Chalks Talk In Big Stakes But Silent In Other Events
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San Felipe Stakes:
We start with the Derby prep race that featured the best overall group. The 4-to-5 favorite Dortmund took no prisoners from the onset and went gate-to-wire in another impressive performance.
The gigantic son of Big Brown briefly looked vulnerable around the far turn when Bolo ranged up and looked him in the eye, but the long-stride of Dortmund starts to become an asset as the field straightens into the stretch, and he turned back the bid of Bolo with disdainful ease, and powered home to win by just over a length under high-weight of 123 pounds. According to Trakus, Bolo ran 43 feet farther than Dortmund and he ran a game race in his dirt debut to finish third after taking a bold run at the eventual winner. While Bolo's performance was very encouraging, he never was behind horses and never took dirt in the face at any point of the race. It will be interesting to see how Bolo is able to rate behind horses and handle kickback because that is a situation he must handle in order to be able to compete in a race like the Kentucky Derby.
Prospect Park ran a very good, albeit non-threatening second in the San Felipe. He raced 27 feet more than Dortmund according to Trakus and made a sustained late run to nail Bolo for second in the final yards.
The disappointment of the race was clearly Ocho Ocho Ocho. Away since November, Mike Smith had called Ocho Ocho Ocho “Shared Belief Jr.” and bettors backed him to 4-to-1 odds, but he was squeezed a bit at the start, was rank in tight quarters going into the first turn, and made absolutely no impression after that. I wanted to see the head-on replay of this race and focus on Ocho Ocho Ocho, but unfortunately when I click on the 'Head-on' option, it shows the 1982 Santa Anita Handicap featuring John Henry and Perrault. According to trainer Jim Cassidy, Ocho Ocho Ocho emerged from the San Felipe with lacerations on both front legs.
Tampa Bay Derby:
Carpe Diem, away since a runner-up finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, made an impressive seasonal debut when he captured the Tampa Bay Derby by five lengths while conceding six pounds to all challengers except Ocean Knight.
Stalking a fairly quick early pace, Carpe Diem launched a winning move on the far turn and simply dominated the field. This son of Giant's Causeway was a $550,000 yearling purchase at the Keeneland September sale, who became a successful pinhook six months later when he sold for $1,600,000 at OBS March. Here's a video of Carpe Diem's under-tack drill at OBS March, where he went 10.20 seconds and posted a very impressive gallop-out.
Adding blinkers and getting lasix for the first-time, Ami's Flatter had a huge look on paper going into the Tampa Bay Derby. He was compromised by a soft early pace in the Sam F. Davis, and he got the anticipated quick and contested pace this time, but he could only manage finishing a well-beaten second, while still 2 ½ lengths clear of third-place finisher Divining Rod.
Racing with a bar shoe, Divining Rod was hounded by eventual last-place finisher My Johnny Be Good through a strong 46.65 half mile. By comparison, a solid group of older males went 48.19 for an opening half mile in the Challenger, a race won emphatically by General a Rod, a horse who competed in all 3 legs of last year’s Triple Crown Series. Considering the pace and the way he easily disposed of My Johnny Be Good, I thought Divining Rod ran better than his race will look on paper. I certainly don't believe Divining Rod is a Classic type horse, but he could do some damage in middle distances races if carefully managed.
Finally, the disappointment of the race was Ocean Knight, who never ran a step. Indeed, Ocean Knight was beaten 29 ¼ lengths at 9-to-5 odds. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is 0-for-26 in Florida since February 1, and he had yet another rough weekend down there as his very promising maiden Wisecracker was also soundly beaten at Gulfstream on Saturday.
El Kabeir had to concede six pounds to every horse in the field, and the expected fast pace dictated that he might have to rate this time, but neither of those things proved much obstacle as El Kabeir rallied past a much maligned group to take the Gotham by almost three lengths.
The knocks on El Kabeir are still there. He didn't exactly beat a stellar group. Ocean Knight, who was beaten almost 30 lengths in the Tampa Derby, would've been a clear-cut favorite in this spot after the earlier Gotham defection of Far From Over.
The eventual second-place finisher, Tiz Shea D, had just a maiden debut win at Parx to his credit and was making only his second lifetime start (albeit first for Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott). Even though El Kabeir demonstrated tactical versatility and got the job done nicely, his performance wasn't exactly one of the most exciting of the week.
A trio of impressive winners emerge at Gulfstream Park:
In a week where Todd Pletcher lost Khozan, he had another exciting two-career-start colt emerge in Materiality.
A son of Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, Materiality was an impressive debut winner on January 11 going six furlongs in the slop at Gulfstream. He returned Friday in the Islamorada Handicap at 1 1/8 miles and scattered his opposition in impressive fashion while earning a 100 Brisnet.com Speed Rating and 104 Beyer Speed Figure.
As is the case with Dortmund, Materiality is a graduate of the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Timonium two-year-old sale. He sold for $400,000 after a 10.40 work that featured an impressive gallop out, as you can see here:
Saturday’s card at Gulfstream included the rescheduled Swale Stakes and a rescheduled one-mile Maiden Special Weight race on the dirt that featured three very hyped maidens.
In the Swale, Daredevil was bet to 3-to-5 favoritism in his first start since tanking in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. His seasonal debut was a nice effort, but he ran into a buzzsaw named Ready For Rye who performed sensationally, earning a 110 Brisnet.com Speed Rating and a 109 Beyer in victory.
Coming into Saturday, Ready For Rye’s trainer Tom Albertrani was 0-for-60 at the Gulfstream meeting, but that cycle of misery capitulated as Albertrani trained horses won the second race ($20.40), the fifth race ($6.80) and the sixth race ($14.60) all by clear margins. Ready For Rye is certainly a sprinter to follow.
Finally, Unbridled Juan emerged from a loaded maiden race at one-mile on Saturday, as a potential star. The son of Unbridled's Song out of the multiple graded stakes-winning mare Sugar Swirl added lasix for the first time, and drew off impressively to a seven length score in final time of 1:37.28 (a mere 0.91 seconds slower than Honor Code needed to capture a very strong edition of the Gulfstream Park Handicap, later on in the day).
The promising maiden Wisecracker had absolutely no response for Unbridled Juan in the stretch. Yes, the Kiaran McLaughlin barn has gone ice cold in Florida over recent weeks, but certainly more was expected from Wisecracker who has had the misfortune of running into a pair of killers so far. Finally, the hyped Chad Brown debuter Seeking Alpha was simply in way too deep. Yes, he did finish third, but he was 17 lengths behind Unbridled Juan, and 10 lengths behind Wisecracker.
Since the track configuration changed 10 years ago, Gulfstream Park tends to card a one-mile Maiden Special Weight race for three-year-olds on dirt that it runs on a Saturday card this time of year. This specific Saturday fixture has produced some second-time starters in the past, who would go on to become very famous horses. You can see their past performances below.