March 10 features a trio of major sophomore tests, with the Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct Racetrack, the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) at Tampa Bay Downs, and the San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park. Three story lines for Saturday include:
1. Will a wet blanket be thrown over the big showdown?
The former was the leading juvenile for much of last fall after he won his first three starts—including victories in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) and FrontRunner Stakes (G1)—but a third-place finish in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) cost him divisional honors. The son of Medaglia d'Oro had his 3-year-old debut delayed by a pulled muscle, and owner/trainer Mick Ruis said it could be pushed back further if the Santa Anita track comes up sloppy Saturday.
If Bolt d'Oro is not rerouted, he'll have the opportunity to silence those who question his fitness and his burst out of the starting gate. His rival McKinzie has already taken his form forward this season with a victory in the Jan. 6 Sham Stakes (G3).
"I want a good race out of him, but not a super race. Because our goal here is the (grade 1) Santa Anita Derby and, from there, if all goes well, the Kentucky Derby (G1)," Ruis said. "That said, I think he has enough talent to win (the San Felipe). This is like when we were going from his maiden win to the Del Mar Futurity, when I said he was only 80% and people were laughing, but he was able to win then."
2. Will Free Drop Billy bring an 'A' effort to 'Plan B'?
In an attempt to get away from reigning juvenile male champion Good Magic and some other salty foes in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) last weekend, grade 1 winner Free Drop Billy was scratched and sent to New York for the one-turn-mile Gotham. Not only is the son of Union Rags cutting back after three straight two-turn races, but he has to deal with fellow grade 1 winner Firenze Fire in that one's backyard and preferred distance.
Still, Free Drop Billy was a neck short of winning the seven-furlong Hopeful Stakes (G1) in September, so the turn of foot is there. Given that grade 2 winner Enticed joined the Dale Romans trainee on the flight to New York, Free Drop Billy might not be in a softer spot in the Gotham—especially when you consider his stablemate Promises Fulfilled ended up beating Good Magic in the Fountain of Youth.
"The distance doesn't matter for him," Romans said. "Even though it's a different distance, and a different racetrack, it doesn't matter. He's a versatile horse. He's a push-button horse."
3. Will the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T) produce yet another Derby contender?
While the form of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile hasn't been stellar heading into this weekend—Firenze Fire is the only one who has returned to win a stakes thus far—the Juvenile Turf runners have been snatching up Derby qualifying points left and right.
Flameaway, the likely favorite for the Tampa Bay Derby, bested fellow Juvenile Turf contender and Remsen Stakes (G2) winner Catholic Boy in the Feb. 10 Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3). My Boy Jack (seventh in the Juvenile Turf) came back to capture the Southwest Stakes (G3), and Snapper Sinclair (12th in the Juvenile Turf) was a nose short of winning the Risen Star Stakes presented by Lamarque Ford (G2).
In Europe, Juvenile Turf winner Mendelssohn moved into a tie for the top spot in the European Road to the Derby with a win in the Patton Stakes March 9 on the synthetic surface at Dundalk.
All of this could bode well for Juvenile Turf runner-up Untamed Domain, when he tries dirt for the first time in the Tampa Bay Derby. Fittingly, he is a son of Animal Kingdom , who earned his first win on dirt when he captured the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Considering the Churchill Downs main track has a history of playing favorably to horses who have shown aptitude on turf or synthetic surfaces, special attention should be paid to how well these Juvenile Turf graduates handle the dirt.
BONUS WATCH: He won't be running in a stakes, but brilliant maiden winner and buzz horse Justify has been entered in a one-mile optional-claiming allowance at Santa Anita March 11. The son of Scat Daddy already had people anointing him as one who could overcome the "Curse of Apollo" following his 9 1/2-length victory going seven furlongs at Santa Anita Feb. 18. Though the March 25 Sunland Derby (G3) was mentioned as a next option for Justify, trainer Bob Baffert looks to be putting a bit more seasoning into the colt before he tests his raw talent in deeper waters—not unlike what he did with champion Arrogate prior to his jaw-dropping Travers Stakes (G1) victory.