Don Lucarelli was lounging poolside at 8:30 a.m. ET on Friday, eight time zones away from winter’s last sub-freezing clutch on the Capital Region.
“You don’t have to worry about rain here, I’ll tell you that,” he said in a phone interview from Dubai. “It’s all sunshine.”
Actually, a little rain might not have been a bad thing for Take the Points, Starlight Partners’ two-time Grade I winner who will take on 15 rivals in the $5 million Grade I Duty Free on the Dubai World Cup card today.
Take the Points prefers a firm grass course, but Lucarelli said the sparkling new Meydan Racecourse’s turf might even be a little too hard.
Still, Take the Points has a good shot at a huge payday. There is no betting in Dubai, but the Daily Racing Form had Take the Points listed as the 10-1 sixth choice in its graded entries, and 10 European betting sites had him variously listed at 10-1, 12-1 or 14-1 behind the favorite Presvis, who was 5-2 or 9-4 as of Friday morning.
Post time for the Duty Free will be 11:55 a.m. ET, and the headliner, the $10 million World Cup, will go off at 1:45 p.m. Gio Ponti, a dual North American champion in 2009, is the favorite against 13 others.
Lucarelli, a Schenectady native who co-manages Starlight with Jack Wolf of Saratoga Springs, said Take the Points has settled in nicely since shipping to Dubai last week.
He has galloped over the main course several times, and schooled in the gate on Thursday and in the paddock on Wednesday.
“He made the trip beautifully,” Lucarelli said. “He’s flourished, actually. He put on some weight. A lot of times they might lose some after a trip like that, but he’s definitely getting to the bottom of the feed bucket.
“The only question is whether the turf is a little too firm. There‘s not too much cushion out there. He likes it firm, but he’d like some give, too.”
Take the Points will break from the No. 10 post, which Lucarelli doesn’t believe will be an issue, since there will be a long straightaway on the backstretch to gain position for his stalking style. The mile-and-an-eighth turf course at Meydan breaks from a straight chute and goes around only one turn.
The World Cup card includes seven stakes worth a total of $26.25 million, the first of which is the Al Quoz Sprint at 9:20 a.m.
The U.S.-based Well Armed upset the World Cup last year, and the American hopes this year rely on Gio Ponti, Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Furthest Land and Grade I Pacific Classic winner Richard’s Kid, who will make his first start for Sheikh Rashid’s Zabeel Racing after being purchased privately.
Gio Ponti won four straight Grade I’s on the turf last year before finishing second to Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride.
Meydan, which has a Tapeta synthetic surface on its main course, opened in January. The 14 previous World Cups had been held at Nad al Sheba, which has a conventional dirt track.
Godolphin Racing’s Gayego, who used a win at Saratoga Race Course as a springboard to a Grade I win in the Ancient Title before just missing in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, is the DRF’s 2-1 favorite in the Dubai Golden Shaheen.
The Dubai World Cup card could produce a Kentucky Derby prospect out of the UAE Derby (10:35 a.m.), where Godolphin’s Sheikh Mohammed has three of 14 entered, including Mendip, the second choice behind Grade III UAE 2000 Guineas winner Musir. Mendip is 3-for-3, including the last two on the main track at Meydan.
The focal point of the division, of course, will be on his side of the Atlantic, though.
It’s Louisiana Derby Day at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, where the track will present six stakes, three of them graded, led by the Grade II, $750,000 Derby for 3-year-olds.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has two entered, with Discreetly Mine the tepid 7-2 favorite after winning the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds. He broke his maiden by 6 1⁄2 lengths over stablemate Super Saver at Saratoga last year.
Edward P. Evans’ A Little Warm is the 4-1 second choice for trainer Tony Dutrow, after finishing second by a length to D’Funnybone in the Grade II Hutcheson at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 20. D’Funnybone, the 2009 Saratoga Special winner trained by Dutrow’s brother, Rick Jr., won the Swale last weekend.
“There is a question mark with his ability to get added distance to ground, but he’s a very nice colt in his own right,” Tony Dutrow said on Tuesday in a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference.
