Saturday's Derby Prep Recaps

Hurley cashes 2 out of 3 in Saturday's Preps
Cashes $62.00 Exacta and $369.40 trifecta in Sam F. Davis
Wins with Alpha in the Withers

Saturday's Derby Prep Recaps

I'll Have Another pulls $88.60 stunner in Robert B. Lewis

Reddam Racing's I'll Have Another turned the Southern California three-year-old division upside down with a 43-1 shocker in Saturday's Grade 2, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. The 3-2 favorite Liaison was beaten on the far turn, clipped heels in the stretch, and unseated rider Rafael Bejarano.

Making his first start since a remote sixth in the Grade 1 Hopeful on September 5, and his debut around two turns, I'll Have Another stormed past the front runner Isn't He Clever at the top of the stretch and drew off with authority by 2 3/4 lengths. Aside from fueling mutuels of $88.60, $35.80 and $12, he suddenly erupted onto the scene as a Kentucky Derby candidate.

The Doug O'Neill pupil zipped 1 1/16 miles on the fast track in a sparkling 1:40.84. His final time just missed the stakes record of 1:40.76 set by Crown of Thorns on the old Cushion Track surface in 2008, and ranks as the fastest Lewis ever on dirt.

"This is my biggest win," said jockey Mario Gutierrez, who has ridden principally in Canada and has won a couple of riding titles at Hastings Park. "It's a great thrill."

"He's an incredibly talented colt," O'Neill said, "and we decided to take a chance in here. We thought he could hit the board and we'd move forward, but he ran unbelievable. Mario gave him a great ride. He's always trained fantastic, but we never saw this coming to be honest with you. This is incredible.

"Paul (owner J. Paul Reddam) saw Mario ride about a month or so ago here and said, 'If we ever get in trouble, think about using that kid.' That's how that came up. Then he came over (to Hollywood Park) and worked the horse; he worked great and it couldn't have worked out any better.

"We just didn't want to get into a head and head crazy duel, not get caught up in a speed duel, and he did just that."

The Robert B. Lewis shaped up as the rubber match between Liaison and Rousing Sermon, the one-two finishers in both the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity and the Real Quiet last fall. Those wishing to oppose conventional wisdom tended to back Liaison's stablemate from the Bob Baffert barn, Sky Kingdom, who rebounded from a fourth in the CashCall to run away with a recent allowance.

Totally overlooked in the betting was I'll Have Another. The son of Flower Alley was a debut maiden winner at Hollywood last summer, and finished a solid second to Creative Cause in the Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar. I'll Have Another shipped East to Saratoga for the Hopeful, but never got going in the slop, and it was unclear how ready he would be off a five-month layoff for a stiff task in the Lewis.

I'll Have Another was well placed in second early, with Liaison just to his inside in third, as the pair tracked Isn't He Clever through an opening quarter in :23. Groovin' Solo sneaked up on the rail to make it three stalkers abreast through a half-mile in :46 3/5. Liaison was unable to maintain his position, and found himself retreating into fourth by the time the leader reached six furlongs in 1:10 2/5.

At the same time, I'll Have Another was moving beautifully to challenge, and rapidly pulled clear. Behind him, things were about to get hazardous. Isn't He Clever and Groovin' Solo kept on doggedly, ahead of Liaison, who was trying to get back involved while racing in a clear path between, and slightly behind, them. But Groovin' Solo floated inward, crossed into the path of Liaison, and caused the favorite to clip heels.

Meanwhile, Empire Way, who had been last early, rallied up the rail to finish second by 2 3/4 lengths. Groovin' Solo reported home third, 1 1/4 lengths to the good of Rousing Sermon, but he was disqualified for his role in the mishap to Liaison.

"I thought the inside horse (Isn't He Clever) moved out," Victor Espinoza, Groovin' Solo's rider, contended. "I tried to help as much as I can. When another guy asks for help I move out as much as I can. There's nothing else I can do. I think he ran great."

The stewards promoted Rousing Sermon to third, Isn't He Clever to fourth, Sky Kingdom to fifth and Chips All In to sixth. Groovin' Solo was officially placed last, and Liaison did not finish after losing Bejarano. The jockey escaped serious injury, and Baffert told HRTV that Liaison appeared to be OK back at the barn.

"I had my hole when I saw two horses that split out," recapped Bejarano, who went on to ride subsequent races. "I had plenty of room in between horses. When I asked my horse to go, he was coming little by little, but the horse on the outside (Groovin' Solo) was lugging in a little bit. I started screaming to let him know I was there and he (Espinoza) tried to correct his horse, but at the same time when he corrected his horse, he was just coming in too much.

"The horse on the inside (Isn't He Clever, ridden by Corey Nakatani) didn't even give me a chance to check his horse, because he was coming out too. At least the outside horse (Groovin' Solo) tried to correct himself, but the other horse from the inside didn't do that. He just kept going and was coming out little by little, but he didn't even try to check his horse. That's why it felt so tight and I clipped heels. I ended up clipping heels with Victor's horse because Corey Nakatani's horse was coming out and it was enough to push me out. Other than that, I feel good. I'm just a little sore."

