The latest round of Triple Crown prep races this weekend was highlighted by two graded races at Gulfstream Park. In all, six preps were run with several major contenders making their first steps on the Triple Crown trail
High Fly holds off Bandini in the Fountain of Youth.
The richest prep race of the afternoon was the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes, with a field of nine going 1 1/8 miles for a $300,000 purse. As expected, High Fly was sent off as the 11-10 favorite, with Bandini the second choice at 5-2. At the start, jockey Jorge Chavez gunned 17-1 shot B.B. Best to the front, and he was chased by the favorite through a half in 46.94 and 3/4 in 1:11.02 before High Fly was able to shake him loose. Through the lane, High Fly was fully extended, holding off the late move of stalker Bandini to win by 3/4 length in a time of 1:49.70 over the fast track. It was another 3/4 length back to B.B. Best in third. Winning trainer Nick Zito said, "He was real impressive. I knew he was a quality horse after the Aventura. Obviously he's a top horse, the way he relaxed and had enough to finish." Asked about future plans, he said, "We'll talk to the owners. The Kentucky Derby could be a good way to go. I'd rather get through the Florida Derby before deciding." Todd Pletcher said of Bandini, "We're going to breeze him in blinkers to see if an equipment change will make a difference. We're very pleased with this performance but he needs to get a little more focused."
Lost in the Fog winning the Swale Stakes.
On the undercard of the Fountain of Youth was the Grade 2 Swale Stakes, a seven-furlong sprint on the main track for $150,000. A field of ten faced the starter, with the undefeated Lost in the Fog sent off as the prohibitive 1-2 favorite over 5-1 second choice Santana Springs. When the gate opened, jockey Clinton Potts sent 69-1 longest shot More Smoke to the front, setting blistering early fractions of 22.07 and 44.67 as the favorite sat a length and a half back. Turning for home, Russell Baze asked Lost in the Fog for run and got it, as he took command and drew away through the lane to win by 4 3/4 lengths over 25-1 shot Around the Cape, in 1:22.21. It was just 3/4 length back to pacesetter More Smoke in third. Winning trainer Greg Gilchrist said, The Florida Derby is a possibility, I think the horse likes it here and can do real well. I would say he went from being 75-25 to being 50-50 for the Florida Derby and we will put up the $6,000 (supplemental Triple Crown nomination). Other possibilities might be the Santa Anita Derby or the race in New York (the Wood Memorial). It will depend on how quick he snaps back from this race."
Declan's Moon did not disappoint as the favorite in the Santa Catalina.
Santa Anita Park was the scene for the Grade 2 Santa Catalina Stakes, a $200,000 event over 1 1/16 miles on the main track. Declan's Moon was the 4-5 favorite in the field of six, which also included 7-2 second choice Going Wild and 4-1 third choice Spanish Chestnut. Gary Stevens sent Spanish Chestnut to the lead right away, and with Going Wild and Declan's Moon pressing him, he went a half in 46.89 and 3/4 in 1:10.85. Spanish Chestnut held the lead to the 1/8 pole, at which time Declan's Moon pulled clear to his outside to win by 2 lengths over Going Wild in second, in a time of 1:42.41. It was another 3 lengths back to the pacesetter in third. The race was marred by the breakdown of 6-1 shot Snack, who took a bad step down the backstretch and was pulled up. Winning trainer Ron Ellis said, "Hopefully this race didn't take too much out of him. He was pricking his ears down there at the end and hopefully this was just what I wanted. The Santa Anita Derby (April 9) for sure (is his next race). I was a little concerned that if he went three-wide around both turns that he might not be fit enough, but that wasn't the case. He had plenty left." Winning rider Victor Espinoza added, "He feels different now. He's getting better. Each race he's getting better. He was unbelievable. He's learning more about how to run. All the way around this horse felt very strong."
Chandtrue never ran a lick in his comeback attempt in the Baldwin Stakes.
On the undercard of the Santa Catalina was the $110,450 Baldwin Stakes. Originally scheduled as a Grade 3 event at 6 1/2 furlongs on the turf, the race was downgraded when it was moved to the main track. 7-1 shot High Standards stalked the pace off the rail early and then pulled clear late in the stretch to win by 2 1/2 lengths over 10-1 shot Talking to John in 1:16.16. 3-2 favorite and Triple Crown nominee Chandtrue was never in contention, weakening to a sixth place finish. Corey Nakatani, rider of Chandtrue, said, "I had no horse. I thought he was good. He's been training good, I thought. I don't know. We'll see what happens when he gets back to the barn."
Magna Graduate won by 3 3/4 lengths in the Battaglia Memorial.
At Turfway Park in Kentucky, nine faced the starter in the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. 3-1 second choice Magna Graduate stalked the early pace of 3-2 favorite Ultimate through 3/4 in 1:12.00, then shook him off at the 3/16 pole and drew 3 3/4 clear of 4-1 third choice Pavo at the line in a time of 1:43.94. It was another 1 1/2 length back to pacesetter Ultimate. Winning rider Dean Sarvis said, "He's a very smart colt. As soon as I asked him to go with that horse, he gave me another gear. He drew away with authority and actually had a little something left. He got the horse on the lead on his own, and when we turned for home and I asked him to go, he gave me a good kick. He was very well prepared. He did everything right." Trainer Patrick Byrne said Magna Graduate would start next in the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway.
Afleet Alex was an easy winner in the Mountain Valley Stakes.
Oaklawn Park hosted the $50,000 Mountain Valley Stakes, a 6-furlong sprint. In what was essentially a public workout, 3-10 favorite Afleet Alex relaxed and dropped back to fifth early in the field of six, then going wide around the turn, jockey Jeremy Rose asked for run and he easily circled the field and blew right by the leader in mid stretch, winning by 2 3/4 lengths at the line in a time of 1:09.52, equaling the stakes record. Rose continued to hand-ride Afleet Alex past the finish, as clockers timed him going 7 furlongs in 1:22.60 and a mile in 1:39.00. "Alex ran awesome," said Rose, who was completing a riding triple. "He won with plenty of gas left in the tank."