Faves Set For Derby Preps
Faves set for Derby preps
They’re certainly not Affirmed and Alydar yet — the only time they met in a race, both lost — but if Eskendereya and Lookin At Lucky run to their 4-5 odds tomorrow in Aqueduct’s Wood Memorial and the Santa Anita Derby, respectively, they will head to the May 1 Kentucky Derby as the co-favorites in a classic clash of East vs. West.
Both races will be televised live by NBC, starting at 5 p.m.
Their first confrontation came last Nov. 7 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita, in which Lookin At Lucky, trained by Bob Baffert, was beaten a head as the 2-1 favorite while Eskendereya, from the Todd Pletcher barn, was a roughtrip ninth at 12-1.
In his two starts since, Eskendereya (by Giant’s Causeway) won a Jan. 7 allowance mile at Gulfstream Park, followed by a tour-de-force, 81/2-length romp in the Feb. 20 Florida Derby, which sets him up as the odds-on choice in a field of six going a mile-and-an-eighth in the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood.
“I think the Fountain of Youth was the most impressive performance this year,” said Pletcher, who also trains top-tier Derby candidates Super Saver, Rule, Mission Impazible, Discreetly Mine and Interactif. “Eskendereya has all the tools you would like to see. We’ve been very confident all along that he wants to run the distance of the classic races.”
As for Lookin At Lucky, that narrow loss in the Breeders’ Cup, when he broke from the far outside post 13, is the only blemish on his record. The son of Smart Strike won his other five starts last year, all on synthetics in southern Cal, to be named champion 2-year-old of 2009.
In his lone prep this year, Lookin At Lucky raced on dirt for the first time in the March 13 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, also donning blinkers to correct what Baffert felt was a lack of focus. After getting squeezed down the backside, he rallied on the far turn to run down Noble’s Promise in the final strides.
Lookin At Lucky breaks from post 7 in a field of 10 for the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, his first start at a mile-and-an-eighth.
by Ed Fountaine
THREE DERBY PREP PREVIEWS
Eskendereya tops six-pack in Wood Memorial
ESKENDEREYA (Giant's Causeway), generally considered among the top two candidates for the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1), will have his final prep for the big dance in Saturday's $750,000 Wood Memorial S. (G1) on a stakes-laden card at Aqueduct. The leading prospect for trainer Todd Pletcher, who could conceivably have as many as seven or eight entrants in the Run for the Roses, will again be piloted be piloted by John Velazquez over one lap of the Big A's 1 1/8-mile main oval.
Considered by most to have had the most impressive prep win of the season so far, an 8 1/2-length demolition of his foes in the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) on February 20, Eskendereya was kept out of the March 20 Florida Derby (G1) over the same course and distance due to owner Ahmed Zayat's preference for a final prep closer in proximity to the Kentucky Derby, a decision not without a small element of risk. With only $150,000 in graded earnings to date, an unexpectedly poor effort in the Wood might leave Eskendereya on the outside looking in come Derby time with few remaining opportunities to grab additional graded earnings. In general, however, a truly bad performance by the favorite seems inconceivable on paper.
The likely second choice in the wagering is AWESOME ACT (Awesome Again), who invaded from England for trainer Jeremy Noseda to win the Gotham S. (G3) over the inner dirt in impressive fashion. That was also the chestnut's first appearance on dirt after running exclusively on turf and synthetic previously. He first came to attention on this side of the pond in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) at Santa Anita, where he made a belated rally for fourth.
The other main players both wintered in Florida. JACKSON BEND (Hear No Evil) has yet to equal his best BRIS Speed ratings from his juvenile campaign in two starts for Nick Zito this season. Though he finished second in both the Holy Bull S. (G3) and Fountain of Youth, the Florida-bred will have to elevate his game and prove he wants to go farther than nine furlongs. SCHOOLYARD DREAMS (Stephen Got Even) was re-routed to the Wood earlier in the week from Saturday's Illinois Derby (G3) at Hawthorne, where he might have gone favored. From the same connections that campaigned dual classic-placed Musket Man last season, the bay enters off runner-up finishes in the Sam F. Davis S. (G3) and Tampa Bay Derby (G3), the latter in a bizarrely tight photo to Odysseus (Malibu Moon).
The remaining two entrants are in deep. MOST HAPPY FELLA (Ecton Park), who shares a name with the prominent Standardbred who won the Pacing Triple Crown in 1970, recently defeated New York-bred allowance/optional claiming foes while CARNIVORE (Giant's Causeway) enters fresh off a seven-length maiden win at Laurel.
The other graded stakes on the Wood Memorial undercard also attracted small fields. Six will line up in the $250,000 Carter H. (G1) over seven furlongs with favoritism likely to fall on MUNNINGS (Speightstown), who seeks his first top-level success following Grade 2 scores in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship, Tom Fool H. and Woody Stephens S. over the past two seasons. The Pletcher charge has placed at the Grade 1 level five times since his juvenile season, however, and carries top weight of 119 pounds because of it.
