Racing Roundtable: Stephen Foster Preview Day
The Roundtable reconvenes this week to discuss Stephen Foster Preview Day and the three-year-old class both domestically and overseas.
Who stood out on Stephen Foster Preview Day?
James Scully: Gunite rolled to a sharp win over a deep group of rivals in the Aristides, zipping six furlongs in 1:08.46 and netting a seventh consecutive triple-digit Brisnet Speed rating (103). After recording a pair of top-class placings overseas earlier this year, Gunite looked stronger than ever in the Aristides. And the improved four-year-old appears poised to make a major impact in the sprint division.
Rattle N Roll figures to step up in company following a third consecutive Grade 3 win in the Blame, getting up late after a troubled trip. Webslinger continued his progression in the three-year-old turf division, backing up a game win in the American Turf (G2) on the Kentucky Derby undercard with a convincing odds-on score in the Audubon S.
A pair of exciting types on the undercard, Braganza and Scotland, recorded commendable performances. A late-starting three-year-old last fall, Braganza continued to draw attention to her blossoming form, routing a solid group of allowance foes at odds-on. The Eddie Kenneally-trained four-year-old filly was exiting a 7 1/4-length allowance triumph at Keeneland. Scotland improved to 2-for-3 for Bill Mott, gamely defeating stakes-experienced Cagliostro by a head in a mile allowance. By Good Magic, Scotland has registered encouraging Speed ratings since winning at first asking in late March.
Kellie Reilly: Rattle N Roll’s performance in the Blame (G3) stood out to me because he was in a tight spot at the top of the stretch. I’m not sure that the Rattle N Roll of the past would have been able to cope with an interruption of momentum, especially on the rail, at that stage. It’s a measure of his improvement with maturity that he shrugged it off and still quickened to win handily, extending his streak to three. Gunite also deserves mention as an ultra-reliable sprinter after his comeback victory in the Aristides S. The Gun Runner colt was ready to fire in his first start back from his Mideast swing, when placing in both the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) and Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1). Now sporting a mark of 17-8-5-2, Gunite has never been out of the trifecta sprinting; his only unplaced efforts came at a mile.
Vance Hanson: Gunite dazzled in the Aristides, rebounding off of a couple losses in the Middle East over the winter. He had two serious challengers in the Aristides, his Dubai Golden Shaheen conqueror Sibelius and 10-time Churchill winner Bango. No slouch himself over the Louisville strip, Gunite powered home to a convincing win. It remains to be seen whether he'll be a serious threat to Elite Power for sprint champion honors, but with more performances like his Aristides he should make things very interesting at Saratoga and further down the road.
Did Geaux Rocket Ride establish himself as a Haskell (G1) contender?
JS: Geaux Rocket Ride responded when asked on the far turn of the Affirmed, surging to a clear lead in upper stretch, and the lightly-raced colt figured to need the race, making his first start since a runner-up in the San Felipe (G2). He remains a promising type for Richard Mandella, but the Affirmed came back slow (92 Speed rating). And it wasn’t visually impressive. I’m dubious of Geaux Rocket Ride’s chances against faster rivals in the Haskell.
KR: Geaux Rocket Ride is still learning the game — the Affirmed was just his third career start — and it was encouraging that he relaxed so well behind the contested pace before imposing his will. Yet I have to wonder how close Skinner would have gone if he hadn’t scratched. Geaux Rocket Ride’s margin dwindled to 1 3/4 lengths as he covered his final sixteenth in :7.01. Granted, the race was sewn up, but it’s an open question of how much he might have had left. Skinner presumably would have closed more effectively than runner-up Mr Fisk, either catching Geaux Rocket Ride or making him scrape home. My working hypothesis is that Geaux Rocket Ride is likely to find the 1 1/8-mile Haskell a shade farther than he ideally wants, especially in top company.
VH: With his most serious rival scratched from Sunday's Affirmed, Geaux Rocket Ride didn't have to turn in a career effort to win that 1 1/16-mile test at Santa Anita, and he didn't. However, it was an effort he can build upon for the Haskell, though he will have to replicate something close to his San Felipe (G2) run to be a viable contender in that Monmouth fixture. There will be plenty of hurdles in his path if he chooses to go to New Jersey, including the shipping factor and the more experienced and classier competition he will undoubtedly face.
Which turf three-year-olds impressed, here and abroad?
JS: The English Derby (G1) proved exciting, as Auguste Rodin rallied boldly to deny longshot King of Steel, and Chad Brown enjoyed a big afternoon at Belmont Park on Saturday. Kalik made his stakes debut a winning one in the Pennine Ridge (G2), saving plenty for the finish as the lone speed, and he's won three straight this year. But I came away most impressed by Redistricting, who closed powerfully to win his career debut by about five lengths at 1 1/16 miles on turf. He looked like a man among boys, a beast-in-the-making for the U.S. turf ranks, and Brown will target Grade 1 events this summer with Redistricting.
KR: I wouldn’t have forecast that the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) (G1) would produce the most scintillating display of the weekend, but Ace Impact did just that at Chantilly. Front-running favorite Big Rock appeared to have the race in the bag after running everyone else off their feet, until Ace Impact flew to cut him down in course-record time. Auguste Rodin’s victory in the Epsom Derby was an occasion of joyous relief, establishing that he is indeed the kind of serious talent we hoped. Runner-up King of Steel ran a mighty race, however, to succumb by only a half-length in his seasonal reappearance. Could the giant colt maybe have held on, if he’d gotten his prep run in the Dante (G2)?
Among the fillies, the smooth-traveling Soul Sister looked like the Oaks (G1) winner a long way out. But keep an eye on Ottery, who rallied powerfully from last in the Prix de Royaumont (G3) on French Derby Day. The Andre Fabre pupil improved on the step up in trip and clocked about 1 1/2 miles in 2:25.99.
Although there was plenty of stateside stakes action, the winner who flashed star quality was first-time starter Redistricting. The Chad Brown trainee exploded from off the pace in a 1 1/16-mile maiden Saturday at Belmont Park, drawing 4 3/4 lengths clear. By Kingman and out of a full sister to the magnificent St Nicholas Abbey, Redistricting can redraw the map in this division.
VH: I can't say I was totally taken by any of the domestic three-year-olds seen last weekend, though Regret (G3) winner Mission of Joy seemingly has the ability to ascend to the top level in the filly division by the end of the season.
The standout winners for me in Europe were Soul Sister, who captured the Oaks at Epsom, and Ace Impact, who remained perfect from four starts when taking the Prix du Jockey Club in his group debut. Soul Sister looks a serious threat in all the obvious filly-and-mare Group 1 events from 10 to 12 furlongs the rest of the season, while Ace Impact's superiority over the French colts was emphatic. Whether he will stretch out successfully to 1 1/2 miles remains to be seen, but at the very least he can be a serious player in other 1 1/4-mile events. His options are plentiful.