Cindy's Horse Racing Website Index

Triple Crown Prep Results

Date: 04/10/2004

Although some of the top contenders for the Kentucky Derby raced in their final prep in last weekend’s Santa Anita and Illinois Derbies, the majority of the serious Triple Crown hopefuls use the Big 3 Pick 3 races, for their final tune-up for the big dance. The Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, held three weeks before the Kentucky Derby, form the special national Pick 3 wager. Each race is run at 1 1/8 miles, just one furlong shorter than the Run for the Roses. This time the string of longshots that has muddled the Triple Crown trail was snapped with convincing and at least somewhat favored winners in all four of the biggest preps held this weekend.

Tapit winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
The first leg of the Big Three was the $750,000 Wood Memorial, where eleven went to post, with one circuit of Aqueduct’s main track in front of them. Sent off as the lukewarm 3-1 favorite in the Grade 1 event was Value Plus, and he took on fellow hopefuls Eddington, Master David, and Tapit, the next choices in the wagering, respectively. 18-1 shot Sinister G and the favorite Value Plus battled on the front end early, taking the field through a quick initial quarter of 23.74, a half in 47.12, and three quarters in 1:11.40, with longest shot Cuba staying close behind. The quick pace set the race up for the closers. Turning for home, Value Plus was finished and quickly dropped out of contention, eventually finishing sixth. Master David, who had chased the pace in fifth early on, on through on the rail and closed well. To his outside was 5-1 shot Tapit, who was taken back at the start and trailed the field down the backstretch. Tapit charged well down the lane, and outfinished Master David and Eddington in the final 1/16 to get the win by 1/2 a length in 1:49.70 for the 1 1/8 miles. It was just a nose back from Master David to Eddington.
Results Chart

Winning jockey Ramon Dominguez said, "I was on top of him and he did it extremely easy. He had a lot of horse left in the tank, regardless of whether or not he was 100 percent. You couldn't ask for a horse to behave better than he did. Around the turn, I knew he could angle out at any time. When we got to the top of the lane, I said it was time for me to circle horses. From the quarter-pole home, he picked it up very gradually and made me feel that he wasn't all out by any means. He was the last horse to pull up. He galloped out very strong."

Trainer Michael Dickinson said, Today, all I wanted to be was third to qualify him. I would have done anything to be third in today's race. He is a very courageous horse. He wasn't at his best today. He was very sick four weeks ago, and under normal circumstances, you wouldn't bring a horse back in four weeks. He is going to improve. I told [owner] Mr.[Ron] Winchell that if we ran third today, we would have a really good chance on the first of May (Kentucky Derby Day).

Bobby Frankel, trainer of second place finisher Master David, said, "He's in the Derby. He ran great today and I'm very happy with him. He hasn't been out in two months. I think he got beat because he didn't see the other horse on the outside. I have to have him cranked up right now because I need the money to get him in the Derby. He's a tough little horse, not as big as some of the other ones. But he gave it everything he had."

The Cliff's Edge in the winner's circle after the Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland.
At Keeneland, eight went to post (after the scratch of Birdstone) in the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes. 9-10 favorite Lion Heart and 6-1 third choice Limehouse battled on the front end for the first six furlongs, through fractions of 23.70, 46.60, and 1:11.12. On the far turn, Shane Sellers angled 5-1 shot The Cliff’s Edge three wide after settling back in seventh early on. Down the stretch, The Cliff’s Edge rallied strongly, passing Limehouse a furlong out and then just getting up to defeat Lion Heart by 1/2 a length in 1:49.42 over a fast track. It was six widening lengths back to the tiring Limehouse in third. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Action This Day was a disappointing sixth. Ironically, early in the year it seemed that the Triple Crown was all Nick Zito, since at the time he had three top contenders. Now at this late stage, The Cliff’s Edge is the only one of his horses to win a prep and possibly his only Kentucky Derby entrant if Birdstone doesn't recover quickly enough.
Results Chart

Winning jockey Shane Sellers said, "I wasn't going to take his game away from him today regardless of how the track was playing. We were in perfect position down the backstretch. It went just the way I thought it would. I knew there was some pace in the race so I was happy with my position. I waited a little longer than I ordinarily would have because I wanted him to have a big kick. The other horse dug in when we came to him but we were able to draw away at the end."

Winning trainer Nick Zito said, “Shane gave the horse a tremendous ride. He's one of the best jockeys ever. I'm very emotional right now. Lion Heart is a very talented horse. I don't think he quit, I think Cliff just beat him."

Patrick Biancone of beaten favorite and second place finisher Lion Heart said, "He ran a great race. He ran very brave and he fought hard. I'm pretty happy. It's good. We are here, we are in good shape and just have to cross our fingers for the next three weeks hope nothing happens to him. This horse fights. The main thing is that he has tactical speed that we can control now. He really relaxed in the paddock and wasn't scared of the crowd. Mike (Smith) said he should be good for the Derby."

Richard Mandella, trainer of Action This Day, said, "I am disappointed. I thought he was going to pick it up. I have no excuses. He is not running the way he did as a two-year-old and I don't know why. I will go on to Louisville and see what happens."

Smarty Jones heads for the winner's circle after the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn.
Eleven went to post in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby, and to celebrate Oaklawn’s centennial year, the purse was doubled to a record $1 million. The even-money favorite was the undefeated Smarty Jones, winner of the Rebel and also the sentimental favorite of the Oaklawn crowd. 6-1 shot Purge and the favorite Smarty Jones contested the early pace, through a half in 46.95 over the muddy track. On the far turn, Smarty Jones put his head in front and would not look back. Opening up a three length lead at the eight pole over 3-1 second choice Borrego, he easily held him off to win by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:49.41. It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to 18-1 longshot Pro Prado in third. Purge could not stay with the favorite and the quick pace, fading badly to fifth. The win means Smarty Jones now has the graded stakes earnings he needed to get in the Kentucky Derby and he is still in contention for the $5 million bonus put up by Oaklawn if he goes on to win the Derby.
Results Chart

Winning trainer John Servis said, "It kind of set up the way I thought. Early on I thought nobody wanted to be in front, and for about the first eighth of a mile I was afraid we were going to end up there and I didn't want to be there. But when I saw Purge go on and I thought this was going to be good."

Winning jockey Stewart Elliott, who has ridden Smarty Jones in all of his starts, said, "When I got to the lead, he had plenty left and finished strong and galloped out good." Servis confirmed that Elliott will keep the mount on Smarty Jones for the Derby, although he has been approached by others offering their services.

Forest Danger winning the Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct.
Although not a major Kentucky Derby prep, the Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes on the Wood Memorial undercard is still an important race for thee-year-olds who are more likely to skip the Derby and instead enter in the Peter Pan, the Belmont or later races for the sophomore division. 11-10 favorite Forest Danger lived up to expectation, taking the seven furlong sprint in gate-to-wire fashion by 7 1/2 widening lengths over 8-1 shot Abbondanza in a time of 1:20.67.
Results Chart

Winning trainer Todd Pletcher said, "This is a fast horse. He has impressed us since Day 1 You are always kind of cautious when you go from maiden and allowance races to a graded stakes. I wasn't surprised he was able to do this because he had trained so well. We'll see how he bounces out of this. The Withers is our first thought, as well as he ran over this track today. We'll play it by ear and see."

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