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Feb 23, 2012

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD-DERBY PREPS

By: JOE GIRARDI


               The Road to the Kentucky Derby continues as we take a look at some prep races that were run over the last few weeks over four different racetracks.

               Let’s start on February 11th at Gulfstream when they ran the Grade II Hutcheson, a race run over seven furlongs with a purse of $150,000. There was just a field of five that went postward with the Todd Pletcher trainee, THUNDER MOCCASIN going off as the 1-5 favorite while just making his second career start. As they broke from the gate, IL VILLANO, the second choice in the race came out running for the lead with THUNDER MOCCASIN just outside that rival about a length behind. The early fractions of the race were 23:1, 46:4, as they approached the top of the stretch THUNDER MOCCASIN engaged IL VILLANO and took over into the lane drawing away to score by almost seven lengths in a final time of 1:24 flat. IL VILLANO held on for second over QUICK WIT. With so many Derby prospects THUNDER MOCCASIN might not be on that road and certainly the ones that ran behind him would have to improve a great deal to ever be considered a contender.

               The El Camino Real stakes was run at Golden Gate on February 18th over 1 and 1/8th miles with a purse of $200,000. There was a field of 10 that went postward with HANDSOME MIKE going off as the slight favorite at 2.40-1. HANDSOME MIKE was sent out to the lead and was pressured through the early going by the longest shot in the race ALL SQUARED AWAY at 94-1 through solid fractions of 23:1, 47:2, 1:12:1. As they started to move on the final turn DADDY NOSE BEST who was locked in behind the frontrunners found a hole just as they entered the lane and was able to move towards the lead with LUCKY CHAPPY, who came from 10th with a wide move to engage the leaders. DADDY NOSE BEST and LUCKY CHAPPY battled through the whole stretch with DADDY NOSE BEST scoring by the slimmest of margins over LUCKY CHAPPY with HANDSOME MIKE battling back for third. The final time of the race was 1:50:2 not bad over the synthetic surface and not a bad effort considering both horses were making their debuts over a synthetic track. LUCKY CHAPPY is owned by Team Valor, very reminiscent of ANIMAL KINGDOM who won last year’s Derby. It will be interesting to see where they go from here but they must be considered off that effort.

               The San Vicente, run the next day at Santa Anita was run over seven furlongs with a purse of $150,000 had only a field of four go postward. CREATIVE CAUSE was sent off as the 1-2 favorite while making his first start since finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November. AMERICAN ACT, the slight second choice in the race was sent right to the lead with DRILL in close pursuit. AMERICAN ACT lead through fractions of 22:3, 45:4, 1:09:1. As they turned into the lane DRILL put his head in front but AMERICAN ACT battled back to the wire to just miss by a nose in a solid final time of 1:21:1, CREATIVE CAUSE was another length back in third in what was a good prep race going forward. DRILL, who is trained by Bob Baffert will probably stick to one turn races and most likely will not be on the Kentucky Derby trail. CREATIVE CAUSE should benefit from that race and will be one to watch in the weeks to come.

               Moving to Oaklawn Park where they hosted the Southwest Stakes which was run in two division because there were so many horses entered. Each division was run at one mile with a purse of $250,000 each. The first division had a field of 11 horses go postward. The slight favorite in the race was LONGVIEW DRIVE who was coming off a third place finish in the Sham stakes at Santa Anita. As the race unfolded, 19-1 longshot made the lead right from the start and lead to the top of the lane before fading to finish fifth. CASTAWAY, a Bob Baffert trainee  who was coming off a maiden win at Santa Anita in his sixth start, stalked the leader, took over and drew off late to score by almost four lengths in a final time of 1:38 flat. Well bred runner by Derby winner STREET SENSE is on the improve and must be respected going for trainer Bob Baffert.

               In the second division, there was a field of 10 that went postward with another Bob Baffert trainee, SECERET CIRCLE going off as the 3-5 favorite. Coming off his first defeat in the Sham at Santa Anita when trying two turns for the first time, he was able to get the job done this time around by a hard fought half length. SCATMAN, who was coming off two straight wins, got to the lead through a half in 46:4, battled head to head with SECRET CIRCLE into the lane and just missed late by a half length in a final time of 1:37 flat, a full second faster than the first division. There was another 5 ½ lengths back to the third place finisher ADIRONDACK KING in a solid effort. SECRET CIRCLE proved he could win going two turns but I am not sure he wants more ground. However, he does hail from the Baffert barn and could never be dismissed. It will be interesting to see how these horses respond going forward especially if they come back for the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. CASTAWAY, SECERT CIRCLE and SCATMAN all have to be considered contenders at this point but the further they go we will have a better feel who can handle the Derby distance.



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