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Apr 08, 2005

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD

By: JOE GIRARDI


            On Saturday April 2nd, 2005 there were two Derby Prep races, the

Winstar Derby at Sunland Park and the Florida Derby at Gulfstream.

            In the Winstar Derby, a race for three year olds run at 1 and 1/8th miles with

 a purse of $500,000 but is not a graded stakes race. The favorite in the race was

 SOUTHERN AFRICA, who was sent off at 8-5. He was coming off a win in the

Borderland Derby at Sunland back in February but he tried the upper echelon three

year olds and was soundly beaten. The winner in the race was THOR’S ECHO, who

 finished second in the Borderland Derby and had only started three times heading

 into the Winstar Derby. The third place finisher was SORT IT OUT, who was the

  third choice, was purchased by the Bob Baffert barn after his win in the

Whirlaway at Aqueduct. After a poor performance in the Louisiana Derby his third place

 finish here was an improved effort. It would be difficult to see anyone coming out of

 this race and making any kind of impact in the Derby or any of the Triple Crown races.

            In the Florida Derby, a Grade I race for three year olds, run at 1 and

 1/8th miles with a purse of $1 million. The favorite in the race was HIGH FLY who

 was coming off a win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, his first start for the Nick

 Zito barn. He continued his winning ways in the Florida Derby, stalking the pace

 before taking over the lead and holding on for the 1 and ½ length win.

 NOBLE CAUSEWAY, another runner from the Zito barn was coming off an

allowance win, closed strongly for the place spot. He was two lengths clear of the

third place finisher, pacesetter, B. B. BEST.

            After breaking quickly, B. B. BEST raced to the front and held a clear

lead as they headed past the ¾ mark setting the fractions of 22:4, 45:4, 1:09:4.

 These fractions were much faster than the Grade III Skip Away (23:3, 47:1, 1:10:4)

which was a race earlier. With HIGH FLY chasing the whole way, MIGHTY MECKE

 and VICARAGE were third and fourth, while NOBLE CAUSEWAY settled off

the pace in fifth. After taking over the lead heading into the stretch, HIGH FLY

cleared off and held on for the win, although the final 1/8th of a mile was a little

 slow, 13:2. In the Skip Away the final 1/8th went in 13 flat. Not that time is

the be all end all but it would have been nice to see HIGH FLY finish it off

with a solid time. Off these two most recent wins, HIGH FLY should go into

 the Derby as the favorite. NOBLE CAUSEWAY, showed he can run with the

 top three year olds and should be a factor in Kentucky, B. B. BEST, however,

 showed that 1 and 1/8th miles may be a bit too far and would be hard pressed

to get the job done at 1 and ¼ miles. The only concern with the top two

 finishers is that the Kentucky Derby is still five weeks away, but these days it

 seems trainers feel the more the rest the better. The rest of the Florida Derby

field proved that they are just not good enough to compete at the top level

and would be surprised to see any of them in the gate on the first Saturday in May.              

            With two weeks left of the major prep races we should have a clearer

 picture of the Derby. April 9th, there are three top preps, the Wood Memorial

(Aqueduct), the Santa Anita Derby (Santa Anita) and the Illinois Derby (Hawthorne).

 On  April 16th the final preps will be run, the Blue Grass (Keeneland) and the

Arkansas Derby (Oaklawn). This three year crop doesn’t have any standouts

at this point and this should make for a wide open Kentucky Derby.



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