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Mar 25, 2011

American Turf Club Lead

By: Joe Girardi

            As the month of March comes to a close it is only another six weeks until the Kentucky Derby on May 7th at Churchill Downs. The first three weekends in April will have a huge impact on that race and will go a long way to separating the pretenders from the contenders.

            On Sunday April 3rd Gulfstream Park will host two races for three year olds. The seven furlong Swale Stakes which will probably not factor into the Kentucky Derby but may have an impact on some of the more important three year old races later in the year. On that same day the Florida Derby will also be run and that will be the last major prep in Florida leading up to the Kentucky Derby. As of now that field is still up in the air as connections of some of these contending three year olds try to pick their spots before making a commitment.

            Six days later we have another huge weekend of prep races coming at three different tracks. First at Aqueduct where they will host two races for three year olds in the seven furlong Bay Shore and the big one, the 1 and 1/8th miles Wood Memorial. The Wood is supposed to feature the two year old champion UNCLE MO who won first start of the year at Gulfstream in the Timely Writer Stakes. Owner Mike Repole, who grew up in the shadows of Aqueduct would love to win the highlight of the meeting, the Wood Memorial. At Hawthorne Race Course they will be hosting the Illinois Derby on the same day and that race will also be run at 1 and 1/8th miles. Moving out west to Santa Anita they will be hosting the Santa Anita Derby which will be run over the same 1 and 1/8th miles distance over a conventional dirt surface.

            The following week on April 16th, this will be the final week of major preps. The Blue Grass Stakes run over Keeneland’s Polytrack will be run over the 1 and 1/8th miles distance. At Oaklawn they will be hosting the Arkansas Derby, a race that over recent years has always seemed to have a big impact on the Triple Crown races.

            Moving onto Oaklawn Park and their most recent prep, the Rebel Stakes run on March 19th over 1 and 1/16th miles, it carried a purse of $300,000 and it had Grade II status. There was a field of nine that went into the gate with the slight favorite at 7-5 was the California shipper and Bob Baffert trainee, THE FACTOR. The close second choice in the race was another California shipper, SWAY AWAY who finished a fast closing second to THE FACTOR the last time they met back at Santa Anita on February 20th in the San Vincente Stakes going seven furlongs. When the gates opened in the Rebel, THE FACTOR was quickly sent to the lead and was clear by more than two lengths at the quarter mile in 23:1. The half was not a slow one, 46:3 and they got to the ¾ mark in just under 1:11 with THE FACTOR still clear by about two lengths. As they turned into the lane jockey Martin Garcia asked THE FACTOR to go and he did just that opening up impressively through the lane to score by a bit more than six lengths in a solid final time of 1:42 flat. A race earlier Grade III older mares and some very good ones to be exact went the same distance in 1:42 flat just .17 hundredths of a second faster than THE FACTOR. CALEB’S POSSE, made a wide move on the turn to get up for second and ARCHARCHARCH checking in third. SWAY AWAY, who was rank and steadied into the first turn never really made a rally and settled for sixth late. J P’S GUSTO another highly thought of three year old coming into the race stalked the leaders from fourth but had no punch when it counted and tired to finish seventh. The next logical step for THE FACTOR is the Arkansas Derby on April 16th and that is where Baffert looks like he will spot him. An extremely talented horse, THE FACTOR based on his running style and breeding some may think he has distance limitations but his dominance of the Rebel and his jockey Garcia stating after the race that he had plenty left it should be very interesting to see how he fares with the stretchout in distance.

            See you next week with the recap of this week’s preps and a look at the winner of the Dubai World Cup.

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