Derby and Oaks hopefuls on full display on Saturday

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Ted Black

April 8th, 2018

Thoroughbred racing fans who follow those sophomores heading to the Triple Crown trail next month were keenly watching races from Aqueduct, Keeneland and Santa Anita on Saturday afternoon as those tracks offered prep races for both the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks.

Saturday's Aqueduct card was highlighted by the Grade II, $750,000 Wood Memorial for three-year-olds at one-mile and an eighth as the Big Apple offered its final serious prep for the Kentucky Derby. Onlookers had narrowed the group down to three serious contenders and the Wood proved to be formful along those lines.

Longshot Old Time Revival gained command and led the field through wicked early splits on a very clear lead before he simply wilted leaving the three-eighths pole. Vino Rosso, reserved well off the lead and the fast early tempo, moved alongside favored Enticed leaving the quarter-pole and simply overhauled the favorite in the final furlong en route to a two-length score while getting the nine furlongs in 1:49.79 over the fast main track.

A sophomore son of Curlin out of a Street Cry mare trained by Todd Pletcher, Vino Rosso notched his first win in three starts this year and recorded his third win from five career outings and pushed his lifetime earnings past $535,000. In retrospect, neither his winning time or late rally - both aided by the loose-running Old Time Revival - were anything special and he looms one of Pletcher's second tier sophomores, but he is likely going to join that contingent in the run for the roses next month.

Several races earlier on the card, My Miss Lilly rallied from midpack and widest of all to capture the Grade II, $300,000 Gazelle Stakes for three-year-old fillies. A daughter of Tapit out of a Harlan's Holiday mare, My Miss Lilly notched her first win in three starts this year and recorded her second win from four lifetime outings and pushed her career bankroll past $250,000 while getting the nine furlongs in 1:50.42.

Also on the card, Discreet Lover rallied from well off the pace to capture the Grade III, $150,000 Excelsior Stakes for older horses by getting the nine furlongs in 1:50.49. Clearly the best performance on the Big A card on Saturday was delivered by Army Mule who romped home six lengths clear in the Grade I, $400,000 Carter Handicap in 1:20.94, within a second of the track and stakes record of 1:20.04 set by Artax. The Pennsylvania-bred remained perfect for Pletcher and appears to have a bright future. Another Pletcher trainee, National Flag, rallied powerfully to win the Grade III, $250,000 Bay Shore by covering the seven panels in 1:23.16 as the 7-5 second choice.

That same afternoon at Keeneland, Good Magic rebounded from a modest third-place finish in the Fountain Of Youth Stakes in his seasonal debut to overhaul the speedy Flame Away in the final furlong to capture the Grade I, $1 million Blue Grass Stakes. Last year's Breeders Cup Juvenile hero and champion two-year-old, Good Magic prevailed as the 8-5 favorite in the Blue Grass by getting the nine furlongs in 1:50.18, a respectable clocking over the fast Keeneland surface.

One race earlier on the card, Monomoy Girl easily lived up to her role as the 1-5 favorite in the Grade I, $500,000 Ashland Stakes for three-year-old fillies when she led throughout and simply drew off in the lane to a seven-length score. Monomoy Girl notched her second straight stakes to start the season and now owns five wins and $550,000 banked from six starts by getting the one-mile and one-sixteenth in 1:43.76. On a day when fans were eager to find a favorite for the Derby, Monomoy Girl emerged as the likely choice for the Oaks.

Then later that afternoon at Santa Anita, Justify (Mike Smith) vaulted onto the Derby scene by living up to his role as the 4-5 favorite in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby to lead throughout through modest, unpressed fractions and easily kept even-money second choice Bolt D'Oro at bay through the lane to score by two lengths in 1:49.72. Trained by Bob Baffert, Justify notched his first graded stakes tally and now appears destined for the run for the roses following his wire-to-wire score, while Bolt D'Oro delivered a good effort in defeat and will likely head to Louisville as well next month.

Then several races later on the card, Midnight Bisou (Smith) easily lived up to her role as the 2-5 favorite in the Grade I, $500,000 Santa Anita Oaks when she rallied from well off the early tempo by launching a prolonged bid down the backside and through the far turn, swept to command turning for home and then drew off in the lane to a four-length score. A sophomore daughter trained by Bill Spawr, Midnight Bisou covered the one-mile and one-sixteenth in 1:44.78 in effortless fashion and will now head east to face Monomoy Girl in the Kentucky Oaks on the first Friday in May.