"This was a weird run race," Baffert said. "He (Liaison) was up there but he was a little fresh today. He got a little rank with him (Bejarano) and then he (Bejarano) was trying to get him to relax and get back but he just emptied out.

"He (Sky Kingdom) broke, and then he got shuffled again, and on this track you have to really ride the track a little bit. You've got to be up there close. I was disappointed in him, but once we go a mile and an eighth he'll be better. But this track is a little speedy. I thought he would run better than that."

I'll Have Another has now earned $184,000 from his 4-2-1-0 line. Bred by Harvey Clarke in Kentucky, he was a bargain $11,000 Keeneland September yearling. Dennis O'Neill, the trainer's brother, purchased him for $35,000 as a two-year-old in training at OBS in April.

"We bought him at the OBS in April of last year," Dennis O'Neill said, "and we've loved him since day one. He trained like a really good horse from day one, trained like a two-turn horse from day one. He came out of his Saratoga race with sore shins, so when we got him back going, Paul said to take our time with him.
"We paid $35,000 for him. It's great for Paul. Paul's put a lot of money in the game and this is fantastic for Paul."

Out of the winning Arch mare Arch's Gal Edith, I'll Have Another comes from the family of Grade 1 winners Roanoke and Into Mischief. He counts as his fifth dam the influential matron Patelin, ancestress of champion Pleasant Stage and such Grade 1 winners as A Phenomenon, Seattle Meteor, Pillaster and Class Play.

Doug O'Neill indicated that he would likely skip the next contest, the Grade 2 San Felipe on March 10, and await the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 7.
"We'll look at the Santa Anita Derby if all goes well," the trainer said.

Alpha continues to impress in Withers

Alpha made it two straight easy wins over the Aqueduct inner track this winter, cruising to a 3 1/4-length decision in Saturday's $200,000 Withers Stakes, and the Godolphin-owned colt continues to enhance his credentials as a serious contender for this year's Kentucky Derby. The bay son of Bernardini pocketed $120,000 in graded earnings for the Grade 3 win.

Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Alpha broke smoothly beneath jockey Ramon Dominguez and raced in a forward position into the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile event. He was floated a little wide after making slight contact with a rival to his inside, but Alpha settled into a perfect stalking position within a couple of lengths of the pacesetter entering the backstretch.

How Do I Win showed the way on a short lead, establishing fractions in :23 3/5, :48 and 1:12 3/5, but was quickly overhauled upon reaching the stretch drive. Dominguez gave Alpha his cue as they straightened into the lane and the 1-5 favorite accelerated clear in a few strides, dominating through the final furlongs in a fashion similar to his 2 1/2-length romp in the January 7 Count Fleet Stakes.

"He was a little wide into the first turn, looked like a couple came out into him and forced him even wider, but then on the backside he settled back in," McLaughlin said. "He had to move a little bit early but he responded when asked, so it was an impressive race. It was impressive the way he finished."
Alpha stopped the teletimer in 1:44 1/5 over the fast track.

"I was a little concerned, of course (being wide in the first turn)," Dominguez said. "You always want to save ground, and after I went wide through the first turn my main goal was to try and get him to relax. I felt like to do that, I had to get him behind the horse that was directly in front of me. He switched off and relaxed to the point that I really had no idea whether I had any horse or not. I was going through the motions. Past the half-mile, when I tried to put a little pressure to start making my run, he jumped on the bridle and was pretty handy from there."

McLaughlin is pleased with Alpha's development and how Dominguez fits the up-and-coming sophomore.

"I think he improved some (from the Count Fleet) because of how wide he was both trips, and he was better in the gate (today)," the trainer observed. "He gets a better grade for this race -- if it was a 'B' last time, he gets an 'A' this time.

"Ramon knows him well, he's got great hands and he's a great jockey, so we're just happy with things. Anytime you're 1-5 you get a little bit nervous. It's nice to be 1-5 because they have you to beat, but it's also a little nerve-wracking. We were hoping he'd win like that."

"I was a little more familiar with the horse (today) and I kind of knew what to expect, but I thought he moved forward from his last race," Dominguez added.

"Although that race was good to begin with, I was very happy with his race today. I thought he improved. He finished up nice, and the last eighth he was really doing it on his own and galloped out good. Just the way you want to see."

Speightscity got up late for second in the six-horse field, 1 3/4 lengths better than third-placer Tiger Walk. It was another half-length back to How Do I Win, who was followed by King Kid and Hakama. Swag Daddy scratched.

Bred in Kentucky by Sheik Mohammed's Darley Stable, Alpha posted a smashing debut performance at Saratoga, breaking his maiden by six lengths, and the well-regarded youngster immediately jumped to Grade 1 company, recording a non-threatening second in the Champagne Stakes following a terrible start. The well-regarded youngster acted up at the gate in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was never factor, checking in 11th, and entered this year with plenty of questions surrounding his Kentucky Derby prospects.

