Trainer Larry Jones will be a busy man on Saturday as he send his pair of major contenders for the 135th running of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (Grade I) into important prep races in two states.
Jones’ representative in the 96th running of the $600,000 Louisiana Derby (GII) at Fair Grounds is Friesan Fire, a chestnut son of A.P. Indy who is going for a sweep of the New Orleans’ track’s three major races for 3-year-olds. Friesan Fire notched earlier wins in the Lecomte (GIII) and the Risen Star (GIII) and is the 5-2 morning line favorite to add the Louisiana Derby to his collection of Fair Grounds triumphs.
Gabriel Saez, who rode the ill-fated runner-up Eight Belles for Jones in last year’s Kentucky Derby, will be aboard Friesan Fire as the colt breaks from the outside post in a field of nine 3-year-olds. Nowhere to Hide, who was entered in the race and drew the outside post, was also entered in Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) and will scratch from the Louisiana Derby to run in the race at Tampa Bay Downs.
The strong group of opponents for Jones’ star includes Lecomte runner-up Patena, the second choice at 7-2; Giant Oak (4-1), runner-up in the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) at Churchill Downs but a troubled fifth in the Risen Star; Flying Pegasus (8-1), runner-up in the Risen Star; and California invader Papa Clem (8-1), runner-up to leading West Coast Derby contender Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GII) at Santa Anita.
“This is a good field of horses,” said Jones, a native of Hopkinsville, Ky. who also trained 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun. “I think who ever wins it definitely is going to come out of here and be a major player in the (Kentucky) Derby.”
Patena raced over synthetic racing surfaces last year in Canada, but rallied impressively to finish second to Friesan Fire in his debut on conventional dirt in the one-mile Lecomte. He was purchased after that race by a partnership headed by IEAH Stables, the owner of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, and transferred to the care of trainer Rick Dutrow, who guided Big Brown to last year’s win at Churchill Downs.
Robby Albarado, a six-time leading rider at Fair Grounds and winner of the Louisiana Derby in 1998, will be in the saddle aboard Patena.
The field for the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana Derby from the rail out (with jockey) includes Free Country (Kent Desormeaux), Soul Warrior (Shaun Bridgmohan), Patena (Albarado), Terrain (Julien Leparoux), Flying Pegasus (John Velazquez), Giant Oak (James Graham), Uno Mas (Brian Hernandez, Jr.), Papa Clem (Rafael Bejarano), and Friesan Fire (Saez).
The Louisiana Derby is scheduled as the ninth of 12 races on Saturday’s card.
UNBEATEN OLD FASHIONED HEADS REBEL – Fox Hill Farm’s Old Fashioned, the narrow favorite after the opening day of betting in Pool 2 of Churchill Downs’ 2009 Kentucky Derby Future Wager, looms as a heavy favorite to keep his perfect record intact as he faces eight rivals in Saturday’s $300,000 Rebel Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.
The Larry Jones-trained son of Unbridled’s Song will have regular rider Ramon Dominguez in the saddle as he breaks from the rail post in a nine-horse field in the 1 1/16-mile prep for the Arkansas Derby (GII), the track’s major prep for the Kentucky Derby.
Old Fashioned notched a 3 ¾-length victory over Rebel rival Silver City in Oaklawn’s Southwest (GIII), which was the first start for Jones’ colt since a romp in the Remsen (GII) in November at New York’s Aqueduct.
Silver City’s runner-up finish in the Southwest came in his stakes debut and his first race at a two-turn distance. He is back for another try and will have Jon Court in the saddle.
Other notables in Saturday’s field include Wise Kid, a rapidly improving colt who is coming off an impressive victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Oaklawn, and Captain Cherokee, a half-brother to sprint champion Midnight Lute trained by Steve Asmussen.
WEST/PIONEEROF THE NILE FAVORED IN SAN FELIPE – Zayat Stables’ Pioneerof the Nile, the leader of the California-based Kentucky Derby contenders, goes for his third consecutive stakes victory when he faces six rivals in Saturday’s 72nd running of the $200,000 San Felipe (GII) over the synthetic Cushion Track at Santa Anita.
The son of 2003 Kentucky Derby runner-up Empire Maker has scored late-running wins in the CashCall Futurity (GI) at Hollywood Park and the Robert B. Lewis (GII) at Santa Anita in his last two starts. The 1 1/16-mile San Felipe is Pioneerof the Nile’s final prep for the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 4.
Trainer Bob Baffert is seeking his fourth Kentucky Derby victory with Pioneerof the Nile. Baffert’s last win in the “Run for the Roses” came in 2002 with War Emblem. A fourth Derby win would tie him with D. Wayne Lukas for second on the all-time win list for the classic at Churchill Downs. Jockey Garrett Gomez is seeking his first Kentucky Derby victory.
