sure thing to get the 1 1/4 miles it is this colt. He is by Unbridled, out of the Lyphard mare Manwah, who is out of one of the great producers of this century, Height of Fashion. This pedigree basically is the best of America and the best of Europe. Height of Fashion, the champion 2-year-old filly in England and winner of the group II Princess of Wales's Stakes, has produced six stakes winners and two stakes-placed horses. Her most notable offspring are Nashwan, winner of the English Derby, Two Thousand Guineas, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Eclipse Stakes; Nayef, winner of the Juddmonte International, Champion Stakes, Prince of Wales's Stakes and Dubai Sheema Classic and second in the King George and third in the Dubai World Cup; Unfuwain, winner of the Jockey Club Stakes and Princess of Wales's Stakes and second in the King George and fourth in the Arc de Triomphe; and Alwasmi, a major stakes horse in England, Ireland, Germany and the United States.

Height of Fashion's dam, Highclere, won the French Oaks and One Thousand Guineas and was second in the King George behind the great Dahlia. Height of Fashion's sire, Bustino, by the great stamina influence Busted, won the St. Leger and Coronation Cup and was just beaten by Grundy in the King George, ranked by many in Europe as the race of the century. Highclere's sire, Queen's Hussar, sired the great Brigadier Gerard. And remember, when you're dealing with Unbridled, you're dealing with five generations of stallions who have sired Kentucky Derby winners (Unbridled, Fappiano, Mr. Prospector, Raise a Native, and Native Dancer). Needless to say, Mustanfar, who is a half-brother who two-time English stakes winner Tadris, has a monster dosage profile of 9-6-17-2-6 and 1.42 dosage index. McLaughlin said it's time to step up to stakes competition, although he has no particular race in mind at this point.

In the second division of the allowance race, the Distorted Humor colt Farnum Alley, trained by Tony Reinstedler, just got up to beat 6-5 favorite Tiger Heart by a nose. Last year, Reinstedler had a another son of Distorted Humor, named Funny Cide, stabled in his barn at Churchill Downs for trainer Barclay Tagg. Now he's hoping to get one of his own in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. Farnum Alley's dam, Falon, is a half-sister by Cox's Ridge to the brilliant Ogygian, whose offspring have been more suited to shorter distances. So, it's hard to tell at this point how far he wants to go, but he does have the right running style, and he did manage to unleash a powerful stretch run coming off a slow pace.

Runner-up Tiger Heart, trained by Kenny McPeek, should improve big-time after running a very gutsy race, coming off only two sprints and not having run since Nov. 8. The son of Scatmandu has enough stamina in his female family to suggest he'll stretch out with no problem. One name of interest in his pedigree is his maternal great-grandsire Hawaiian Sound. If you're not familiar with the son of Hawaii, he was ridden in the English Derby by Bill Shoemaker, who gunned the 25-1 shot to the lead and held it until the final jump when Shirley Heights stormed through on his inside to just get up for the win.

In the fourth race Saturday, Harbour Gate, by Boston Harbor, was brilliant winning a 7-furlong maiden race by 6 1/2 lengths on the front end. Following the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II), trainer George Handy will stretch him out, but it's questionable whether he wants to go 1 1/4 miles.

On Friday, the Dick Mandella-trained Spellbinder took the lead in a four-horse allowance field and outgamed the former $12,500 Calder claimer Gold Bankers Gold, whose training was taken over by Doug O'Neill, with Dwango third. The final time for the mile was 1:36 2/5, with the final eighth run in :13 1/5. We're not sure just how strong this race turned out to be. The winner is getting better with each start and is eligible to keep improving. He's probably more comfortable racing from off the pace. Bob Baffert thought he had Bornwithit in a good spot here, but the son of Charismatic spit the bit out on the far turn and was beaten a dozen lengths. Speaking of Mandella, his big horse, Action This Day worked a solid mile in 1:37 4/5 on Saturday for his debut in the Sham Stakes.

On Sunday at Gulfstream, Frisky Spider made it three-for-three with a gusty victory over Calder-based Weigelia in a 7-furlong allowance race. The son of Frisk Me Now should get two turns with no problem, but how far we'll have to see.

In stakes action, Fire Slam, who had been battling a quarter crack, captured the LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds Saturday, drawing clear at the head of the stretch and winning comfortably by 2 lengths over the previously unbeaten Shadowland. The Laurel Futurity (gr. II) form wasn't flattered by Polish Rifle's fifth-place finish as the even-money favorite, but we're sure not going to hold that against Tapit. The jury is still out on how far Fire Slam, by Grand Slam, wants to go, but he obviously is a tough, consistent colt. To those not familiar with his trainer David Carroll, it is interesting to note that the Irish-born Carroll was the regular exercise rider for Easy Goer.

Bobby Frankel could not have been a happy camper after Ice Wynnd Fire's horrendous trip in the NATC Dash, in which the colt was trapped behind horses, and every time Bailey went for a hole it closed up on him. He finally had to duck to the rail and was beaten a head and a nose in 1:08 3/5. The winner, Saint Afleet, has a ton of stamina in his female family, with his dam being inbred in to Herbager. Runner-up, Cheiron, made a huge move on the far turn and battled gamely to the wire. By Maria's Mon, he failed in his his first try around two turns against maidens two races back.