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.
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.
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.
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.
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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