March’s arrival means Derby drawing near

With the Sham at Santa Anita being cancelled on Saturday and re-scheduled for next Saturday (March 6) there was little that happened with regards to the Derby trail over the past weekend.  Next week we can look forward to the Sham and the Gotham at Aqueduct as far as the 3YOs go and the Santa Anita Handicap will headline a trio of Grade I stakes to be run at Santa Anita.  Let’s take a look at some of the stakes races from the weekend.


The Sabin is most often used as a prep for the Rampart, which this year will be run as a part of the Florida Derby undercard on March 20.  The field was largely unspectacular but dual Gulfstream graded stakes winner from 2009 Justwhistledixie was considered the most likely to step forward in her return to conventional dirt.  She was sent off at 7/5 while Matchless Orinda, who hadn’t missed the exacta in five starts at Gulfstream coming into yesterday was bet down to 13-10.  However, the day belonged to Aurora Lights, a four year-old filly by Pulpit out of the Lord at War mare Lady Lochinvar.  She is a half to multiple graded stakes winner Master Command and yesterday’s Sabin was only her second start on conventional dirt.  She finished a competitive third in the Stage Door Betty at Calder in December and clearly moved forward on the cutback to a one-turn mile.  Already a multiple winner at 8.5 furlongs Aurora Lights looms a candidate for the Rampart, where she might meet Sweet Repent, who defeated her at Calder.


The Davona Dale certainly lost some of its luster when Christine Daae was scratched but a breakthrough performance was posted nonetheless as Amen Hallelujah picked up her second graded stakes win of 2010.  She stalked a soft early pace from the inside under jockey Julien Leparoux and he remained ever confident around the far turn.  Once set down for the drive this daughter of Montbrook pulled away with ease and stopped the clock in 1:37.16, better than 3/5ths of a second faster than the older fillies and mares 30 minutes prior in the Sabin.  It remains to be seen whether this gal can go longer than a mile but she certainly looked like she wouldn’t struggle with it and her dam, Sara’s Success, was a multiple stakes winner going two turns.


A rather strong storm rolled through southeast Florida as the field for The Very One was reaching the starting gate.  It was run during the storm and the conditions were certainly far from ideal.  One of the ladies who enjoyed the softer ground was Changing Skies, who scored in her US debut last fall at Belmont over a yielding course.  She became the second stakes winner from Bill Mott’s barn off a layoff in a week as he scored seven days prior with Courageous Cat in the Canadian Turf.  Changing Skies is yet to make a start in America over a firm course but all indications are that she should be fine with it and that makes her an intriguing player in the filly and mare turf division.


The heavy rain that fell on Saturday afternoon rendered the Gulfstream lawn damp and that put defending champion Presious Passion’s status in doubt for this Grade II turf marathon.  After seeing a couple of turf races earlier on in the card trainer Mary Hartmann opted to keep her seven year-old of Royal Anthem in the field and he didn’t disappoint.  He did his thing and went right to the lead and jockey Elvis Trujillo was even able to slow the pace down a bit after a half-mile as he negotiated a third quarter in :25 and 3/5, practically glacial for Presious Passion standards.  When confronted he pulled away again and scored by a length and a quarter.  He’s now on track for a start in the 12 furlong Dubai Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup night (March 27).

Click here to read Mike Welsch’s wrap-up of the Mac Diarmida in the Daily Racing Form

Aside from the stakes races run at Gulfstream over the weekend, the major story was the ire created in bettors when the aforementioned rain on Saturday forced the 10th race to be moved to the main track.  Anyone who was alive in the Daily Double, Pick 3, Pick 4, or Pick 6 was forced to navigate the final race in their sequence with selections they made for turf.  Now, I’ll be perfectly honest in saying that I was alive in the Pick 4 and was none too thrilled to find out that Gulfstream did not pay these sequences with “all” in the last leg as is done most commonly at NYRA tracks.  The eventual winner, First National, was 0 for 9 on turf and synthetics coming into yesterday’s heat but narrowly missed in his only on conventional dirt at Hawthorne.  He went off a generous 5-1 considering his prior dirt form but that likely had a lot to do with the fact that the race was transferred to the main track with only six minutes to post.  Here’s to hoping that someone at Gulfstream takes the lead in getting the Florida state law that forbids the state’s tracks to pay “all” in the end of these sequences overturned.  Soon.

With March beginning we can look forward to these stakes races being run over the next 31 days:

March 6 – Santa Anita Handicap (G1), Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1), Santa Anita Oaks (G1), Sham (G3), Gotham (G3)

March 13 – Tampa Bay Derby (G3), Rebel (G2), Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), Santa Margarita Handicap (G1), San Felipe (G2), New Orleans Ladies

March 20 – Florida Derby (G1), Bonnie Miss (G2), Rampart (G2), Swale (G2), Appleton (G3)

March 26 – Fair Grounds Oaks (G2)

March 27 – Dubai World Cup (G1), Louisiana Derby (G2), New Orleans Handicap (G2), Lane’s End (G2), Mervin Muniz (G2)

I’ll be back Tuesday to update my Top 10 3YOs on the Derby trail as we ready ourselves for an exciting weekend to kick off March!  Until then, enjoy the 2009 running of the Santa Anita Handicap:


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