Kentucky Derby Trail: Big Weekend On and Off Track

Kentucky Derby Trail: Big Weekend On and Off Track
Photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Hopeful winner Silver Wagon, should be recovered from foot bruise.
Saturday's Fountain of Youth (gr. I) and Hutcheson Stakes (gr. III) and Sunday's Risen Star Stakes (gr. III) are only some of important 3-year-old races this weekend, along with allowance races featuring Birdstone, Value Plus, and Shaniko.

The Fountain of Youth has been discussed in several articles already. With two of the top contenders making their first start of the year, remember, this race has not exactly been a haven for favorites. So, don't toss Silver Wagon just yet off his two defeats at the hands of Second of June. His foot bruise is a concern, but if he's OK, he could show big improvement off the Holy Bull.

Also look for improvement from Nick Zito's fourth-stringer, El Prado Rob, who was fourth in the Holy Bull after winding up on the lead for some reason. If he gets a good ride and settles off the pace this time, he could make his presence felt at a big price. The big mystery horse is Frisky Spider, who likely will set the pace. He's game on the lead, and it'll be interesting to see how far he can take them. Don't forget, his owner/trainer, Bob Durso, won the Hutcheson in '97 with this colt's sire, Frisk Me Now, who paid a whopping $213.80. Speaking of longshots, if you're looking for one of those Calder bombs who could hit the board, Broadway View has improved with blinkers and is coming off two solid performances on the grass, including a second-place finish in the Tropical Park Derby (gr. IIIT).

The seven-furlong Hutcheson looks to be made up of mainly aspiring sprinters and milers, but horses like Limehouse and Blushing Indian have already run well in two-turn stakes.

The day gets off to a rousing start when last year's Champagne (gr. I) winner Birdstone faces recent allowance winner, Farnum's Alley and Grey BC (gr. I) winner Smoocher in a mile and 70-yard, second-level allowance race.

The third race, a 1 1/8-mile maiden race, features the royally bred Leading the Parade, a Shug McGaughey-trained son of A.P. Indy, out of My Flag who closed from far back to finish fifth in his career debut at seven furlongs. Nick Zito sends out Go Now; Randy Schulhofer will have the well-named Intimidator, and Pat Byrne saddles Shiloh Gold.

In the sixth race, a seven-furlong, first level allowance event, the talented Todd Pletcher-trained colt Value Plus tries to escape trouble at the start and make his presence on the Derby trail. Facing him will be Zito's impressive first-out winner Royal Assault and the Joe Orseno-trained Honest Victor.

Finally, in the ninth race, a 1 1/8-mile, first level allowance race, there are top prospects galore, headed by Pletcher's exciting maiden winner Shaniko; Swingforthefences, from Rick Violette's barn; the Paul McGee-trained Suave, Zito's Pie's Prospect, the Barclay Tagg-trained Bride's Best Boy, and Cervelo, a troubled fourth behind Farnum's Alley last out.

Future Wager Bargains

With nothing to go by this early but the morning line, let's take a look at the Future Wager field and try to find the bombs of today that could detonate tomorrow. To start off, there are a pair of enticing 50-1 shots, whose odds can drop by closing time Sunday. If the latest buzz horse, Shaniko, wins his allowance race impressively Saturday, he'll take a ton of action on Sunday. Fortunately, for those who like Gradepoint, a victory in Sunday's Risen Star should not affect his odds too dramatically due to the race's late post time. Both these sons of A.P. Indy have enormous potential. Borrego at 50-1 also is enticing. The solid mid-priced horse is St Averil (15-1), that is if his odds climb a bit to 20-1 or higher; just don't think there's anything under 20-1 that's worth it at this stage. There's no telling how good this colt is, and 20-1 could wind up a bargain on Derby Day if he continues to improve. Also check out Tiger Hunt if he's higher than his 20-1 odds.

If Action This Day goes off anywhere near the 20-1 odds he's quoted, it could be the steal of the year (at least for the time being). But it's very doubtful he'll be that high. He's still the champ and his first start was not a bad effort at all considering all the ground he lost.

If the mutuel field is anything close to decent price, you'll be getting some dynamite horses, such as Eddington, as impressive a maiden winner as I've seen this year; the regally bred Mustanfar, who was withdrawn from the Fountain of Youth; Baffert's trio of Wimbledon, brilliant maiden winner last weekend; Odds On, who worked six furlongs in a blazing 1:09 4/5 this week and is ready for a big debut; and Preachinatthebar, who was a strong third in the Sham and improving with each start; former European, Shadowland, who also is improving steadily and could have a say in the Louisiana Derby; Value Plus, who has already shown his talent against top-class horses, but needs to stop self-destructing at the start of his races; and Skipaslew, who is tearing up Northern California in his races and Southern California in his works. And there a many other colts lumped in here who could have a bright future.

Speaking of Eddington, this son of Unbridled, out of a Chief's Crown mare, was very impressive with first-time blinkers, despite racing greenly in the stretch and taking a bit too long changing leads. But once he leveled off he was very fluid. He drew off quickly, then came home his final sixteenth in :06 1/5 to complete the 1 1/16 miles in a sharp 1:42 3/5. And the half-mile and three-quarter fractions he pressed were only two-fifths slower than Medaglia d'Oro's fractions in the Donn Handicap. He has tremendous cruising speed, and was rolling at the quarter pole while under a snug hold by Jerry Bailey. Once he learns how to focus more on what he's doing, he should be a major force.

As for Baffert's forces, the three-time Derby-winning trainer said he's finally starting to get excited about his 3-year-olds. He's been touting Wimbledon all year and was confident the son of Wild Rush would justify his praise once he learned to relax. He finally did learn last weekend and the result was an eight-length romp. Baffert also is getting pretty high on Odds On, who he compares to his sire, Silver Charm, in that he has very deceiving speed. And Preachinatthebar, although he still has some learning to do, appears to be going in the right direction.

Meanwhile, up in the frozen tundra of the Belmont Park backstretch, last year's Canadian sensation Judith's Wild Rush embarked on his journey to Louisville by working half-mile over the training track in a blistering :46 3/5 in only his second work over the track. Another son of Wild Rush, he romped by 10 lengths in the Display Stakes over Smoocher, earning a huge 105 Beyer. In his only start in the U.S., he was up the track in the rich Delta Jackpot, but trainer Scott Fairlie said he was "gawking" at the lights, while jockey Dino Luciano said he was "swimming" over the loose track.

Another colt who is back working sharply is Lion Heart's stablemate Pomeroy, who finished first in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. II) only to be disqualified in what many believe was a questionable call. Prior to that, he had won his first two starts by six and 11 1/2 lengths before finishing second to Cuvee in the Saratoga Special (gr. II). He recently drilled six furlongs in 1:00 3/5.

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