Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Both of Saturday's three-year-old Kentucky Derby preps were won by horses that raced on the turf in their previous start. One was favored at Aqueduct while the other was the sixth choice in the betting at Santa Anita.
Awesome Act was favored in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes despite not having raced since November 7, 2009. His most recent effort was a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last November.
The chestnut colt came into the race with only a maiden turf victory under his belt in six career starts. He also had never been on conventional dirt with five grass races and one start on Polytrack in England.
Still, the public made him the 5-2 favorite in the 10-horse field and the $240,000 yearling purchase did not disappoint winning by 1 1/4-lengths in 1:43 4/5 for the 1 1/16-miles.
The race, for all intents and purposes, was over approaching the top of the stretch when jockey Julien Leparoux not only swept four-wide to confront the early pacesetters, he also looked behind to see if any other horses would present a challenge through the lane.
Only one, the second-place finisher Yawanna Twist, came within three-lengths of the winner and the two colts combined for a $39.60 exacta, a very high price considering they were the top two choices in the betting.
The race set up for the two closers after Wow Wow Wow stormed to the lead from post 10, zipping the early fractions in 22 4/5 and 46 3/5 seconds - extremely fast numbers for a two-turn, 1 1/16-mile race. In fact, the three horses that were first, second and third after the first half-mile ended up eighth, sixth and ninth, respectively.
For those fans quick to add Awesome Act to their Derby lists, don't forget the fast early pace helped him immeasurably. In addition, not a single horse in the field, including Awesome Act himself, had ever finished 'in the money' in a graded stakes race. It's also hard to forget the fact that only one Gotham winner has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby and that was the mighty Secretariat.
On the positive side, it was his first career race on dirt and he seemed to handle it with aplomb. Coming over from Europe and winning off the long layoff was also impressive and his pedigree says 10 furlongs is easily attainable.
His sire Awesome Again won the 1998 Breeders' Cup Classic, while his dam, Houdini's Honey, is a full sister to Coup de Genie, France's 1993 champion two-year-old filly. Moreover, Houdini's Honey's half-brother Machiavellian, sired Street Cry - the father of ?07 Derby winner, Street Sense.
Is Awesome Act a Kentucky Derby-winning candidate? No question, but he also must improve by leaps and bounds in the Wood Memorial to be taken seriously as a legitimate contender. In addition, the field he'll face in four weeks will be ten times better than the horses he beat last Saturday.
ALPHIE'S BET - THE RIGHT BET IN THE SHAM
If one was lucky enough to watch the replays of Alphie's Bet's previous three races, then cashing in on his $19.00 win price in the Sham Stakes was like taking candy from a baby.
The California-bred colt closed like a bandit in his second start (December 5, 2009) running his final furlong in 11 3/5 seconds. He finished fourth that day, but trainer Alexis Barba thought so much of his performance she not only stretched out the son of Tribal Rule to 1 1/16-miles, but placed him in the $100,000 California Breeders' Challenge.
Dead last approaching the top of the stretch, Alphie's Bet swung out eight- wide through the lane running his final 2 1/2 furlongs in 29 3/5 seconds to get up for second. The winner was the undefeated Caracortado, who came right back to take the Robert B. Lewis in his next start.
Sent off as the 6-5 favorite in his follow-up race, Alphie's Bet took to the turf with a smashing 1 1/4-length last-to-first score after a slow start from the gate. But it wasn't just the victory that solidified his reputation as a solid closer it was the manner in which he overpowered the eight-horse field.
Mired in last place through the stretch and hung out to dry in the 10-path, the bay colt unleashed his powerful strides through the lane to win going away. The final time of 1:38 1/5 for the mile was not very imposing but running his final furlong in 10 4/5 seconds was nothing short of incredible.
Two more signs that showed he was ready to run the race of his life came early in the mornings of February 20 and 28. After four slow workouts between late January and mid-February, Alphie's Bet burst out with a pair of bullet works going six furlongs in 1:12 4/5 on the 20th and five furlongs in 1:00 flat eight days later.
Still, the big question heading into the Sham was how he would be able to loop a much stronger field in a race devoid of early speed. The answer? He didn't have to!
After beginning all four of his prior races in either last or next-to-last place, Alphie's Bet was sixth in the early going. In fact, he ran his first half-mile in 48 2/5 - two full seconds (or 10 lengths) faster than his previous two races!
Through the stretch, the Sham was his to lose after passing The Program and a tiring Nextdoorneighbor. He eventually drew clew to win by 2 1/4-lengths over the late closing Setsuko.
What was even more impressive than winning the Grade 3 event was the fact he ran every quarter-mile in under 24 3/5 seconds. His final three furlongs was clocked in 36 seconds flat, including a final 12-second eighth of a mile. Tremendous numbers considering he was much closer to the pace this past Saturday.
Alexis Barba, who also trained Make Music for Me to win the Pasadena Stakes on the turf one race earlier, has not made any definite plans for Alphie's Bet's next start. One race he won't be entered is the Santa Anita Derby since that will be Make Music for Me's final Kentucky Derby prep.
HORSES TO WATCH
Three horses make the list this week, including Trappe Shot, a three-year-old chestnut colt that will be turning heads as the year moves along.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, the $850,000 yearling purchase pummeled a field of 10 maidens last month by 10 1/4-lengths, running the six furlongs in a solid 1:09 2/5 seconds.
Since Trappe Shot has only started once in 2010, it's doubtful he'll be on the Kentucky Derby trail but he's one to watch down the road.
The two other horses are three-year-old fillies that ran last weekend at Gulfstream Park.
Wicked Charm finished sixth in her debut on Sunday - a one mile maiden event on the turf. She was 26-1 that day primarily due to her post position. It's not easy to win from the 11 spot at one mile on the weeds due to the short run to the first turn. She also broke slowly from the gate, compounding her position.
Still, she closed strongly, running her final quarter in 23 4/5 to finish sixth, beaten by only six lengths. The fact she was 26-1, along with her sixth-place finish, might help getting decent odds in her next start. And by the way, she's by Ghostzapper and a half-sister to English Channel - the 2007 Eclipse Award-winning male turf horse.
Apple Charlotte, the other three-year-old filly, finished second in Saturday's Herecomesthebride Stakes at nine furlongs on the turf. She had a boatload of trouble checking early in the race and then clipping the heels of Upperline at the top of the stretch. Despite the tough trip, she closed stoutly for second, missing the victory by less than a length.
THE NEW JEFF FRANK TOP 12
1) Dublin; 2) Super Saver; 3) Eskendereya; 4) Lookin At Lucky; 5) Alphie's Bet; 6) Caracortado; 7) Awesome Act; 8) Odysseus; 9) Rule; 10) Stay Put; 11) Connemara; 12) Uptowncharlybrown.
03/09 14:28:52 ET