By J.J. Hysell
Monday’s cards offer two top stakes races for 3-year-olds that could have Kentucky Derby implications.
The Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park was the launching pad for Will Take Charge last year. He went on to win the Rebel Stakes and later the Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and Clark Handicap en route to champion 3-year-old male honors.
Only a few contenders in this year’s edition look like possible Kentucky Derby candidates. There are several locally-based challengers who have a good chance to do well in the one mile test.
With so much recent success by Tapit-sired 3-year-olds, Fire Starter jumps off the page. The Steve Hobby trainee, who will have Robby Albarado aboard, had a terrible start in his debut at Churchill Downs and still managed to finish fourth. He faced solid competition in his next start, including runner-up Commanding Curve, and finished a respectable third at a mile. He was pulled up in his third start, his first race with blinkers, and that appeared to be the problem as he was disoriented and bore out. That’s a toss race as he came back to crush a field of eight a Laurel, winning by nearly 11 lengths at a mile.
That was his one start with trainer Anthony Dutrow, and he has returned to the Hobby barn for this test. It is quite a class jump, however, and that could be an issue. He’s one to watch as he is a highly-regarded $300,000 Keeneland September purchase who is a half-brother of super sprinter Bordonaro. His dam excelled sprinting, particularly on turf, and most of his siblings did their better work sprinting. He does have the benefit of the Tapit influence, however, so he looks to be a candidate up to 1 1/16-miles.
Son of a Preacher was sharp in his debut win at Churchill, and he can’t be faulted for not liking turf in that second start. He rebounded to finish a good second to Gold Hawk, who was a bit of a disappointment when third in Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes. This son of Pulpit, trained by Bret Calhoun, is still learning and there’s also a question with distance for him, but he could certainly handle a mile. He’ll have a new jockey in M.C. Berry.
Illinois-bred A Step Ahead is intriguing. The son of Giant’s Causeway, a full brother of Giant Oak, boasts a long-distance pedigree and he’s greatly improved since moving to dirt. His lone win was front-running in the slop, and he was second at 1 1/16-miles after being pulled wide in a state-bred contest. Class is the question here, but he lacks nothing in pedigree. He has a new trainer in Brian Williamson and new jockey in Francisco Torres. Note that Williamson is off to a sharp start at this Oaklawn meet.
No reason to discount the talented Walt. After winning his first two sprint races, he was forced to come from far off the pace in the Springboard Mile and did well, finishing a wide fourth. That test was an excellent educational experience for this Chris Hartman trainee. His pedigree is pure sprint, possibly middle distance, and although he’s not a Derby candidate. he could give a good account here.
Denali Rahy Ruler will be glad to see no Louie’s Flower here, as that foe has had his number twice. This son of Roman Ruler was consistent until his flat performance from a wide post in the Springboard Mile. He drew better here, but he hasn’t faced very tough competition.
Tanzanite Cat, a son of Graham Hall, has yet to race beyond 5.5 furlongs and looks overmatched here; note the team of trainer Cody Autrey and jockey Norberto Arroyo have been top-notch this meet.
Unstoppable Colby, another victim of Gold Hawk, is from last year’s winning Smarty Jones connections, D. Wayne Lukas and Jon Court. The son of Pulpit was running well late in the slop in his debut, his race on synthetic is a toss, and he hung with Gold Hawk for second. Don’t understand the 20-1 morning line on this fellow, as he looks just as competitive as most of the other maiden winners here – if not more.
Coastline didn’t draw the best spot in the widest post of the field of 10. His Delta Jackpot is a toss because of the very detrimental stumble at the start. The son of Speightstown was one of the best 2-year-olds on the grounds at Churchill Downs and already won a stakes race at this distance for trainer Mark Casse. He retains his regular rider, Shaun Bridgmohan. The key for this colt is getting into action early from that outside post – just like Ride on Curlin did here in his allowance win on Jan. 12.
Coastline’s pedigree leans heavy sprint to middle distance, and he should excel up to 1 1/16-miles.
D’Cajun Cat and Whyruawesome look to be best at sprint distances.
The anticipated return of Indianapolis arrives Monday, when the Bob Baffert-trained son of Medaglia d’Oro takes on four rivals in the $75,000 San Pedro Stakes at six furlongs.
Indianapolis landed on the radar with his impressive off-the-pace debut win on synthetic at Hollywood at the same distance.
The half-brother of Heart Ashley and Ashley’s Kitty has posted a long string of works on Santa Anita dirt in preparation. What’s concerning, however, is the fact Baffert is running him back again at six furlongs. Either he feels he’s not ready to route yet or possibly he’s indicated he’s inclined to sprint. Good to see the faith of moving him up to stakes.
Baffert also entered Beach Hut, the son of First Defence who’s been a bit of a puzzle so far. California-bred gelding Elmonte Cristo is a legitimate threat making his first start on dirt for Jerry Hollendorfer. Papa Turf is experienced and has faced tough competition, while Rockin Home is the longshot of the short field.