Weekend Review: Drysdale Claims Another Derby Victory

So here we are, a half-year later, and nothing's really changed. Trainer Neil Drysdale is back at Churchill Downs with a pair of 3-year-old powerhouses, ready to take on the world. Fusaichi Pegasus is just 10 furlongs of Kentucky sand away from his coronation as superhorse. And War Chant's recent debut on grass was simply breathtaking, as if he invented turf racing himself.

Now, with just two short weeks separating Drysdale from another shower of Breeders' Cup glory, he finds himself caught in the worldwide spotlight yet again. But while he fine tunes the details on his talented twosome back East, the big stable keeps on rollin' along. With top assistant John O'Donoghue handling the chores on Oct. 21, Drysdale managed to knock out yet another Derby--this time the $250,000 Oak Tree Derby (gr. IIT)--with British-bred Sign of Hope.

A 3-year-old son of Selkirk owned by Harold Applebaum's Relatively Stable and George Strawbridge's Augustin Stable, Sign of Hope began his career overseas under the auspices of trainer Ian Balding. He finally made it to Drysdale's barn in midsummer and tipped his hand with a pair of solid, albeit losing, runs over the Del Mar turf course.

He finally broke through in the Oak Tree Derby, and it was quite a thriller. As expected, David Copperfield led the Derby field through its early paces, while Sign of Hope sat fourth most of the trip, inside of stablemate Jokerman.

Both Drysdale and jockey Alex Solis concede Sign of Hope never really found suitable footing on Del Mar's beat-up turf course. Over Santa Anita's glib pool table layout, however, the gelding purred like a kitten.

Solis switched him off the rail turning for home, where they set out to catch the runaway David Copperfield. Right about the time David Copperfield appeared home free, Sign of Hope sparked, lengthened out, and came storming home to nail him by a half-length. The final time was 1:47.71.

In the week's other big events, High Margin, claimed for $32,000 last year by owners Bruce and Joanne Thayre, came through to score at 10-1 in the $108,000 Harold C. Ramser Sr. Handicap for 3-year-old fillies on Oct. 22. Under Kent Desormeaux, the Repriced filly raced in second before tackling longshot Miss Pixie turning for home. She then outran Janet, a British-bred daughter of Emperor Jones trained by Darrell Vienna, scoring by a length in 1:35.19. High Margin comes from the Craig Dollase barn.

Dollase also got a big effort from newcomer Zillah the Hun, who shot straight to the front and never looked back, taking the one-mile Pinjara Stakes on the grass on Oct. 19. Owned by John Paul Reddam, the 2-year-old son of Hawk Attack shook off both High Tech Exec and favored Startac to prevail by a nose in 1:34.86. He's now two-for-two, having won at Fairplex last month.

Trainer Howard Zucker's got a quick one in Our Shining Hour. After a pair of standout runs at Del Mar, the son of Gilded Time kept his unbeaten streak intact with a solid one-length score in the $84,375 Sunny Slope Stakes on Oct. 20. The 2-year-old colt went six furlongs in 1:09.76 for owner C.T. Grether.

A pair of fillies from the Bob Baffert stable won stakes during the week. On Oct. 18, Donald and Mary Zuckerman's Princess Belle pounded four others in the $81,225 Anoakia Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The daughter of Mr. Greeley poured it on, hitting the wire 4 1/2 lengths clear in 1:09.86. The following afternoon, Hookedonthefeelin was back to her shining best in the $60,875 Cascapedia Stakes at 6 1/2 furlongs. After zipping a half in :44.27, Mike Pegram's all-star daughter of Citidancer held off Queen of Wilshire by a half-length in 1:16.29.