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Mar 19, 2010

American Turf Club Lead

By: Joe Girardi

            On March 13th, 2010 there were three big prep races on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, one at Oaklawn, one at Santa Anita and one at Tampa Bay Downs. The three winners of these races could have a big impact on the Kentucky Derby and possibly the other Triple Crown races also.

            The Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park featured a field of seven  horses with three top contenders in LOOKIN AT LUCKY, NOBLE’S PROMISE, and DUBLIN. Both LOOKIN AT LUCKY and NOBLE’S PROMISE would be making their first starts over a conventional dirt surface and DUBLIN was coming off a good second place finish in the Southwest Stakes over this course back in February. With a couple of longshots showing the way early NOBLE’S PROMISE was sitting in a good spot in third, DUBLIN moved up on the outside of LOOKIN AT LUCKY who in turn took a bad step off the heels of the runner in front of him but recovered and was able to run down NOBLE’S PROMISE in the lane to get up at the wire. DUBLIN, who may have moved too soon flattened out bad through the lane and tired to finish third. All three of these finishers should continue to move on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

            In the San Felipe at Santa Anita, a Grade II run at 1 and 1/16th miles with a purse of $150,000, seven horses went postward with the undefeated California Bred CARACORTADO going off the 7-5 favorite. SIDNEY’S CANDY who was sent off the co-second choice at 7-2 was able to clear to the lead early, get away with easy splits and hold on for the half length victory over INTERACTIF, a Todd Pletcher trainee going turf to synthetics. CARACORTADO could only manage an even third place finish.

            The Tampa Bay Derby was also run on March 13th, it is a Grade III with a purse of $300,000 and was run over 1 and 1/16th miles. Todd Pletcher had the favorite in SUPER SAVER who was making his first start since late November at Churchill Downs. He made the lead early on and set honest fractions but couldn’t finish it off and tired to finish third as the 3-2 favorite. The winner of the race was ODYSSEUS who stalked the leader from second, dropped back a bit on the turn, altered course in the lane and finished with a flourish to get up by a nose over SCHOOLYARD DREAMS in a long photo finish that many felt went to SCHOOLYARD DREAMS. SCHOOLYARD DREAMS was trying to give owner Eric Fein his third straight Tampa Bay Derby and will probably move forward to the Illinois Derby just like MUSKET MAN did last year as he tries to guarantee himself a spot in the Kentucky Derby based on graded earnings. The third choice in the race UPTOWNCHARLYBROWN who added blinkers for the race was a non-threatening fifth and is probably off the Kentucky Derby trail.

            There were two other races that day that also garnered much attention as both RACHEL ALEXANDRA, the reigning Horse of the Year and ZENYATTA were both returning to the races. These prep races were supposed to be a springboard to the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park on April 9th. Sent off at 1-9 in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes at the Fair Grounds, RACHEL ALEXANDRA stalked the pace from second, took over that lead into the lane but wasn’t able to hold off the late charge of second choice (9-1) ZARDANA who scored by ¾’s of a length. ZARDANA who won a Grade II back in December at Hollywood Park is nowhere in the league of RACHEL but it seemed like the latter was a bit short. She had to really rush her schedule to try and make the Apple Blossom. However, after this loss she is not going to run in that race and will be pointed to races later in the year, hopefully hooking up with ZENYATTA at another time this year. ZENYATTA on the other hand kept her record perfect with a win in the Grade I Santa Margarita Handicap over a 51-1 longshot. She did it easily but again didn’t race against the best of fields. She is supposed to move on to the Apple Blossom as planned and of course after the race the outcry that ZENYATTA should have been horse of the year started again. Not sure if many of these folks understand it is based on the body of work for that year, RACHEL’S body of work was clearly better in 2009 and hopefully she will get the chance to prove it this year. Either way these are two top fillies that should make this a very exciting year.

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