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Mar 14, 2014

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD

By: JOE GIRARDI


               There were two Kentucky Derby prep races run on March 8th, the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs and the San Felipe at Santa Anita. Each race was run over 1 and 1/16th miles and both races offered 50, 20, 10 and 5 points to the top four finishers.

               In the Tampa Bay Derby, a Grade II run over 1 and 1/16th miles with a purse of $350,000. There was a field of 10 horses that went postward with Conquest Titan going off as the favorite based on his closing second to Cairo Prince in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. As the gates opened, Ring Weekend, a 14-1 longshot came out running from his rail post with Surfing U S A chasing from second. As they moved around the turn and into the backstretch, Ring Weekend continued to hold the lead through fractions of 23:3, 46:3. As they moved towards the far turn, Ring Weekend increased his lead to five lengths through a ¾ mark of 1:11:2. Into the lane, Ring Weekend was still strong staying the course and holding on to score by three lengths. Vinceremos moved up on the inside to get into second and Surfing U S A who was chasing throughout checked in third in a final time of 1:43:3. Conquest Titan, who was the 5-2 favorite checked in fourth almost five lengths off the winner. Ring Weekend was coming off his maiden at Gulfstream Park back in February and put in a solid effort in his first Stakes try and his first try with winners. Being by Tapit out of a Cryptoclearance mare he is definitely bred to get the Derby distance of 1 and ¼ miles. Is he good enough to the win Derby is another question but in his current form, his tactical speed and his breeding he has to be considered a contender right now. The second place finisher, Vinceremos from the Todd Pletcher barn has run well in all four of his starts but he would need to improve to be considered a top contender. Surfing U S A, also from the Pletcher barn ran ok to finish third but he might not be at his best at 1 and ¼ miles and would need a big race in his next prep to even be considered.

               In the San Felipe, a Grade II run over 1 and 1/16th miles with a purse of $300,000 had a field of seven horses after three scratches, most notably the morning line favorite Bayern who was taken out earlier in the week. The favorite in the race was California Chrome who was coming off two big wins but against California bred company. The second choice in the race was Midnight Hawk, a Bob Baffert trainee who suffered his first defeat last out in the Robert Lewis Stakes. When the gates opened California Chrome was sent to the lead and was tracked by Midnight Hawk. California Chrome set the pace through fractions of 23, 45:2, 1:09:2. As they moved into the stretch, California Chrome and jockey Victor Espinoza began to open up and went on to score easily by more than seven lengths. Midnight Hawk tracked throughout and held second by more than six lengths over third choice Kristo. Moving forward to the Kentucky Derby California Chrome would still have to prove to me that he can win over a track that wasn’t speed favoring and in a prep race longer than 1 and 1/16th miles. Midnight Hawk, who has now lost two in a row has kind of lost some of his luster and would need a huge effort in one of the major prep races in the next few weeks. Kristo, who finished third and was second two back to Midnight Hawk would definitely need a huge effort to be considered a contender.

               At Gulfstream on March 12th, there wasn’t a Kentucky Derby prep race but one of the top two year olds was making his return in an allowance race. Honor Code, winner of the Grade II Remsen in his last start of 2013 over another top Derby contender, Cairo Prince was considered to be at the top of many experts Derby lists. The $75k allowance race drew a field of five horses, Honor Code was sent off as the heavy 1-2 favorite but second choice, Social Inclusion took plenty of late money going off at 7-5. Social Inclusion scored easily in his debut at six furlongs in a quick time of 1:09:1. He was making just his second start, adding lasix and stretching out to a distance of 1 and 1/16th miles. When the gates opened Social Inclusion went right to the lead, set fractions of 24:1, 47:2, 1:10:3. As they moved around the turn and into the stretch, Social Inclusion began to open up while Honor Code, who was second wasn’t able to gain any ground and had to settle for a well beaten second, 10 lengths behind Social Inclusion. Honor Code was more than 17 lengths clear of the show horse but you would have expected a better effort. The final time of the race was track record time in 1:40:4 so the time was great but Honor Code didn’t put in a great effort. Hopefully he got enough out of that race to be competitive in a major prep race in the next month. Social Inclusion obviously has plenty of talent and does have the breeding to get the 1 and ¼ miles. Can’t wait to see where he shows up next.



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