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Feb 20, 2015

Up the Backstretch: Big weekend for 3-year-olds

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor


 Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Saturday and Sunday will comprise the biggest weekend of the season for Kentucky Derby hopefuls on the road to the Run for the Roses on May 2.

Four important stakes races for 3-year-olds will be offered over the two days with significant points available in two of them to allow the winners a place in the Derby's 20-horse field at Churchill Downs.

These Derby prep races will begin with the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The 1 1/16-mile event has drawn a field of eight with local winner Upstart the 8-5 morning line favorite.

Upstart, trained by Rick Violette, won Gulfstream's Holy Bull Stakes last month and will be challenged Saturday by the next three horses under the wire in that event. Runner-up Frosted is 5-2 in the program, while third-place finisher Bluegrass Singer is 8-1 and Bina and Juan, fourth in the Holy Bull, is 20-1 in the morning line. The winning 3-year-old receives 50 points, which should guarantee a spot in the Run for the Roses.

"I think the winner was most impressive that day and, hopefully, he doesn't run as impressive this time and he drops back to us a length or two and we gain a length or two with the blinkers and a better post position," Frosted's trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

About 55 minutes after the Fountain of Youth will be the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes from Fair Grounds. The 1 1/16-mile stakes has attracted 10 3-year-olds with 50 points going to the winner as well.

The morning line odds for the Risen Star offers little separation among the 10 entered. The 7-2 favorite is Imperia, making his 2015 debut for McLaughlin following a two-month break.

Local winner International Star is 9-2 in the program, but has drawn the far outside post position. The colt won Fair Grounds' Lecomte Stakes in January over War Story. Saturday's 5-1 co-third choice, War Story was sent to Oaklawn Park for the Southwest Stakes, but returned to New Orleans after drawing post 11.

"It just didn't work out. We drew an outside post position and there's a strong statistical negative to that post," trainer Tom Amoss noted. War Story has post 6 for Saturday.

Going off around the same time as the Risen Star will be the $100,000 Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland Park. Named for the 2009 Kentucky Derby champ, the Mine That Bird Derby will have six 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles. While no Kentucky Derby points are available, the race is a prep for the Sunland Derby, which offers 50 qualifying points to the winner.

Trainer Steve Asmussen will saddle Cinco Charlie, the even-money program favorite, in the Mine That Bird. Cinco Charlie won the track's Riley Allison Derby four weeks ago by nine lengths and has six wins in nine career starts.

Another stakes race Saturday will be the $75,000 Turf Paradise Derby from Turf Paradise in Arizona. The 1 1/16-mile stakes offers no Kentucky Derby points, but nine 3-year-olds have been entered with the Sunland Derby often the next race.

The weekend racing was extended into Sunday after the postponement of the $300,000 Southwest Stakes from President's Day to Sunday at Oaklawn Park. Post positions needed to be redrawn for the Southwest, a 1 1/16-mile prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 11.

A dozen 3-year-olds were originally entered, but several also have been entered for the Risen Star. Expected for the Southwest are Far Right, Private Prospect, Bayerd, The Truth Or Else, Kantune, Phenomenal Phoenix, Majestico, Bold Conquest, Mr. Z and Bold Animaux. Original Southwest entrants War Story and J S Bach are entered in the Fair Grounds stakes.

"With another week, anybody who had run within the last 13 days, now they're looking at 20 days," Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope said. "It seems like another chapter in the horse's life when you go another week."

Far Right won the track's Smarty Jones Stakes last month and again will have Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith in the saddle.



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