The aforementioned MUSKET MAN (Yonaguska) made a successful return to the races on February 6 when taking the Super S. at Tampa Bay Downs going seven-eighths. Last year's Illinois Derby (G2) and Tampa Bay Derby winner had been idle since last May when third in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness S. (G1). DIGGER (Yonaguska), runner-up in the General George H. (G2) last time following back-to-back wins in the Gravesend H. and Fire Plug S., appears competitive on recent form as does the Grade 2-placed WARRIOR'S REWARD (Medaglia d'Oro), who made a successful return in a February 11 allowance/optional claimer at Gulfstream.
ELUSIVE WARNING (Elusive Quality), a subpar fourth in the Toboggan S. (G3) last out, is capable of better while DRIVEN BY SUCCESS (Precise End) will be a longshot to improve on his third-place effort in the 2009 Carter.
EIGHTYFIVEINAFIFTY (Forest Camp), who turned heads with a sparkling 17 1/4-length maiden win over the inner dirt in January, will make a highly-anticipated return to the track in the $200,000 Bay Shore S. (G3) over seven furlongs. The sophomore was heavily favored in the February 6 Whirlaway S. in his follow-up, but bolted around the clubhouse turn after his bit broke in two and his bridle came loose. The colt required 14 stitches to repair cuts to his legs following that incident, but has been given plenty of time to recover and looks the strongest in the field of seven.
Others of note are Fred "Cappy" Capossela S. winner CASTANEDA (Yonaguska); RAYNICK'S JET (A. P Jet), an impressive winner of a state-bred allowance last time; and the stakes-placed Californian HURRICANE IKE (Graeme Hall), who makes his dirt debut for trainer John Sadler.
Lookin at Lucky faces nine in Santa Anita Derby
Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (G1) has drawn a contentious group of 10 three-year-olds trying to stamp their tickets to the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, but the reappearance of champion LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike) could spoil those plans.
Trainer Bob Baffert shipped the bay colt to Oaklawn Park for the March 13 Rebel S. (G2), which was his dirt debut. Lookin at Lucky passed the main track test, but had to work to get the head victory in the 1 1/16-mile test following midrace trouble. His Hall of Fame conditioner opted to take his charge back to California for the Santa Anita Derby instead of staying at Oaklawn for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 10, and Lookin at Lucky will break from the 7 post as the 4-5 morning-line favorite.
Lookin at Lucky owns a 6-1-0 record from seven starts, with his only loss coming as head second following a troubled trip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) last season. Regular rider Garrett Gomez has piloting duties once again.
Lookin at Lucky's biggest threat on Saturday should come from SIDNEY'S CANDY (Candy Ride [Arg]). The John Sadler trainee has captured his last two over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride, drawing off to an impressive 4 1/4-length victory in the San Vicente S. (G2) and posting a half-length score in the San Felipe S. (G2). The chestnut, who is the 3-1 second favorite on the morning-line, will break from the 4 post in this one, which should aid his front-running ways under Joe Talamo.
CARACORTADO (Cat Dreams) will be looking for revenge on Sidney's Candy following a third-place finish behind that one in the San Felipe. That was the Mike Machowsky runner's only loss from six starts to date and, like Lookin at Lucky, the chestnut will be trying to make it his only loss. He's the 5-1 third choice with Paul Atkinson in the saddle.
ALPHIE'S BET (Tribal Rule) is the only runner in the Santa Anita Derby who has actually won at the distance. That victory came on March 6 in the Sham S. (G3), where the Alexis Barba-conditioned bay pulled away late to secure the 2 1/4-length win over SETSUKO (Pleasantly Perfect), who was making his stakes bow in the Sham.
Other interesting Santa Anita Derby prospects include POSSE POWER (Posse), WHO'S UP (Graeme Hall) and CARDIFF GIANT (Yankee Gentleman). Posse Power will be trying Pro-Ride for the first time here after spending his prior six career starts on the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields. He enters this race following a third in the El Camino Real Derby (G3) in his black-type bow. Who's Up will be making his first start since capturing the Generous S. (G3) at Hollywood Park last November, and will be saddled by new trainer Mike Puhich. Cardiff Giant will probably enjoy revisiting the Pro-Ride following a below-par fifth-place effort in the Rebel last out. He, too, will be running for Puhich, while returning to the site of his San Rafael S. (G3) second.
Allowance scorers THOMAS BAINES (Johannesburg) and SKIPSHOT (Skip Away) round out the Santa Anita Derby field.
Santa Anita will host a total of four stakes on Saturday, with the $150,000 Arcadia H. (G2) highlighting the undercard events. Multiple Grade 2 king BATTLE OF HASTINGS (GB) (Royal Applause [GB]) is looking for his first win since taking last year's Virginia Derby (G2). Since then, the Jeff Mullins trainee has run second by a nose in the Del Mar Derby (G2), fourth in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1), second by a head in the Oak Tree Derby (G2) and second in the Hollywood Derby (G1).
