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2003 Kentucky Derby Preps
Florida Derby and Swale Stakes
San Felipe, Gotham, and Tampa Bay Derby

It was Bobby Frankel and Jerry Bailey day at Gulfstream Park on Saturday as the trainer and jockey teamed up to sweep both Triple Crown prep races on the card. The main event of the afternoon, the 1 1/8 mile Grade 1 Florida Derby, drew a competitive field of seven vying for a piece of the $1 million purse. As expected, even-money favorite Trust N Luck went to the front right away, leading the procession through fractions of 22.86,

Empire Maker won the Florida Derby by 9 3/4 lengths.
46.35, and 1:10.73 for 6 furlongs. 2-1 second choice Empire Maker tracked the pace saving ground early, then down the stretch collared Trust N Luck a furlong out and drew off to win by 9 3/4 lengths, the longest winning margin in the race's history. The final time was 1:49.05 over a fast, drying out track. It was another 1/2 length back to Indy Dancer in third. Commenting on Empire Maker running on blinkers for the first time, Frankel said, "The blinkers made a huge difference. He broke alertly and was right there." Bailey added, "He'd been looking around and giving up two or lengths into the first turn in all his earlier races. He didn't do that today." Frankel is considering training Empire Maker into the Kentucky Derby with no further starts. "This horse is bred to go six miles, so I'm not worried about his stamina. I was originally thinking of going to the Wood [Memorial, April 12] but I'll have to analyze this race before I make a decision. He went five weeks between races coming into this race, and he can go seven into the Derby without a problem." Sadly the race was marred by the fatal breakdown of Midway Cat as he entered the final turn. His jockey, Jorge Chavez, was hospitalized as a precaution for x-rays and back pain. His agent, Ronnie Ebanks, said on Sunday morning: "Jorge checked out clean; there's nothing broken. He should be back riding in six or seven days." Chart

Midas Eyes came off a 7 month layoff to win the Swale Stakes by 9 1/4 lengths.
Just 90 minutes later was the seven-furlong Swale Stakes, where 7-5 favorite Whywhywhy made his return to sprinting after failing around two turns his last two starts. However, it was the 4-1 third choice Midas Eyes who stole the show. Making his first start for new owner Edmund Gann and new trainer Bobby Frankel after a seven month layoff, he stumbled at the start but was quickly hustled to the front by Jerry Bailey after half a mile. Turning for home he left the field in his wake, powering away to a 9 1/4 length win in 1:21.06 over the late closing Posse. It was another 4 1/2 lengths back to Whywhywhy in third. Jockey Jerry Bailey said, "I kept thinking I was hearing someone right behind me so I kept driving and then I looked around at the wire and I was 10 lengths in front." Bobby Frankel said, "I knew he was fit enough, he trained really well at Hollywood and I knew he was going to run good. If he broke good he had a real good chance." Chart

Three more Triple Crown prep races were run on Sunday, the San Felipe (G2) at Santa Anita, the Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct, and Tampa Bay Derby (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.

Buddy Gil between horses just holds off Atswhatimtalkinbout to win the San Felipe by a nose.
At Santa Anita, ten horses faced the starter looking for the winner's share of the $250,000 purse of the San Felipe Stakes and a possible trip to the Kentucky Derby. The public did not come up with a clear favorite in this very contentious field, with Domestic Dispute going off at a lukewarm 2-1 and second choice Man Among Men at 5-2. When the race got underway, jockey Tyler Baze sent 10-1 longshot Siberland to the front, leading the field through fractions of 22.88, 46.57, and 1:10.84. Running with him were the two longest shots on the board, 49-1 Brancusi and 86-1 Logician. Turning for home, Gary Stevens aboard 10-1 shot Buddy Gil, sixth early on, made his move to the leaders but encountered a wall of horses. Down the stretch he finally found an opening and went on past Brancusi to take the lead. Atswhatimtalkinbout, slowest out of the gate and last early, made his late rally five wide to just miss. The photo finish revealed Buddy Gil held off the closer by a nose, in a final time of 1:43.64 for the 1 1/16 miles. It was another 3/4 length back to Brancusi. Favored Domestic Dispute went four wide into the stretch and lacked any late response, finishing fifth, while Man Among Men was never in contention finishing seventh. Chart

