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Mar 06, 2015

Up the Backstretch: Major stepping stones for Kentucky Derby

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

 Philadelphia, PA ( - Eight weeks until the 141st Run for the Roses and things are surely heating up along the road to the Kentucky Derby.

Three points earning stakes for 3-year-olds, all at 1 1/16 miles, will be held Saturday across the nation as things begin to shake out heading to the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.

First on the schedule will be the $400,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

El Kabeir, winner of the track's Jerome Stakes in January, is the 8-5 morning line favorite in the 10-horse field with a three-horse entry. Trained by John Terranova, El Kabeir was second four weeks ago in the Withers at Aqueduct.

"We've been lucky in the fact we've gotten several races under him so far. He's got a great foundation, so fitness is not a problem or an issue," Terranova said.

The 7-2 second pick is Classy Class, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. The colt was third in the Withers as he was making his 2015 debut.

"We thought (Classy Class) ran very well in the Withers," said McLaughlin. "El Kabeir challenged him a lot earlier than we were expecting, and he ran on well. (In the Gotham), we'd prefer to see him come from off the pace; he doesn't need to be on the lead."

The three-horse entry of Dontbetwithbruno, Uninfluenced and Blame Jim is the 5-1 third pick along with Lieutenant Colonel.

Nine 3-year-olds have been entered in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs with Carpe Diem and Ocean Knight the clear program favorites.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Carpe Diem is the 8-5 top pick as he makes his seasonal bow Saturday. In three career starts, Carpe Diem has two wins and a second for $709,800.

Ocean Knight, trained by McLaughlin, is the 2-1 second choice as his connections decided to keep the colt in Florida instead of sending him to the Gotham. The colt won Tampa Bay's Sam F. Davis Stakes on Jan. 31.

"There is a strong possibility one or more of our Tampa Bay Derby entrants will find themselves in Louisville on the first Saturday in May," said Tampa Bay Downs Vice President-General Manager Peter Berube.

Santa Anita has the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes with 10 3-year-olds set to leave the gate. Undefeated Dortmund is the 8-5 program favorite for the final prep event leading to the Santa Anita Derby in four weeks.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Dortmund in coming off a season opening win at Santa Anita in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. The chestnut colt has nearly $500,000 in earnings and will again be ridden by Martin Garcia.

From here on out the stakes become even more important as the Kentucky Derby draws closer.

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