Twinspires.com Weekend Stakes: Where To Watch
From East to West, there will be plenty of graded stakes to take in over the weekend, especially on Saturday when we’ll see a couple Derby preps, along with a half-dozen other stakes with graded status. In South Florida we’ll see the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, for older horses going a mile on dirt, supported by the Palm Beach (G3) for sophomores on turf. Also on Gulfstream Park’s card is the Timely Writer, where Uncle Mo, at 3-5, is expected to easily handle his five opponents. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Pluck, was cross-entered in the Palm Beach, as well as an allowance at Tampa Bay, and trainer Graham Motion has opted for Tampa Bay. That leaves the Palm Beach with nine expected starters including Master Dunker, Liberty Cap and East of Danzig, all returning from the Hallandale.
The Gulfstream Park Handicap has attracted a contentious cast, including 121 lb. highweight Tackleberry, who just keeps finding the winner’s circle no matter what kind of race or distance he’s entered in. He most recently won Gulfstream’s Sprint Championship defeating Soaring Empire, who also returns here. Elsewhere in the line-up is Rule, most recently third in the G1 Donn, and Tizway, making his 2011 debut, last seen in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, finishing fifth.
Though Uncle Mo was entered in the Tampa Bay Derby in case the Timely Writer didn’t fill, his stablemate, Brethren, is expected to be the heavy favorite in the 1 1/16-mile test. The Tampa Bay Derby, a newly designated Grade 2, has proven its case as a viable Kentucky Derby prep; Street Sense won this race in 2007 and Super Saver, a half-brother to Brethren, in 2010. Brethren, like Super Saver, is a homebred campaigned by WinStar Farm and trained by Todd Pletcher. Eight others will face Brethren, who seeks to keep his unbeaten string intact, including three who finished behind him in the Sam F. Davis, Too Experience, Watch Me Go and Beamer.
Saturday’s Tampa Bay card also includes the G3 Hillsborough, for older females going 1 1/8 miles on the grass. Askbut I Won’ttell ended her 2010 campaign with back-to-back wins in two Grade 3 turf stakes and missed by just a half-length in the Jan. 29 Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf. Exiting Grade 3 winners Keertana (The Very One) and Cherokee Queen (Suwanee River) are also among the nine starters. Another to watch here is Zagora, a French-bred who arrived in the States last fall, running second in the G1 Queen Elizabeth Cup at Keeneland; if she’s ready, she has the class to win here.
Oaklawn Park, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, is host to two graded events, the Honeybee, for 3-year-old fillies, and the Razorback, for older horses. Both races are Grade 3 and 1 1/16 miles on the dirt. A strong performance in the Honeybee may indicate a readiness to go to Louisville for the Kentucky Oaks. Perhaps one of those emerging starlets is Rigoletta, winner of last fall’s G1 Oak Leaf. Her 2011 debut was on turf, a surface that her trainer, Dan Hendricks, said didn’t suit her.
The Razorback marks the return of Winslow Homer, winner of four of six lifetime starts, including the G3 Holy Bull while on the Derby Trail last year. Now under the care of Larry Jones, the striking grey colt has not raced since he won the Curlin last summer at Saratoga. Also in the field of seven is Win Willy, who crossed the finish line first in this race in 2010, but was consequently disqualified from first-place money when post-race testing detected the presence of two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Since then, he’s won or placed in five of six starts, most recently a runner-up in Oaklawn’s Feb. 13 Essex Handicap.
Moving on to the West Coast, Santa Anita has the G1 Santa Margarita Invitational, as well as the G2 San Felipe on tap. The Santa Margarita looks like a competitive match-up among Always a Princess, Vision in Gold and Switch. All three fillies are winners of their last two starts, but Switch would seem to have the class edge, having won the Santa Monica and La Brea, both Grade 1 tests.
The San Felipe may bring some clarity to the Derby picture, or may serve to muddle the picture further, depending on who steps up in this 1 1/16-mile contest. Bob Baffert has a pair entered, Awesome Patriot and Jaycito. The latter was a highly-regarded 2-year-old trained by Mike Mitchell, whose poor performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile was a disappointment to his many backers. He’s been with Baffert since last fall and will race without blinkers in the San Felipe. Comma to the Top, who went unbeaten in his final five starts of 2010, looks to avenge his loss in Golden Gate’s G3 El Camino Real Derby. Tim Yakteen, a Baffert protégé, has an interesting prospect in Bench Points, undefeated thus far. The Cal-bred won two state-bred stakes last year and an optional claimer this year.
On Sunday, there will be one graded stakes run—the G3 Herecomesthebride, at Gulfstream Park. Excited is the 5-2 morning line favorite among the nine expected starters in this nine furlong grass event. It may time for the Todd Pletcher-trained daughter of Giant’s Causeway to be the bride; she has been the bridesmaid in her three previous starts, including her most recent, the Sweetest Chant, where she was beaten by Kathmanblu, a leading candidate for the Kentucky Oaks.