by Jon White
March 7, 2019
The highly anticipated confrontation between undefeated Eclipse Award winner Game Winner and undefeated Grade I winner Improbable will not be taking place this Saturday.
Game Winner, who is No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, and Improbable, ranked No. 2, were scheduled to clash in Saturday’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita Park. But there will be no San Felipe this Saturday at Santa Anita. In fact, there will be no racing at all this week at Santa Anita.
Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen on Tuesday broke the stunning news that “Santa Anita has cancelled racing indefinitely to allow track consultant Dennis Moore to inspect a surface that has been plagued by a rash of equine fatalities in recent months, according to Tim Ritvo, the chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, the track’s parent company.”
In a Santa Anita press release issued Wednesday, Ritvo said: “As horse lovers first and foremost, we are deeply saddened by the losses experienced over the past several weeks. The loss of just one horse is one too many. While we can’t prevent every injury, we can’t overemphasize that the health and welfare of the horses and jockeys is our top priority. The track will be closed for live racing and training until our outside experts confirm the soundness of the track and let us know that it is safe to resume racing.”
Racing this week at Santa Anita had been scheduled to be conducted on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Last Saturday an eight-race card was drawn for Thursday. But the track announced last Sunday that the Thursday program was cancelled “because of heavy rain expected the day before.”
Last Sunday an 11-race card was drawn for Friday. But there not only won’t be any racing this Friday, Ritvo said racing will not be held this weekend, and declined to speculate on a date of resumption, Andersen reported.
The next scheduled racing date is Thursday, March 14. But, according to Andersen, it was not clear on Tuesday whether racing would be held on March 14, Ritvo said.
The San Felipe would have loomed large via-a-vis the Kentucky Derby picture due to the presence of Game Winner and Improbable, a pair of biggies from the powerful Baffert barn. But the first 2019 start for the two 3-year-olds who rank one-two on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 now will have to take place at later date.
Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
1. Game Winner
3. War of Will
5. Code of Honor
6. Mucho Gusto
7. Bourbon War
9. Omaha Beach
No. 1 Game Winner and No. 2 Improbable appear headed to Oaklawn Park for the Grade II Rebel Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 16. As a result of the circumstances at Santa Anita, Oaklawn has announced that it will split that $1 million race if it attracts a sufficient number of entries.
If the Rebel is not split, it will offer 85 total qualifying points for the May 4 Kentucky Derby. If the Rebel is split, each division will have a purse of $750,000 and 63.75 qualifying points up for grabs.
“Oaklawn stands ready to help horsemen around the country,” said Louis Cella, president of that track. “From a financial standpoint, splitting the race makes no sense whatsoever. If we split it, it will be strictly on the basis of sportsmanship and what is best for the sport and best for the top 3-year-olds trying to get to the Kentucky Derby.”
Both divisions of the Rebel would need to attract a minimum of 10 in order to justify the split, Cella added.
If the Rebel is split, it will be the first time in racing history for a $1 million race to be run in two divisions.
As for No. 3 War of Will, he makes his next start at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in the Grade II Louisiana Derby, a 1 1/8-mile race on March 23. He’s three for three on dirt. The Kentucky-bred War Front colt has won this year’s Lecomte Stakes and Risen Star Stakes in New Orleans for trainer Mark Casse.
No. 4 Instagrand, based at Santa Anita, is one of eight 3-year-olds entered in Aqueduct’s Grade III Gotham Stakes at 1 1/8 miles this Saturday. Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt is unbeaten and untested in two career starts. Instagrand has not raced since he won Del Mar’s Grade II Best Pal Stakes by a little more than 10 lengths last Aug. 11. In his only other start, Instagrand won a maiden special weight race at Los Alamitos by 10 lengths on June 29.
No. 5 Code of Honor won last Gulfstream Park’s Grade II Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes by three-quarters of a length in a 9-1 upset last Saturday. Conditioned by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, the Kentucky-bred Noble Mission colt rebounded after a disappointing performance when he ran fourth as a 4-5 favorite in Gulfstream’s Mucho Macho Man Stakes on Jan. 5.