In his seasonal debut, the four-year-old recorded a third-placing in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile H. (G1) and will have to face the nose runner-up from that event again here in this one-mile turf test. FLUKE (Brz) (Wild Event) captured the Citation H. (G1) in November, then returned to lead nearly all the way home in the Kilroe Mile, just getting nipped on the line while holding Battle of Hastings by 1 1/4 lengths. BLUE CHAGALL (Fr) (Testa Rossa), fourth in the Kilroe Mile, is also part of this seven-horse field.
A field of 10 three-year-old fillies will get their turn on the turf when going 1 1/8 miles in the $150,000 Providencia S. (G2). CAMILLE C (Roman Dancer), runner-up in the China Doll S. last out over course and distance, will try to turn the tables on the winner CITY TO CITY (City Zip). WARREN'S JITTERBUG (Affirmative), who just missed winning the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) by three necks, and Santa Anita Oaks fifth-placer COZI ROSIE (Pleasantly Perfect) are also in the Providencia.
Nine sprinters are set to line up in the $150,000 Potrero Grande H. (G2) going 6 1/2 furlongs, including EATON'S GIFT (Johannesburg), winner of last year's Smile Sprint H. (G2); Triple Bend H. (G1) runner-up RUSH WITH THUNDER (Tribal Rule); and VENTANA (Toccet), second in the San Carlos H. (G2) and Palos Verdes H. (G2) in his two starts so far this year.
Backtalk, Yawanna Twist battle in Illinois Derby
In order for BACKTALK (Smarty Jones) to become the latest son of a Kentucky Derby (G1) winner to capture the Run for the Roses, good things need to happen in Saturday's $500,000 Illinois Derby (G3) at Hawthorne. In addition to last year's Sanford S. (G2) and Bashford Manor S. (G3) winner, the nine-furlong feature has attracted seven others including a pair of California-based colts who will make their dirt debut at the suburban Chicago oval.
Though the Illinois Derby will officially mark Backtalk's second afternoon appearance of the season following a narrow score in the February 26 Sportsman's Paradise S. at Delta Downs, the chestnut appeared to get another full prep in on the morning of March 25 at Fair Grounds when scorching through a six-furlong workout in 1:09 3/5. To put that in perspective, last Saturday's Duncan F. Kenner S., the leading sprint of the Fair Grounds meet for older horses, was run in 1:09.
Backtalk will again be ridden by Miguel Mena, who was not aboard for the colt's two losses last fall in the Hopeful S. (G1) and Breeders' Futurity (G1).
YAWANNA TWIST (Yonaguska), a veteran of only three starts, won twice versus New York-bred foes over the winter by a combined margin of more than nine lengths, then turned in a strong run in last month's Gotham S. (G3) when a clear second to Awesome Act (Awesome Again), one of the favorites for Saturday's Wood Memorial S. (G1). Bypassing the Wood in favor of the Illinois Derby appears to be wise move taken by trainer Rick Dutrow, as it gives the colt a greater chance to accumulate more graded earnings while facing a softer field. A decision on whether the colt will be a late nominee to the Triple Crown might depend on his performance Saturday.
DAVE IN DIXIE (Dixie Union) and AMERICAN LION (Tiznow), who have each shown signs of talent over California's synthetic surfaces, will try their hand at dirt in the Illinois Derby. Both exit disappointing runs in the San Felipe S. (G2), where American Lion weakened to fourth while wearing blinkers and Dave in Dixie showed little in finishing sixth of seven.
American Lion, who won the Hollywood Prevue S. (G3) last fall and finished third in the Robert B. Lewis S. (G2) in his seasonal bow, will shed the hood for the Illinois Derby and be ridden for the first time by David Flores. Dave in Dixie, second in the Lewis and a close sixth to champion Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike) in the Norfolk S. (G1) last fall, will also get a new rider in Jose Valdivia Jr.
Longshots in the Illinois Derby include stakes winner TURF MELODY (Maria's Mon), unlaced in three prior graded attempts; GAME BALL (Sky Mesa), an overnight winner in his last two at Tampa Bay Downs; and the Californians STEPHEN'S GOT HOPE (Stephen Got Even) and BOULDER CREEK (Tapit), who occupied the fifth position in the San Felipe and Sham S. (G3), respectively.
The $50,000 Cryptoclearance S., which honors the Hawthorne Gold Cup (G2) winner of 1988-89, will be run on the undercard for older horses over 1 1/16 miles. On paper, the race is a clash between last year's Hawthorne Derby (G3) winner PROCEED BEE (Bernstein) and the Grade 2-placed multiple stakes winner SHADOWBDANCING (Montbrook).
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