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Feb 10, 2006

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD

By: JOE GIRARDI


The road to the Kentucky Derby has started and there were a few races in Florida on February 4th. The Grade II Hutcheson Stakes at 7 ½ furlongs and the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes both for three year olds were joined on the card by the Grade III Old Hat Stakes (6 ½ furlongs) and the Grade II Davona Dale Stakes (1 and 1/8th miles), both for three year old fillies. The Grade I Donn Handicap which produced last year’s Horse of the Year SAINT LIAM was also on the card.

The sloppy track definitely had an impact on the races as some horses didn’t handle it as well as others and these races should be taken accordingly when looking at them down the road. In the Hutcheson Stakes it marked the return of FIRST SAMURAI the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and very exciting prospect heading into this year. Sent off at 3-5 FIRST SAMURAI chased the second choice, KEYED ENTRY from the start of the race but could never get by finishing a length and a quarter behind the wire to wire winning KEYED ENTRY, while 16 lengths clear of the show horse. KEYED ENTRY is now undefeated in three starts and has shown that he has talent and class but the next question for the Todd Pletcher trainee is can he get more distance. That answer will come in time. FIRST SAMURAI on the other hand got a lot out of the race it would seem and should be set for his next step towards Kentucky.

In the Holy Bull Stakes, there was a full field of 12 horses with the favorite BARBARO trying to keep his record perfect but he was trying the dirt for the first time. After three impressive wins on the turf his connections decided to try the dirt with the Kentucky Derby in mind. He chased the pace from the start, took over the lead into the stretch and held off the late charge of GREAT POINT. That was a very impressive race considering it was his first try on the dirt, over a very sloppy track. It will be interesting to see how he goes on and if he can handle a dry surface. GREAT POINT hails from the ever dangerous Zito barn and was the only one who made up any ground in the lane and must be respected when he runs again especially being by POINT GIVEN and the price should be right.

In the Old Hat Stakes we may have seen another budding star in MISTY ROSETTE. She is another who has an undefeated record moving her mark to 3 for 3. She has won all three races by an average of more than four lengths and looks like a star in the making. In the Davona Dale we saw another dominating performance as the Pletcher trained WAIT A WHILE scored by 14 widening lengths. After stalking the early leaders she took over and never looked back. Although she is 1 for 1 on the turf it seems that she is putting it all together on the dirt now also. With the Kentucky Oaks in mind she has to be considered one of the choices in the race based on that performance in the Davona Dale, her breeding and her connections.

In the Grade I Donn Handicap there were nine horses with a three horse entry going to the gate. However, without a dominate speedster there were a few that went to the lead, battling head to head and through fractions in 23, 45:4, 1:09:2, 1:34:4 with a final time in 1:47:3. The speed horses tired badly and BRASS HAT closed strongly from the back of the pack to score going away. The five year old gelding is now 2 for 2 this year with a Grade II and now a Grade I under his belt. Improving five year old can be dangerous versus the handicap division.

NOTE: STEVIE WONDERBOY, the two year old champion has been taken out of consideration for the Kentucky Derby after injuring his ankle during a workout. This makes yet another year that the two year old champion will not win the Kentucky Derby.



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