No. 6 Mucho Gusto, another Baffert trainee, has won three of four career starts. His only defeat came when he finished second to Improbable in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity last Dec. 8. In his 2019 debut, Mucho Gusto splashed his way to a 4 3/4-length triumph in Santa Anita’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes on a sloppy track Feb. 2. The Kentucky-bred Mucho Macho Man colt might make his next start in either the Rebel or Sunland Park’s Grade III Sunland Derby at 1 1/8 miles on March 24.
No. 7 Bourbon War rallied from ninth in a field of 11 to finish second at 4-1 in the Fountain of Youth. Not only did he display late energy, he galloped out in front. Mark Hennig trains the Kentucky-bred Tapit colt. Some believe that based on his Fountain of Youth rally and gallop-out, he might end up being the betting favorite when he goes farther in the Grade I Florida Derby on March 30.
No. 8 Roadster debuts on my Top 10 this week. Yet another Baffert trainee, the Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt made a stylish return to the racing wars last Friday at Santa Anita. Despite a layoff, he drew away in the final furlong and won a one-mile allowance/optional claiming contest by 2 1/2 lengths. He recorded a career-best 91 Beyer Speed Figure. After the race, Baffert said Roadster is “back on the Derby trail.” The Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles on April 6 is a next possible start for him.
No. 9 Omaha Beach, who is dealing with a quarter crack, looked good in a five-furlong workout that was timed in 1:00.80 last Friday at Santa Anita. According to Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella, the Kentucky-bred War Front colt is headed to the Rebel. Omaha Beach won a seven-furlong maiden special weight race by nine lengths in the slop Feb. 2 at Santa Anita.
No. 10 Galilean also has designs on the Rebel for Hollendorfer. The California-bred Uncle Mo colt won the 1 1/16-mile California Cup Derby by 4 1/2-lengths on Feb. 18.
THE NEXT 40 ON MY KENTUCKY DERBY RANKINGS
Hidden Scroll, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, has dropped off my Top 10 this week after being No. 5 last week. Following his dazzling 14-length debut victory on a sloppy strip Jan. 26 at Gulfstream, he finished fourth on a fast track in the Fountain of Youth.
Backed down to 6-5 Fountain of Youth favoritism, Hidden Scroll set a scorching pace and paid the price. He led through fractions of :22.80, :45.69 and 1:10.42.
But keep in mind that while Hidden Scroll ran fast early in the Fountain of Youth, he ran much faster early in his 14-length debut victory.
When timed in fifths, Hidden Scroll’s half-mile fraction in the Fountain of Youth was :45 3/5 and his six-furlong split was 1:10 2/5. In his debut, his half-mile fraction was :44 3/5 and his six-furlong split was 1:09 2/5.
In the Fountain of Youth, it proved to be just too much to ask of Hidden Scroll to set such a sizzling pace and still win when making only his second career start, his graded stakes race debut and his first start around two turns.
Joel Rosario was aboard Hidden Scroll in both races. Many have criticized Rosario for his Fountain of Youth ride.
My take is that Hidden Scroll is a very talented 3-year-old who happens to be one very fast dude early, as he demonstrated in his debut. I am not so sure that Rosario could have taken the speedy colt back off the early pace in the Fountain of Youth without it turning into a wrestling match between horse and rider. That most certainly would not have been good. On the other hand, maybe the colt would have relaxed and rated beautifully if Rosario had gone ahead and tried to restrain him off the early pace.
In any case, Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported that Mott said Joel Rosario will not be riding Hidden Scroll in his next race.
In light of how fast Hidden Scroll has run early in both of his races, I just can’t help but question whether he can succeed going 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May, which is why I have moved him down in my rankings. But we should have a better idea about his chances to win the roses after he makes his next start.
According to Privman, Hidden Scroll will be considered for the aforementioned Florida Derby, the Grade II Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 6 or the Grade II Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, also on April 6. All three are 1 1/8-mile races.
Mucho also is a Mott trainee who has dropped off my Top 10 this week. Mucho was No. 8 last week. In his first start since Sept. 3, Mucho won a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming race by 1 1/4 lengths last Friday at Gulfstream. Mott told Privman that despite that victory, it is “a fair assessment” that Mucho is off the Derby trail. Mott said Mucho will make his next start in Aqueduct’s Grade III Bay Shore Stakes at seven furlongs on April 7.