Winning jockey Gary Stevens said, "I felt like I was on a 3-5 shot, not a 12-1. He really gave me what I wanted and put himself right into the 3-year-old picture. I was on this horse for his last two works and they were sensational. The way he ran in the Baldwin and today gives Jeff a horse that can go long or short, on dirt or turf." Winning trainer Jeff Mullins said "If they leave us alone in the stretch, we win anyway. This guy right here [Gary Stevens] made me confident. He had confidence, and when that guy's got confidence, we all got confidence. You've got to give the horse a chance to prove himself, and Gary's talking [Kentucky] Derby already." Jerry Bailey, aboard the beaten favorite Domestic Dispute, said, "This gives me one less option for the Kentucky Derby. If you asked me to make a pick of Derby mounts today, I'd have to go with (Florida Derby winner) Empire Maker. This horse stumbled a little at the start, and traveled wide in the backstretch, but he flattened out when I thought he'd be moving into contention."

Alysweep won the Gotham Stakes by 4 1/4 lengths in his first start longer than 6 furlongs. Photo courtesy of Adam Coglianese, NYRA Photos
At Aqueduct, a field of nine contested the Gotham Stakes over 1 mile and 70 yards on the inner dirt track after the two outside horses scratched because of the short run into the turn. Like at Santa Anita, there was no clear favorite, with top choice Colita going off at almost 3-1. Shaun Bridgmohan got the call on the favorite after regular rider Jorge Chavez was injured in Saturday's Florida Derby. In contrast to the west coast counterpart, this event was won on the front end. Jockey Richard Migliore sent 9.5-1 shot Alysweep to the front, controlling the pace and saving ground through fractions of 23.80, 47.69, and 1:11.89. He had plenty left in the stretch and extended his lead to 4 1/4 lengths at the wire, easily holding off the late running 4-1 chance Grey Comet. It was another 1 1/2 lengths back to 5-1 shot Spite the Devil. The favorite was outrun early and suffered from a wide trip but did manage to get up for fourth just a neck behind Spite the Devil. The final time was 1:40.60 over a fast track. Chart

Winning trainer Patrick Reynolds said, "This was a big effort. He's got speed, speed and more speed - and that's what racehorses need. Richie [Migliore] had him on cruise control. I was pretty confident. He made the lead easy and the fractions were moderate. I didn't see anybody coming any part of the way. He won easy, and galloped out real strong. This guy seems to relax and he seems to accelerate around turns. I don't want to be a `rabbit' or a pacesetter in any Grade 1 race, but as easy as he did this, we'll have to really think about the Wood Memorial. He's got a lot of Aqueduct wins. I'm thinking either Wood or Blue Grass." Frank Amonte, assistant to trainer Gary Contessa, of runner-up Grey Comet, said, "I thought he ran excellent. To be beat just four lengths against open company in a $200,000 race - this is one of his better races. I think Gary [Contessa] is going to wait for the next New York-bred race, because he gets a bonus if he gets that."

Region of Merit winner of the Tampa Bay Derby. Photo courtesy of Tom Cooley, Tampa Bay Downs
At Tampa Bay Downs, nine horses went to post in the 1 1/16 mile Tampa Bay Derby. Region of Merit was sent off as the 3-2 favorite, with Aristocat the second choice at 2-1. 35-1 longshot Hear No Evil was loose on the lead most of the way, through fractions of 23.33, 47.06, 1:11.68, and the mile in 1:37.64. Stalking him was the favorite, going four wide into the stretch. With a furlong to go Region of Merit passed the pacesetter, and held off the late rally of Aristocat by 3/4 length, capturing the event in a final time of 1:44.61. It was just a neck back to Hear No Evil in third. Chart

Winning trainer Christophe Clement said, "He won well, it was a game race. At the quarter-pole, I thought it would have been a little easier but he won so it doesn't matter. I'm very happy with first performance in a stakes race; he's proved he's a stakes horse. I want to talk to the jockey, see how the horse came out of the race and we'll make our decisions from there. I'm not ruling anything out [Kentucky Derby] but I'm not there yet. One step at a time."

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