PREAKNESS RUNNER-UP FIRST DUDE BACK AT CHURCHILL, SET FOR NEXT STOP IN BELMONT STAKES – Donald Dizney’s First Dude did not win the second jewel of the Triple Crown, but trainer Dale Romans could not have been much happier had he managed to hold off Lookin At Lucky in Saturday’s $1 million Preakness (Grade I) at Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course.
The Churchill Downs-based First Dude sprung from post 11 in a field of 12 3-year-olds in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness to grab the lead and the rail from Super Saver, winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), heading into the first turn. He set strong early fractions under Ramon Dominguez then battled the victorious Lookin At Lucky through the stretch to fall three-quarters of a length short of picking up his second victory in seven starts, but the imposing son of Stephen Got Even immediately established himself as a major contender for the Triple Crown’s final jewel: the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes (GI) on June 5 at Belmont Park.
The connections of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Preakness champ Lookin At Lucky confirmed Sunday that neither horse would run in the Belmont Stakes, so Romans believes First Dude could well be the horse to beat in the big race three weeks down the road.
“I think so, and so does Ramon,” Romans said Sunday. “The mile and a half should help him.”
First Dude returned to Churchill Downs on Sunday morning following a flight from Baltimore. Also on the plane was stablemate Paddy O’Prado, Donegal Racing’s third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby on May 1 who finished sixth in Saturday’s Preakness.
Romans said the Belmont is the clear goal for First Dude, while the immediate future is less clear for Paddy O’Prado, a versatile winner on turf and synthetic surfaces who did not fire at Pimlico.
“He came out of it good,” said Romans of Paddy O’Prado. “I’ll talk with Jerry (Donegal Racing managing partner Jerry Crawford) later in the day and see what we want to do with him.”
The Preakness bid by First Dude, while it fell just short, served as validation for high hopes Romans and his staff has held for the colt since his arrival in the barn.
"We are proud of him,” Romans said. “We kept thinking all along that he was this kind of horse, but he just had circumstances that kept him from running a big, big race. Finally nothing went wrong and he put it all together and he got beat by a champion.”
OTHER BELMONT HOPES AT CHURCHILL DOWNS – With word that neither Super Saver nor Lookin At Lucky would compete in the third jewel of the Triple Crown, a large field of contenders is beginning to take shape for the June 5 race at Belmont Park.
First Dude is one of at least four Churchill Downs-based horses that could run in the Belmont. The others include the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Dublin, Robert Baker and William Mack’s son of Afleet Alex who finished fifth in the Preakness following a horrible start; Thomas and Jack Conway’s Stately Victor, winner of the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) and eighth in the Kentucky Derby; and Richard, Elaine and Bert Klein’s Stay Put, a winner of an allowance race at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day.
Trainer Steve Margolis said the Louisville-based Klein family is, at this point, pointing Stay Put toward the third jewel of the Triple Crown.
“We’ve been talking about it over the last week or 10 days,” Margolis said of Stay Put’s Belmont bid. “As long has he stays healthy and well, he’s got two more breezes and we’re gonna go.”
Stay Put, a homebred son of Broken Vow, has won three of seven career starts, but finished fifth in both the Louisiana Derby (GII) and the Risen Star (GII) at Fair Grounds in his only efforts in stakes competition.
“There’ll be some tough horses in there in (Derby runner-up) Ice Box, (Dwyer winner) Fly Down and (Dwyer runner-up) Drosselmeyer,” Margolis said of the Belmont. “But we’re running good, and as long as we stay healthy and good and are training good, we’ve got to take a shot.”
BLAME BOUND FOR STEPHEN FOSTER FOLLOWING RETURN VICTORY IN PIMLICO’S SCHAEFFER – Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Blame looked like a horse with a big future when he whipped older rivals to win Churchill Downs’ Clark Handicap (GII) as a 3-year-old in late November.
