With just nine weeks to go before the first Saturday in May, most Triple Crown hopefuls are only a couple of races out from their Derby starts. Four stakes races for three year olds were contested on Saturday, and another on Sunday with several Derby contenders taking to the track in an attempt to improve their chances on the Triple Crown Trail.
Water Cannon winner of the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park.
We start our tour on the east coast at Laurel Park in Maryland on Saturday afternoon. Seven went to post in the $40,000 Miracle Wood Stakes, including the highly-touted Capac sent off as the 2-5 favorite. However, he suffered from a wide trip throughout while staying in contention in third or fourth early, but simply failed to fire in the stretch run and finished fifth. 7-2 second choice Water Cannon had a much better trip, rating off the pace of 24.07, 47.90, 1:12.74, and 1:38.99 set by Acclimate, and closed well from fifth in mid stretch to win by 1/2 a length over 8-1 shot Eastern Bay in 1:45.29 for the 1 1/16 mile fast track feature. It was another 2 3/4 lengths back to 21-1 shot Wanaka in third.
Winning jockey Ramon Dominguez said, "[Trainer] Linda [Albert] told me the horse didn't need to be in front. He kind of surprised me when he made the lead, then down the backside he kind of got outrun. He came back and split horses and I thought he was very game." Winning trainer Linda Albert added, "I think he's improving a lot and the blinkers really made him focus." He will start next in the Private Terms Stakes.
Jockey Jeremy Rose, aboard beaten favorite Capac, said, "I have absolutely no idea what happened. I had the leaders tracked and should have run by them with ease if I had any horse. We should have won but he just didn't respond. I have no reason why."
Silver Minister winner of the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park.
Turfway Park in Kentucky was the site of the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes, also at 1 1/16 miles on the main track. 2-1 favorite Silver Minister did not disappoint his backers, sitting close to the pace of 8-1 shot Peter the Rock for the first half mile in 46.99, taking over on the second turn and then drawing clear to win by 2 3/4 lengths over late-charging 7-1 shot Little Matth Man in 1:44.79. It was another length back to 3-1 second choice White Mountain Boy in third.
Winning owner Rob Lloyd of Lloyd Madison Farms said, "This horse is versatile and he looked in good shape the whole time. He was right there stalking the whole time, but I was looking at the times and they were right in line with what I thought he could do. They actually looked a little better than last time [in the WEBN], since this race was a little longer. This is what you get into it [ownership] for, that's what you hope for, and we're just enjoying this one."
Smarty Jones winner of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn.
The $100,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas drew a field of nine. Overwhelming 1-2 favorite Smarty Jones lived up to expectation, chasing the pace of 8-1 shot Wildcat Shoes the whole way through 3/4 in 1:11.25, and then taking over at the top of the stretch to win by 3/4 length, holding off the late-running 10-1 shot Two Down Automatic in the final strides. The running time was 1:37.57 for the mile event over a fast track. It was another 1/2 length back to 3-1 second choice Pro Prado in third.
Winning trainer John Servis said, "I was concerned about [jockey] Stewart [Elliott] letting the leader steal off too far. But he knows Smarty Jones well and rode a nice race. The race will really help our colt. He really will improve with this race under him. In the time we've been here, I've asked him to really finish up in one of his works. Yes, the Rebel [March 20] is next."
Seattle Borders winning the Baldwin Stakes at Santa Anita.
Out west to Santa Anita, where the final important prep race on Saturday was the Grade 3 Baldwin Stakes, a 6 1/2 furlong sprint on the downhill turf course. Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Minister Eric was to make his three-year-old debut here for trainer Richard Mandella, but he failed to draw into the race and was scratched the morning of the event. 5-1 third choice Seattle Borders stalked the early pace along the hedge down the hill, then rallied three wide late in the stretch to win by a length over 12-1 shot Stalking Tiger. It was 1/2 a length back to Jungle Prince and another 1/2 length back to 9-5 favorite Saint Afleet in fourth. The running time was 1:14.09 over the good course.
Alex Solis and Seattle Borders return after winning the Baldwin Stakes.
Winning jockey Alex Solis said, "He broke really good and I got placed right behind the speed. Actually I had a great trip, I was very lucky. I got him out in the clear and he came running." Seattle Borders was making his three-year-old debut, and had not raced since breaking his maiden on December 26.
Trainer Bobby Frankel was in Louisiana preparing Peace Rules for the New Orleans Handicap on Sunday, which he won. Humberto Ascanio, assistant to Frankel, said, "This is like the third time I've seen this horse. When he came from Delaware he was real sick with the flu but Bobby took his time and it paid off. Liked the way he was before the race, sharp and alert."
Go Kitty Go winner of the Borderland Derby at Sunland Park shown here last year at Woodbine.
On Sunday, the lone Triple Crown prep was contested at Sunland Park in New Mexico. The $100,000 Borderland Derby. Eleven faced the starter in this 1 mile event, with Rocky Gulch sent off as the 11-10 favorite. Jockey Michael Clark sent Rocky Gulch to the front and led the field most of the way around through six furlongs in 1:12.14, while dueling with 9-2 third choice Hi Teck Man. But the 24-1 longshot, California-bred maiden Go Kitty Go, back in ninth early, went five wide on the far turn and wore down the favorite inside the 1/16 pole to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths in a time of 1:37.87 over the fast track. It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to Hi Tech Man.
Winning trainer Mac Miller said, "I had a lot of confidence in this horse I really feel like he might just be coming around, I had been looking for a good horse for [owners Vernon and Sylvia Hauschild] for some time, and now we are going to the WinStar Derby."