Saratoga Blues remained undefeated with his Whirlaway victory.

Saratoga Blues remained undefeated with his Whirlaway victory.

Steve Haskin's Derby Report (2/11): Singin' the Blues

The rehearsals are over. Next weekend, the curtain rises for Act I of "The Road to Louisville," where the main attractions will be the Fountain of Youth and Risen Star Stakes. Those not booed and hissed off the stage will return for the final acts in mid-March and mid-April.

But, that's still a long way off. This is the fun time, trying to sort it all out and discovering new stars in the making. It's also the time the future book players keep a close lookout for any potential "get in on the bottom floor" horses who are sitting out there at huge prices. We discussed several of the more obscure ones last week. This past weekend, we had three relatively small stakes run on both coasts that normally are not scrutinized over too closely in the search for Derby contenders. But in a wide-open Derby picture, as this has been so far, there are no small races.

Friday's Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, won by USS Tinosa, and Saturday's Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct, won by Saratoga Blues, produced winners who, although totally unalike on paper and in appearance, do have one thing in common: they both looked impressive enough for people to sit up and take notice. In the Golden State Mile, Cappuchino, as expected, scored a comfortable victory over yet another Jerry Hollendorfer 3-year-old Yougottawanna. The victories by USS Tinosa and Cappuchino did a great job of flattering Danthebluegrassman, who defeated both colts in the Golden Gate Derby.

While Whirlaway winner Saratoga Blues went into the race undefeated in only two career starts, Sham winner USS Tinosa came down from Northern California having already won or placed in six stakes, yet still was virtually an unknown horse. Following his explosive victory in the 1 1/8-mile race, the son of Foxhound has now won or placed in seven stakes at six different racetracks. Regardless of how good he may be, you've got to give this colt credit for what he's been able to accomplish so far.

Saratoga Blues is a colt we've liked ever since he journeyed up to Aqueduct from Laurel and drew away from Robins Beauty in only his second career start. What made this race so impressive was that Robins Beauty had just finished a solid fourth in the Remsen Stakes after having the lead at the quarter pole. In the Whirlaway, he broke from the rail and allowed longshot Flo's Bo to open a clear lead around the clubhouse turn. Rating beautifully off a horse for the first time in his short career, he responded when jockey Mario Pino asked him passing the three-eighths pole. He drew clear turning for home, then drifted in a bit when Pino hit him right-handed a couple of times. Pino then put the whip away and Saratoga Blues ran straight as the proverbial arrow the rest of the way. The son of Twining came back in good order, with a nice bounce to his step and his neck slightly arched.

The favorite, D'Coach, still hasn't gotten his act together. He closed in from the outside around the turn, but once he straightened out for the drive, he was a mess. He had his cocked to the outside, he wouldn't change leads, and to make matters worse he drifted in and bothered Smoked Em, who in turn bothered the two English colts to his inside. D'Coach was fortunate he was only set down to third. Smoked Em was a beaten horse at that point anyway, but conceivably could have gotten second. D'Coach still has a bright future ahead of him, but he needs to get away from the Aqueduct inner track, where it just takes him too long to get rolling and where speed doesn't come back too often.

As for Saratoga Blues, his pedigree is laced with major stamina influences, from Tom Rolfe and War Admiral on top to Herbager, Le Fabuleux, and Vandale on bottom. His maternal great-granddam, Silver Bright, was a top C.V. Whitney mare who produced State Dinner, winner of the Suburban Handicap (over Alydar), Metropolitan and Whitney; and Hopeful winner Banquet Table. This is also the family of Travers winner Unshaded, Melbourne Cup winner Beldale Ball, Suburban and Whitney winner Silver Buck (sire of Silver Charm), Kentucky Derby winner Gato del Sol, Ruffian Handicap winner Catinca, Grosser Preis von Baden winner Germany, and Silver Spoon, who beat the colts in the Santa Anita Derby. Not to mention a number of other top-class C.V. Whitney stakes winners. He has a beautifully balanced dosage profile of 9-2-12-2-5 and a dosage index of 1.31.

With Saratoga Blues' laid-back temperament and professionalism to go with his brilliance, there's no telling what heights he can scale. Of course it's a major leap now from the Whirlaway to his next start, which could come in the Louisiana Derby. But he can only get better, and he's trained by one of the most talented young horsemen in the East, Tony Dutrow.

USS Tinosa also should have no trouble getting 1 1/4 miles. His sire, Foxhound, is a son of Danzig, out of the Buckpasser mare Lassie Dear, and his broodmare sire is the stakes-winning South African-bred Wolf Power. He is from the same female family as major stakes winners Sharrood, Yankee Victor, and Jolie's Halo, and has a DI of 1.80.

Another colt to watch out of the Sham is third-place finisher Top Contest, who bobbled at the start, then raced wide the whole way, circling horses at the head of the stretch. He ran on well through the stretch to finish third, a length behind Puerto Banus, who was in behind horses throughout the race.

New kids on the block

There were four interesting maiden winners this past weekend, and although all will be at a disadvantage trying to make the Derby, it's still a good idea to keep them in the back of your mind. One colt who threw a monkey wrench into the Derby plans of several leading trainers was Searcher, who came off a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race, in which he was third, and knocked off some highly promising Derby prospects going a mile. Trained by Grant Hofmans, son of Dave Hofmans, the son of Marquetry has much more stamina in his pedigree than his 4.14 DI might indicate. His DI doesn't take into account the presence of Ruritania in his female family. This Greentree-bred son of stamina influence Graustark finished second in Riva Ridge's Belmont Stakes.

At Gulfstream on Saturday, Nick Zito sent out a pair of maiden winners. The first one may have been the steal of the year for bettors, as an Arthur Hancock III-owned and bred first-time starter by Seeking the Gold named Quest, trained by Zito (his first ever horse for Hancock), was sent off at a ridiculous 21-1. He came from last in the seven-furlong race, circled the field and drew off to a 2 1/4-length victory. Zito's other winner was Mighty Gulch, who stretched out to two turns for the first time and wired his field, also winning by 2 1/4 lengths. The son of Gulch has a nice long stride, and seemed to relish going two turns. Zito can only think of what might have been, had two of his most promising colts, Silent Fred and Father Steve, not fallen to injury. He's looking for an allowance race for High Star, his main Derby hope. There's one in the book for Thursday, but Zito feels that might be too soon. The Florida Derby is the colt's immediate goal.