Aqueduct, Keeneland and Santa Anita offer Kentucky Derby, Oaks preps

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Ted Black

April 7th, 2019

Saturday afternoon proved to be among the best days for those who follow horses looking to punch their tickets to the Grade I Kentucky Derby and accompanying Grade I Kentucky Oaks as Aqueduct Race Course in New York, Keeneland Race Course in New York and Santa Anita Park in Southern California all hosted lucrative graded stakes that served as ideal preps.

Saturday afternoon at Aqueduct, Tacitus (Jose Ortiz) punched his ticket to the Debry when he overcame a rough start and swept to command on the far turn then outkicked Tax (Junior Alvarado) for a half-length score in 1:51.23 in the Grade II, $750,000 Wood Memorial. A sophomore son of Tapit trained by Bill Mott, a genuine legendary conditioner who has won every race except the Derby, Tacitus recorded his second straight Grade II score and third victory in four career tries and pushed his earnings past $700,000.

Roughly 30 minutes later in the Grade II, $1 million Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, Vekoma (Javier Castellano) rebounded from a third-place effort in the Grade II Fountain Of Youth Stakes when he surged to command at the head of the lane and drew clear to a five-length score while getting the nine furlongs in 1:50.48. A sophomore son of Candy Ride trained by George Weaver, Vekoma recorded his third win from four career outings and pushed his lifetime bankroll toward $800,000, about six times his original sales price.

Then roughly 30 minutes later at Santa Anita, Roadster (Mike Smith) rallied from well off the pace to overhaul 2-5 choice and illustrious stablemate Game Winner (Joel Rosario) to prevail by a neck in 1:51.25 for the nine furlongs. A sophomore son of Quality Road trained by Bob Baffert, Roadster notched his second straight score and third win in four starts overall and avenged his only previous setback to fellow Baffert trainee Game Winner by handing the reigning division champ his second straight defeat at odds-on to open the year.

In the trio of Kentucky Oaks preps hosted earlier at those same ovals, Always Shopping (Manuel Franco) rallied to capture the Grade II, $300,000 Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct for trainer Todd Pletcher, Out for a Spin (Paco Lopez) posted a 52-1 shocker in the Grade I, $500,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland then Bellafina (Flavien Prat) romped home five lengths clear in the Grade I, $300,000 Santa Anita Oaks as the 1-5 choice for trainer Simon Callaghan. Bellafina was the most impressive winner of the trio and now owns six wins and $1 million banked from eight starts and looms the solid favorite for the Kentucky Oaks.

Earlier on the Aqueduct card, Mind Control (John Velazquez) overhauled favored Much Better (Victor Espinoza) in the final 100 yards to capture the Grade III, $250,000 Bay Shore Stakes by getting the seven panels in 1:23.45 for his fourth win in seven career tries. Early on the Keeneland card, Honest Mischief (Castellano) delivered an impressive performance while taking a seven-furlong maiden special weight event for three-year-olds in 1:22.79. Several races later on the card, Bobby's Wicked One captured the Grade III, $250,000 Commonwealth in 1:22.80 for the same distance.