Once upon a time the Hutcheson Stakes was the kickoff to the 3-year-old season for classic winners. Spectacular Bid scored an impressive victory in the Hutcheson for his first start of 1979 for trainer Bud Delp in early February, then rolled through the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, Flamingo and Blue Grass en route to his popular victory in the Kentucky Derby. Woody Stephens started Swale out in the Hutcheson five years later as the first of his four preps before victory in the Run for the Roses.
Swale, however, was the last horse to parlay victory from the Hutcheson to any one of the Triple Crown races.
So I'm not going to put much stock into Thunder Moccasin's win in last Saturday's Hutcheson for Todd Pletcher and Starlight Racing, even though it may have been visually impressive (he won by 6 3/4 lengths) and kept the son of A.P. Warrior unbeaten in two starts.
Using sprint races as preps for serious Kentucky Derby contenders has gone the way of mile workouts, blow-outs and medication free runners. You rarely see it any more.
In fact, the last Kentucky Derby winner to begin his season with a sprint stakes victory was Silver Charm, who won the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes for trainer Bob Baffert to kick off his 1997 campaign. Since then, only three Derby winners won a sprint of any kind during the early part of their 3-year-old season: Charismatic won a claiming race in February 1999, Fusaichi Pegasus took a maiden sprint in January 2000, and Monarchos broke his maiden going seven furlongs in January 2001.
Most trainers now race their Derby prospects so sparingly they can ill-afford to use a sprint race to give a foundation and seasoning to their candidates for the classics.
That's why, in my mind, the allowance victory by the Baffert-trained Fed Biz going a mile at Santa Anita on Feb. 9 will be a far more meaningful race than the Hutcheson. Fed Biz, a son of Giant's Causeway out of a mare by Wild Again, looks to be a colt with a proclivity to run all day long, and he might have just been getting warmed up when he reached the wire 5 3/4 lengths clear of his closest pursuer. It was the second impressive victory for Fed Biz, who broke his maiden going a mile in late December after a fourth-place finishing sprinting a month earlier.
Another allowance race, this one at Gulfstream Park on the same day as the Hutcheson, featured the Smart Strike colt Spring Hill Farm, bred by the late Edward P. Evans and named in honor of his Virginia farm that produced so many outstanding runners over the years. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the colt was produced from a mare by Pleasant Colony, who raced for Evans' father Thomas Mellon Evans. Pleasant Colony, of course, won the 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness before finishing third in the Belmont Stakes.
Spring Hill Farm was making his second start and was coming off a 6 1/4-length maiden win at Gulfstream. He had to work this time, beating Unbridled Minister by a length and a quarter as the heavy favorite, going wire to wire. His final time of 1:39.47 for the one-turn mile and final quarter mile in 26.64 seconds do not inspire great confidence going forward, but the race was run on an off track.
It's another relatively slow weekend ahead for 3-year-olds, the only stakes race of significance being the Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn Park on Monday, Presidents Day. Among the contenders for that race is Longview Drive, who trainer Jerry Hollendorfer is shipping from California after a third-place finish to Out of Bounds in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. The son of Pulpit also finished third in the rich Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs in December.
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