Richard Mandella, sends out top 3-year-old Spellbinder in allowance company Friday.

Richard Mandella, sends out top 3-year-old Spellbinder in allowance company Friday.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Kentucky Derby Trail: Several Gems May be Uncovered This Weekend

This time of year, allowance races often hold more intrigue than stakes, as you never know if some new exciting star is going to emerge. On Friday, a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Santa Anita will feature three potential Kentucky Derby (gr. I) hopefuls –- Dwango, Spellbinder, and Bornwithit.

Dwango, the likely favorite, may have been a bit under the weather when he finished second to Borrego in an allowance/optional claimer last time out. Trainer Bob Hess said the son of Royal Academy gave a few coughs before the race and felt he wasn't himself. He still ran a solid race to be beaten 1 1/2 lengths, and we really don't know just how good Borrego is, as he was coming off three grass races and had never run on dirt before.

In his previous start, Dwango easily defeated Bob Baffert's budding bridesmaid, Wimbledon, who no doubt has a world of ability, but hasn't been able to find the winner's circle. Although Royal Academy was a sprinter in Europe who stretched out to win the Breeders' Cup Mile, he is by classic sire Nijinsky II. His dam, Sweet Bunny, by Preakness (gr. I) winner Deputed Testamony, made 46 starts and earned over $200,000. It's too early to tell how far he wants to go, but he appears to be a colt with potential.

Spellbinder, is another colt who has defeated Wimbledon, beating him by three-quarters of a length in his last start. Trainer Dick Mandella had to alter his schedule after the colt suffered a bruised foot that prevented him from running in the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II). He looks like a horse who took a while to find himself, but he's come to hand and may be ready to take another step forward. Although he has a lofty dosage index of 4.71, if his sire, Tale of the Cat, can get him to the eighth pole, his female family should be able to carry him the next furlong. His broodmare sire, Quiet American, sired Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet (who defied dosage); Quiet American's sire, Fappiano, sired Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled; and Fappiano's sire, Mr. Prospector, sired Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

His maternal granddam is by Derby runner-up Honest Pleasure, out of Equal Change, a daughter of Belmont winner and Derby and Preakness runner-up Arts and Letters. Equal Change raced for King Ranch and tested Ruffian in the 1 1/2-mile Coaching Club American Oaks, finishing second by 2 3/4 lengths, while finishing 9 lengths ahead of the third-place finisher.

Bornwithit, who has been discussed on several occasions, is quite a story, having previously been trained by Nick Zito. After getting beaten 32 lengths in his career debut at Saratoga, he was dropped into a $30,000 claiming race at Keeneland and romped by 24 1/2 lengths. He was claimed out of the race by local horseman Glenn Montgomery, who promptly sold him to Baffert through bloodstock agent Don Brauer. In his first start for Baffert, he showed up in a starter allowance race and gamely battled to a nose victory, showing a lot of courage and tenacity. But this is a step up from a starter allowance, and it will be interesting to see how he fares against the top two.

The other three in the field – Gold Bankers Gold, Silent Gold, and Gem of a Day don't seem to match up against these. Gem of a Day, a stablemate of Dwango, recently broke his maiden going a mile against Cal-breds. Silent Gold has sandwiched a maiden victory at Golden Gate with two poor efforts, and Gold Bankers Gold ships in from Calder after finishing third in an allowance race. Prior to that he ran in seven claiming races, twice for a $12,500 tag, and broke his maiden for $16,000.

On Saturday, Ice Wynnd Fire, Saint Afleet, and Race For Glory look to rebound from defeats as they take on the impressive maiden winner Cheiron in the NATC Dash Stakes at Santa Anita, as part of the Sunshine Millions card. Bobby Frankel is looking to stretch Ice Wynnd Fire out after this race. The colt recently was beaten a nose in his first start for Frankel.

At Fair Grounds, Delta Jackpot runner-up Fire Slam attempts to bounce back from a quarter crack when he takes on Laurel Futurity (gr. III) runner-up Polish Rifle, Turfway allowance winner Shadowland, and the hard-knocking Bogangles in the Lecomte Stakes. Polish Rifle should provide the first real gauge just how good a race the Laurel Futurity was, won in brilliant fashion by the much talked about Tapit. Third-place finisher, Ghost Mountain, trained by Nick Zito, came back to run a good third in the 6-furlong Spectacular Bid Stakes (gr. III).

The Todd Pletcher-trained Battle Hero, a son of Deputy Minister, out of champion Flanders, is entered in an allowance race at Gulfstream on Saturday. After breaking his maiden at Calder by 2 1/2 lengths on Dec. 8, coming from far back with a powerful late run, he finished second in a Gulfstream allowance race, coming from 14 lengths back early to be beaten a length. It's too early to tell just how much ability he has, but with his pedigree and running style, he could be a horse to watch if he can step up against better quality horses.

In that same race, keep an eye on the Kenny McPeek-trained Tiger Heart, a Buckram Oak Farm colt by Scatmandu who was very impressive breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs in November. He should love stretching out to two turns. Also at Gulfstream Saturday, Nick Zito sends out three promising colts – Go Now, Confirmed, and China Gold -- in a split 7-furlong maiden race.

One maiden winner last Sunday who is worth keeping an eye on is Quintons Gold Rush, who defeated, you guessed it, Wimbledon, by 3 1/2 lengths in a sharp 1:42 flat for the 1 1/16 miles. A son of Wild Rush, out of a Mr. Prospector mare, he was making his second start, having finished second in his career debut in December to the promising Preachinatthebar, fourth in the Santa Catalina. His second dam is the classy Lady in Silver, a major stakes winner by the Roberto stallion Silver Hawk, out of a daughter of Lorenzaccio, who defeated Nijinsky II in the Champion Stakes.

Michael Dickinson, with Tapit and Paddington, sent out another promising youngster Thursday when he saddled Cockleshell to win a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on the grass at Fair Grounds over the Neil Howard-trained Possess. Cockleshell, by Red Ransom, has a ton of stamina throughout his pedigree and has used a powerful closing kick to win both his career starts. It'll be interesting to see if Dickinson takes a shot on the dirt with him.

A Bob Baffert colt who bears watching off his recent works is Courageous Act, a son of Exploit, owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis. He has finished second twice and third twice in five starts, but was placed first via disqualification last time out in November. He worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 4/5 on Jan. 15, then came back to drill a sharp 6 furlongs in 1:11 2/5 on Jan. 21.

Trainer Bob Durso said his recent Gulfstream allowance winner Frisky Spider is better at this point than his sire, Frisk Me Now, whom Durso trained to win the Ohio Derby (gr. II), Pennsylvania Derby (gr. III), Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II), and Flamingo Stakes (gr. III). Frisk Me Now is by Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Mister Frisky. Frisky Spider defeated the promising Notorious Rogue, third in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I), and is now unbeaten in two starts.

Mike Sellitto, agent for Jose Santos, is excited about Blushing Indian, a son of Cherokee Run who won the same day as Frisky Spider, romping by 7 1/2 lengths and covering the 7 furlongs in 1:22 4/5, which bettered Frisky Spider's time for the same distance by more than a full second. Last year at this time, Sellitto was excited about a New York-bred named Funny Cide, who had just finished fifth in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) after a disastrous trip from the outside post.