The opposition on Saturday includes Shafted, who seeks redemption after finishing a disappointing eighth in the Robert B. Lewis for trainer Mark Casse. Shafted, a son of 2003 “Horse of the Year” Mineshaft, had scored an impressive allowance win prior to that outing.
Among the horses Pioneerof the Nile defeated in the Robert B. Lewis was I Want Revenge, who finished third and then traveled to New York to notch an 8 ½-length victory in last week’s Gotham (GIII) at Aqueduct in his first race on conventional dirt.
SOUTHEAST/GENERAL QUARTERS MEETS HELLO BROADWAY IN TAMPA BAY DERBY – Former claiming horse General Quarters will attempt to prove that an impressive win in last month’s Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII) was not a fluke when he faces the highly-regarded Hello Broadway and nine other rivals in Saturday’s $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby (GIII) at Tampa Bay Downs.
General Quarters was claimed out of his career debut at Churchill Downs for $20,000 by owner-trainer Tom McCarthy, a retired high school principal from Louisville, Ky. The son of Sky Mesa gave McCarthy his first Kentucky Derby hopeful when he romped to his 3 ½-length win in the Sam F. Davis.
“I envision he’ll run a good race,” said McCarthy, who has turned the duty of training General Quarters over to Mark Miller at Tampa Bay. “Whether or not he wins I don’t know, but he looks like he’s as good as anything in here and he has (three) good races over the track.”
James Lopez will ride General Quarters, who will break from post eight.
The favorite in the race could turn out to be Elizabeth Valando’s Hello Broadway, the runner-up in the Hutcheson (GII) at Gulfstream Park for trainer Barclay Tagg, who saddled Sackatoga Stable’s Funny Cide to win the 2003 Kentucky Derby. Other contenders include Holy Bull (GIII) runner-up Bear’s Rocket; Warrior’s Reward, runner-up to the unbeaten Dunkirk in a Gulfstream Park allowance; Sumo and Nowhere to Hide.
EUROPE/OVERFLOW FIELD ENTERED IN FIRST KENTUCKY DERBY CHALLENGE AT KEMPTON, WINNER GETS GUARANTEED SPOT AT CHURCHILL DOWNS – A “who’s who” roster of the top trainers in Britain and Ireland is represented by 23 horses under consideration for Wednesday’s inaugural $115,000 Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton Park near London.
Trainers Jim Bolger, John Gosden, Richard Hannon, Mark Johnston, Aidan O’Brien and Dermot Weld each have 3-year-olds aimed at Europe’s 1 1/8-mile clockwise race over Polytrack.
In an unprecedented reward, the winner will earn an automatic starting spot in the Kentucky Derby 135 field and a $100,000 bonus if the horse runs in America’s greatest race.
Triple Crown nominees under consideration (with trainers) for the race are Born to Be King (O’Brien); Close Alliance (Gosden); Duc de Savoie (Weld); Gitano Hernando-GB (Marco Botti); Grand Admiral (O’Brien); Mafaaz-GB (Gosden); and Spring of Fame (Michael Magnusson).
The others are Agente Parmigiano-IRE (Gerald Butler); Akhenaten-GB (Mick Channon); Crackdown-IRE (Johnston); Deposer-IRE (John Best); Haashed (Johnston); Keeptheboatafloat (Karl Burke); Markyg (Burke); Mastery-GB (Johnston); Nashmiah-IRE (Clive Brittain); Redwood-GB (Barry Hills); Saint Arch (Johnston); Shampagne-GB (Paul Cole); Sohcahtoa-IRE (Richard Hannon); Talking Hands-GB (Sylvester Kirk); Vocalised (Bolger); and Weald Park (Hannon).
A maximum of 14 horses will be permitted to start. Final entries and post positions will be determined Monday. All but Akhenaten, Keeptheboatafloat, Markyg and Spring of Fame would be making their first start of the year.
Eleven of the 23 under consideration have already recorded a victory over a synthetic racing surface (Akhenaten, Close Alliance, Gitano Hernando, Grand Admiral, Haashed, Mafaaz, Markyg, Saint Arch, Shampagne; Spring of Fame; and Talking Hands) and Deposer-IRE was fourth over Keeneland’s Polytrack in the Grade I Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity last fall behind runaway winner and stablemate Square Eddie.
Wednesday’s Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes will be scheduled as Kempton’s third race at approximately 3:50 p.m. EDT. Mark Johnson, the colorful Englishman who was named Churchill Downs’ new track commentator in mid-January, will describe the action.
The entire six-race card from Kempton Park will be simulcast at select wagering outlets nationwide, including Trackside at Churchill Downs. First post is 2:50 p.m. EDT. Saftote (Phumelela) in South Africa serves as the international tote hub for British racing, commingling wagers back into the host track pools of the UK Tote.