The anticipated return to racing by the now 4-year-old homebred son of Arch did nothing to diminish those expectations when Blame rolled to an easy 1 ½-length victory in Saturday’s William Donald Schaefer Handicap (GIII) on the Preakness undercard at Pimlico on Saturday. With that successful return to competition behind the colt, trainer Al Stall Jr. will now point Blame to his next goal: a run in the $600,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) on June 12 at Churchill Downs.
“He’s a good horse and it’s really good to get that one under his belt,” Stall said. “It was definitely time for him to go run, and you just don’t know what’s going to happen. Sometimes they don’t come back like you think and sometimes they’re not as ready as you think they are, so there was a little more anxiety than in a regular race.”
That case of race-day nerves aside, Stall said Blame had blossomed during his training over the synthetic Polytrack course at Keeneland in recent weeks and he felt the colt was ready for a good effort.
“In the last three or four weeks he just really let you know that it was time,” Stall said. “He’s a great looking horse, but he really just started looking phenomenal. He just was really good to go.”
Now Stall will focus completely on the 1 1/8-mile Foster, a race in which Blame is expected to face the likes of defending winner Macho Again and Alysheba (GIII) Arson Squad.
"We’ve got four weeks, to the day almost, to the Foster,” said Stall. “I can map out sort of a simple schedule to get him there. It gives you something to get out of bed for, that’s for sure.”
The Schaeffer victory improved Blame’s career record to 6-1-2 in nine races – including a 2-1-0 slate in three starts at Churchill Downs, which will also be the host track for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 6. Blame has earned $676,747.
THISKYHASNOLIMIT IMPRESSES IN RETURN TO RACING IN MATT WINN – He had been on the sidelines for a good while, but a sharp victory Bob and Cathy Zollars and Mark Wagner’s Thiskyhasnolimit in Saturday’s ninth running of Churchill Downs’ $108,000 Matt Winn Stakes had it look as if the colt had never been away.
The 3-year-old son of Sky Mesa, away from racing since late November, rallied from fourth and wore down favored Cool Bullet to win the seven furlong race for 3-year-olds by three-quarters of a length. He covered the distance over a fast track in 1:22.29.
The victory by Thisskyhasnolimit was the third in the Matt Winn for trainer Steve Asmussen, but, despite the long layoff, it came as no surprise to assistant Scott Blasi, who oversees Asmussen’s Churchill Downs stable.
"He had been training like a bear,” Blasi said Sunday morning. “The way he was training I would have surprised if he hadn’t won.”
Thiskyhasnolimit had not run since a sixth-place finish as the favorite in the $150,000-added Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) on Nov. 28 – a race won by WinStar Farm’s future Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver.
"We just gave him some time,” said Blasi. “I don’t remember any specific problem. He was just a big, immature colt He’s doing good this morning. Steve will get together with the owners and we’ll see where we go next with him.”
The victory improved the winner’s career record to 3-1-1 in seven races and increased his career earnings to $204,439.
While disappointed by the loss, trainer Steve Margolis was upbeat about the effort by Robert and Lawana Low and Winmore LLC’s Cool Bullet,
“The horse ran a big race and got a great trip,” Margolis said. “He fought on game, but the other horse just had a little more.”
It was the second consecutive runner-up finish in the Winn for Margolis, who saddled Richard, Elaine and Bert Klein’s Cash Refund for a second place Winn finish behind Capt. Candyman Can in its 2009 renewal.d
Margolis said Cool Bullet could run next in the $175,000 Jersey Shore Breeders’ Cup (GIII) on July 4 at Monmouth Park.
BARN TALK – Gold Mark Farms LLC’s Backtalk returned to serious training on Sunday following his run in the Kentucky Derby. The Tom Amoss trainee, who finished last in the Derby field of 20 3-year-olds, breezed four furlongs over a fast track in :51.80. … Owner/trainer Tom McCarthy said Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI) winner General Quarters is scheduled to work on Monday, but McCarthy is keeping an eye on the weather and the plan could change because of track conditions. General Quarters has now won Grade I races on turf and synthetic surfaces. He took the 2009 Toyota Blue Grass (GI) over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland before running 10th over the main track at Churchill Downs in the 135th Kentucky Derby (GI).