I again have expanded my Kentucky Derby list to 50 this week. Here are the horses ranked from No. 11 through No. 50:
12. Maximum Security
13. Win Win Win
14. Dream Maker
15. Hidden Scroll
18. Country House
20. Nolo Contesto
22. Mind Control
23. Gunmetal Gray
24. Intrepid Heart
26. Harvey Wallbanger
28. Well Defined
32. Avie’s Flatter
33. Long Range Toddy
34. Standard Deviation
38. Call Paul
39. U S Navy Cross
40. Knicks Go
41. Not That Brady
43. Extra Hope
46. Much Better
47. Gray Attempt
48. Laughing Fox
49. Final Jeopardy
50. So Alive
MILK CARTON HORSE
Uncle Benny, where have you gone?
I have searched and searched, yet I have not read anywhere what is up with Uncle Benny. It’s as if he has disappeared off the face of the earth.
When last seen in action, Uncle Benny finished second in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs last Nov. 2 for trainer Jason Servis. Among those Uncle Benny beat in the BC Juvenile Turf were Somelikeithotbrown (who finished third) and War of Will (who ended up fifth).
Somelikeithotbrown won the John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park on Feb. 15. He is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in Saturday’s Jeff Ruby Steaks at that Kentucky track.
War of Will, as noted earlier, has won this year’s Lecomte and Risen Star in New Orleans.
Uncle Benny was supposed to go onto the Derby trail early this year. He recorded a :39.40 three-furlong workout in Florida at Palm Meadows on Dec. 1, then did not have another recorded workout until three furlongs in :39.80 there on Jan. 19. And now Uncle Benny has not had a recorded workout since Jan. 19.
Mike Welsch wrote a Daily Racing Form story this week about Maximum Security and Final Jeopardy both eyeing the Florida Derby. Final Jeopardy won an allowance/optional claiming race at Gulfstream last Sunday. There were many Servis quotes in the story.
Welsch even quoted Servis that he said “he plans to stick around” in Florida until May 1, as usual, and is excited about some unraced 3-year-olds with very good pedigrees.
But was there an Uncle Benny update from Servis? Nope.
Perhaps one of these days somebody will shed some light on the Uncle Benny situation. Until then, Uncle Benny is a “milk carton horse.”
WINX BREAKS YET ANOTHER RECORD
Charging home to take last Saturday’s Chipping Norton Stakes going away by nearly two lengths at Randwick, the iconic Australian mare Winx extended her winning streak to 31.
Moreover, Winx just keeps on making his history. This was the 23rd Group/Grade I win of her career to break the world record of 22 such victories established by the Irish hurdler Hurricane Fly in Europe from 2008-15. America’s legendary gelding John Henry ranks third in terms of all-time Group/Grade I wins with 16.
In Winx’s 2019 debut, she won the Group II Apollo Stakes by 2 1/4 lengths on Feb. 16 at Randwick. The 7-year-old superstar posted a final time of 1:20.88 to break the course record for 1,400 meters (about seven furlongs).
Winx’s final time of 1:33.27 for 1,600 meters (about one mile) last Saturday broke the stakes record. She also won the Chipping Norton in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The iconic Phar Lap captured the 1930 edition of the Chipping Norton.
Considering Winx’s current outstanding form, it is a shame that her racing career is nearing an end. She is expected to race twice more this year before being retired. Winx is to make her next start in the Group I George Ryder Stakes on March 23, followed by the Group I Queen Elizabeth Stakes on April 13.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 368 City of Light (35)
2. 360 Monomoy Girl (9)
3. 341 Roy H
4. 276 Bricks and Mortar (2)
5. 207 McKinzie
6. 166 Seeking the Soul
7. 134 Sistercharlie
8. 131 Battle of Midway (1)
9. 121 Accelerate
10. 66 Marley’s Freedom
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 441 Game Winner (36)
2. 388 War of Will (7)
3. 371 Improbable (4)
4. 308 Code of Honor
5. 253 Mucho Gusto
6. 172 Instagrand
7. 135 Bourbon War
8. 81 Gunmetal Gray
9. 74 Tax
10. 56 Country House