By Dick Powell
Spring is coming and a trio of legitimate 3yo Kentucky Derby (G1) prep races makes me realize that we have hit February and the first Saturday in May is not far off.
In today’s training world of less is more, many horses that are entered in Saturday’s $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita and the Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct may have only one other prep race until Derby Day so these races take on an importance they rarely had in the past.
The Holy Bull attracted a field of 11 and Dale Romans wasn’t kidding when he said he had a lot of good 3yos this year as he’s entered four runners. FREE DROP BILLY won the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland then had no shot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) when he was shuffled back into traffic. On his best day, he stalks the pace and makes one run which he will try to do from post 2 with the red-hot Luis Saez
Free Drop Billy shares common ownership with HOLLYWOOD STAR, was a good second in the Iroquois Stakes (G3) in a wide trip as the 6 to 5 favorite, and Romans said one of the duo will be scratched and redirected to the Sam F. Davis (G3) at Tampa a week later.
ENTICED broke his maiden on Closing Day at Saratoga over a horrible, muddy track. He came back to run third in the Champagne Stakes (G1) going a one-turn mile behind repeat graded stakes winner FIRENZE FIRE and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner GOOD MAGIC.
Kiaran McLaughlin brought Enticed to Churchill Downs where he won the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) going today’s distance by a head in a rough trip. Being a sucker for well-bred youngsters, this colt has it all being by MEDAGLIA D’ORO and out of three-time Grade 1 winner IT’S TRICKY. Enticed was given the month of December off and only has four timed workouts at Palm Meadows. Joel Rosario, who is only winning 7% at Gulfstream Park, gets the mount.
Romans also has TiZ MISCHIEF, who broke his maiden two starts back in his two-turn debut at Keeneland then missed beating Enticed by a head from post 12 in the Kentucky Jockey Club. He has worked extremely well here on the Gulfstream Park main track for this and I think Tiz Mischief is the one to beat.
The Robert B. Lewis Stakes attracted a field of nine and they represent all the usual West Coast barns that contest these 3yo stakes races every year. There are no stakes winners in the field and Bob Baffert and Doug O’Neill send out maidens – both have had three unsuccessful tries.
The closest thing to a stakes horse in the Lewis is AYACARA, who was second on the synthetic track in a stakes race at Golden Gate Fields. Before that, he was a distant fourth to BOLT D’ORO in a Grade 1 stakes at Santa Anita. The son of VIOLENCE draws the rail and Kent Desormeaux rides for his brother Keith, who adds blinkers.
SHIVERMETIMBERS broke his maiden two starts back in his two-turn debut at Del Mar then came back in the Sham Stakes (G3) last out at Santa Anita and pressed the pace to the deep stretch before weakening. The son of new sire SHANGHAI BOBBY has good early pace, gets Rafael Bejarano for the first time and his BRIS Speed ratings have increased in each of his four career starts.
If the Lewis is as wide open as it seems, why not INSCOM? His last four starts came on the turf and he has a win and two seconds going two turns on it. Son of DISTORTED HUMOR is out of a dam by LEMON DROP KID and as a result, Inscom is eligible to run well on anything and usually shows good speed in his starts. Flavien Prat picks up the mount for Simon Callaghan.
Finally, the Wither Stakes (G3) will be run on the Aqueduct main track going 1 1/8 miles. Champagne winner FIRENZE FIRE was soundly beaten in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but he bounced back last out with an improbable win in the $150,000 Jerome Stakes when he ran down a loose leader on an extremely wet track at Aqueduct.
Firenze Fire’s time that day for the mile was 1:42 4/5 but the track was a mess. Usually, horses coming off those kinds of tracks run poorly next time out and it is hard to tell how he is training since Jason Servis rarely shows anything in the morning. At least we know he’s game and can handle a wet track.
Kiaran McLaughlin ships AVERY ISLAND to New York from his Palm Meadows training base and looks like he has found a winning spot. After running poorly in his career debut going six furlongs at Saratoga, he came back to break his maiden at Belmont Park by over five lengths going gate to wire then won the Nashua Stakes (G2) by a similar margin.
Avery Island was no match for the highly regarded CATHOLIC BOY in the Remsen Stakes (G2) going this distance on this main track but he looks like the best of the rest and benefits from training on schedule down South. Like ENTICED, he is a homebred from Godolphin and looks fit and ready to take the first step on the Derby Trail.