Alpha appears much-improved at three, albeit against questionable company in the Count Fleet and Withers, and will look to keep his momentum rolling when the competition gets deeper in the future.

"The plans will be to talk to Simon Crisford from Godolphin to see which way to go," McLaughlin said when asked about future plans. "He's here in New York right now, but he could relocate, or he could run back in the (Grade 3) Gotham (on March 3) in a month. We'll just have to talk about it. At least we got $120,000 in graded earnings going forward to the first Saturday in May. That's important.

"There are some good three-year-olds around the country and it's hard to tell what he actually beat today. Union Rags is out there, Todd Pletcher has what looks like a shedrow full of them, Out of Bounds in California for Darley...whatever direction he goes, there's some nice three-year-olds out there. We hope we fit in there well with them all."

Alpha, whose overall record now reads 5-3-1-0, $300,000, is out of the Nijinsky II mare Munnaya, a listed winner who would go on in the breeding shed to produce multiple Grade 2-placed Lavender Sky and dual Group 3-placed listed heroine Mystic Melody. His second dam is Group 3 victress Hiaam, herself a daughter of Canadian champion Kamar.

Kamar would be named the 1990 Broodmare of the Year following the exploits of her daughter Seaside Attraction, who captured that year's Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, and also foaled Canadian champion sire Key to the Moon and multiple Grade 1 queen Gorgeous. The mare's grandchildren include the likes of European Horse of the Year Fantastic Light, champion Golden Attraction and Grade 1-winning sire Cape Town.

Battle Hardened breaks maiden in Sam Davis

Battle Hardened rallied to the lead in deep stretch and posted his first career victory in Saturday's $200,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, winning the Grade 3 test for three-year-olds by a comfortable 1 1/4-length margin. The Eddie Kenneally-trained colt completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:44 2/5 with jockey Julien Leparoux.

Owned by Coolmore principals Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier, Battle Hardened opened his racing career last fall, finishing fourth at six furlongs prior to a runner-up at 1 1/16 miles, both maiden special weight events at Churchill Downs, and entered the Sam Davis off a head second in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park on New Year's Eve.

He took a big step toward making the Kentucky Derby field on Saturday, picking up $120,000 in graded earnings while improving his overall ledger to 4-1-2-0, $138,855.

"This was a really good bunch of quality horses, but no stars, and that was one reason we decided to take a shot today," said Kenneally, who cross-entered Battle Hardened to a maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park Saturday before opting for the Sam Davis. "He's been training brilliantly and we were happy with how he was coming into the race, so we decided to come here and get some of the big money.

"He showed a little more professionalism today. He relaxed nicely in the thick of things. He was in a group of horses in tight and he had plenty of reasons to back out of there if he wanted to, but he showed a little bit of gameness and a little bit of toughness like you want to see going forward to the bigger races down the road."

Despite being winless, the son of Giant's Causeway was well-regarded by the betting public on Saturday, leaving the Sam Davis starting gate as the 9-2 third choice among 11 rivals. He stalked the pace from his inside post, racing within a couple of lengths in fourth during the early stages as State of Play showed the way on the lead in fractions of :23 3/5 and :47 4/5.

Battle Hardened launched his rally while four wide on the far turn and entered the stretch full of momentum. Gulfstream Park Derby hero Reveron, who raced within striking range during the early stages, was the first to pounce upon a tiring State of Play, opening up a short lead in midstretch as he passed the mile mark in 1:38, but weakened in the final sixteenth as Battle Hardened surged clear.

"He was very professional today," said Leparoux, who was riding Battle Hardened for the first time. "He broke good and put me in the right spot right away. In a big field, I knew we'd be in traffic. When he settled near the inside, he relaxed the way I wanted him to.

"On the second turn, I was able to get out and this horse has a long stride and he kept going. Eddie told me to warm him up good and it went well. I knew he was a maiden, of course, but Eddie told me his last race at Gulfstream was kind of like a win because he had a bad post and some bad luck. He ran big today."
It was a blanket finish for second, with 7-2 second choice Prospective edging the 5-1 Reveron by a nose, and 69-1 longshot Ravelo's Boy was another nose back in fourth. Neck 'n Neck, Fox Rules, State of Play, Burning Time, Moroccan Brew, Holy Highway and 7-2 favorite Ecabroni rounded out the order of finish.

Bred in Kentucky by Lakeside Farm, Battle Hardened sold for $170,000 at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale. He is out of stakes-winning Northern Fashion mare Jen's Fashion, the dam of 2004's Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap winner Colonial Colony. The 12-year-old broodmare produced a Majestic Warrior colt this year.

"We'll definitely take a real good look at the (Grade 2) Tampa Bay Derby (on March 10) and it's very likely," Kenneally said when asked about future plans. "We knew when his races started to go longer he was going to be a better horse. Two-turn races are what he wants to do and he is very good at it."



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