Derby Top 10: Danzing Candy, Destin in; Nyquist still on top

Getty Images
0 Comments

Slowly but surely, Todd Pletcher’s talented 3-year-olds are beginning to emerge from the pack less than eight weeks before the Kentucky Derby.

The trainer’s latest triumph came in the Tampa Bay Derby, with Destin outdueling stablemate Outwork by one length. The win on Saturday moves the gray colt onto the AP’s latest Run to the Roses Top 10 list of Kentucky Derby contenders at No. 5.

“The way he’s been doing, he could be” a Derby horse, winning rider Javier Castellano said. “He could be destined to win it – who knows?”

Destin’s final prep will be either the Wood Memorial or the Blue Grass on April 9, or the Arkansas Derby on April 16. Pletcher has a second colt in the Top 10 in No. 8 Zulu, runner-up in the Fountain of Youth on March 5.

Unbeatens Nyquist and Mohaymen remain 1-2 as they train toward their showdown in the Florida Derby on April 2.

A shakeup took place beneath the leaders, thanks mostly to the results of the San Felipe on Saturday.

Danzing Candy led just about the entire race under Mike Smith and upset 8-5 favorite Mor Spirit and Exaggerator in winning his stakes debut. The colt trained by Cliff Sise Jr., soars onto the list at No. 3 with his two-length win in stakes and track record time. Next up is the Santa Anita Derby on April 2.

Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert’s Mor Spirit finished with a rush for second, and dips to No. 4. Third-place finisher Exaggerator falls off the list.

Both are expected to take on Danzing Candy in the Santa Anita Derby.

“Bob usually doesn’t come down (to the winner’s circle) unless it’s for a picture,” Mor Spirit’s jockey Gary Stevens said, “but he came down and had a smile on his face and I said, `I think we’re in a real good spot right now,’ and he was pretty happy in defeat.”

The $900,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park is the lone Derby prep on Saturday, and a huge field is expected. It’s the race that launched American Pharoah’s 3-year-old campaign that resulted in the colt becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Likely heading the field is Suddenbreakingnews, winner of the Southwest Stakes in his last start. The gelding is No. 7 this week. Also expected to be entered on Wednesday are Whitmore, American Dubai, Discreetness, Cutacorner, Creator, Cherry Wine, Siding Spring, Spikes Shirl, Z Royal, Ralis and Cupid. Ralis won the Hopeful last year for Nyquist’s trainer Doug O’Neill. Baffert trains Cupid.

After last weekend’s preps, Mohaymen still leads with 71 Derby qualifying points. Destin moves into second place with Gun Runner at 51, and Danzing Candy and Shagaf are next with 50 points apiece,

The latest Derby future wager odds were set Sunday night, and Mohaymen is now the 7-2 favorite, with the mutuel field at 5-1.

Here’s our Top 10:

1. Nyquist (Doug O’Neill, trainer; Mario Gutierrez, jockey): Unbeaten colt warming up well in Santa Anita for showdown with Mohaymen. … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.40 at Santa Anita last week. … Next start: Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park, April 2. … Derby odds (pool 3): 7-1.

2. Mohaymen (Kiaran McLaughlin, Junior Alvarado): Unbeaten Fountain of Youth winner worked 4 furlongs in 49.40 at Palm Beach Downs last week. … Leader in Derby qualifying points with 70. … Next start: Florida Derby. … Odds: 7-2.

3. Danzing Candy (Cliff Sise Jr., Mike Smith): Made quite a stakes debut in winning San Felipe. … Colt has won three in a row after eighth-place finish in first race. … Next start: Santa Anita Derby, Santa Anita, April 9. … Odds: 17-1.

4. Mor Spirit (Bob Baffert, Gary Stevens): Strong finish for second in San Felipe. … Longer races could work to his advantage. … Next start: Santa Anita Derby. … Odds: 12-1.

5. Destin (Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Tampa Bay Derby winner handled first real test without issue. … Gray colt has three wins in five races. … Next start: Undecided. … Odds: 15-1.

6. Shagaf (Chad Brown, Irad Ortiz Jr.): Gotham winner remains in New York for final prep next month. … Has 3-0 record for owner Shadwell Stable, which also owns Mohaymen. … Next start: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, April 9. … Odds: 14-1.

7. Suddenbreakingnews (Donnie Von Hemel, Luis Quinonez): Southwest winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.20 at Oaklawn on Saturday. … Gelding has won two of past three starts. … Next start: Rebel, Oaklawn Park, Saturday. … Odds: 14-1.

8. Zulu (Pletcher, John Velazquez): Fountain of Youth runner-up is one to watch in next race. … Next start: Florida Derby. … Odds: 28-1.

9. Mo Tom (Tom Amoss, Lanerie): Lecomte winner worked 4 furlongs in 48.60 at the Fair Grounds on Sunday. … Ran third in Risen Star despite being bothered in stretch. … Next start: Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, March 26. … Odds: 15-1.

10. Gun Runner (Steve Asmussen, Florent Geroux): Risen Star winner worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 at the Fair Grounds on Monday. … Has three wins in four starts. … Next start: Louisiana Derby. … Odds: 25-1.

Keep an eye on: Brody’s Cause, Cupid, Exaggerator, Greenpointcrusader, Whitmore.

Follow Richard Rosenblatt on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/rosenblattap

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland

0 Comments

To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

RELATED: Pleasant Passage wins Miss Grillo Stakes

The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

RELATED: Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

RELATED: Mo Donegal rewards team’s confidence at Belmont

Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Qatar Prix de Arc de Triomphe
Getty Images
3 Comments

PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.