“I think it would be safe to say that Mr. Evans would look at the Kentucky Derby if he had the opportunity towards graded stakes earnings.”
At nine furlongs, the Louisiana Derby will be A Little Warm’s first race longer than seven furlongs.
Showing up on the morning line after Discreetly Mine and A Little Warm are WinStar Farm’s Drosselmeyer, who was a length and a quarter in fourth behind Discreetly Mine in the Risen Star, and the Tom Amoss-trained Ron the Greek, who won the LeComte at Fair Grounds at nearly 8-1 before finishing sixth in the Risen Star.
“The Risen Star was so pedestrian up front, there just was no chance to close,” Amoss said during the NTRA call. “And I use to back up my argument the fact that, after the opening quarter mile of the race, the horses that were running 1-2-3 ran 1-2-3 in the Risen Star in that order. So it was a difficult race.
“We knew it once they posted the splits for the first quarter of a mile — and there’s no worse feeling than watching a race unfold where you know your horse, who is a deep closer, has no chance to succeed. Certainly we don’t want to see that on Saturday, but there’s some things that are going our way. The distance is something the Louisiana Derby has not been for a number of years, and I think that favors horses that have the kind of stamina that makes them want to go that far. We think Ron the Greek is one of those horses.”
The division will also be spotlighted at Turfway Park in northern Kentucky, in the Grade II Lane’s End, where Pletcher has two more, and probably another favorite in Connemara.
Connemara, 3-for-4 on synthetics, will break from the rail against nine rivals that include stablemate Doubles Partner just to his outside.
Heller on Romero
Gazette handicapper Bill Heller has published his 21st book, “Randy Romero’s Remarkable Ride,” about the former regular jockey of Personal Ensign and Go for Wand who has a long history of injuries and medical problems.
Heller had worked with Romero years ago for books on those two fillies for the Thoroughbred Legends series, but it was a chance encounter at Pennell’s Restaurant in Saratoga Springs in 2008 that led to the recent project.
“It was an hour wait to get in, and my son said, ‘Let’s stay,’ Heller said. “Five minutes later, who walks in but Randy.
“We hadn’t been in touch for awhile, but I knew he was in bad shape. That was the year his kidney was so enlarged that they had to take a rib out to remove it.”
Romero’s medical history, which includes multiple injuries and surgeries, burns over much of his body from a hotbox fire at Oaklawn Park, and kidney and liver failure, is a big part of the story, but so is his successful career, which includes 4,294 winners and over $75 million in purses.
The memorable races in his bittersweet career include Personal Ensign’s heart-stopping victory over Winning Colors in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff to finish her career 13-for-13, and the 1990 BC Distaff, when Go fo Wand broke down in the stretch.
The book, published by Pelican Publishing, can be purchased on-line for $25 at amazon.com and pelicanpub.com. Heller and Romero will be signing copies of “Remarkable Ride,” which will be available in bookstores within a month or so, at Fair Grounds in New Orleans today.
Besides Heller’s book coming out, Romero’s ride could be truly remarkable this year if he’s inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame.
He has been on the cusp of induction in recent years, but a change in the voting process that would allow more than one inductee from one category gives Romero a better chance.
New voting system
Categories for Hall of Fame voting will continue to be Contemporary Fillies and Mares, Contemporary Colts and Geldings, Contemporary Jockeys and Contemporary Trainers, but voters can now pick their top four choices from any category without restriction.
“Contemporary” is defined as active in the last 25 years.
This change might result in more than one individual from a category being elected in a given year, while another category has no inductee that year.
Under the new system, the nominating committee will be asked to arrive at a slate of at least eight and no more than 10 candidates each year. The slate does not have to include a like number from each category. A category could potentially not have any candidate in a given year.
A separate committee, the Historic Review Committee, will continue to handle the elections of participants in racing whose active careers ended more than 25 years ago.
Around the tracks
Stonestreet Stable’s 4-year-old Kensei, the 2009 Jim Dandy winner, will make his 2010 debut in the Duncan Kenner on the Louisiana Derby undercard. His last race was a third in the Jerome after finishing sixth over 25 lengths behind Summer Bird in the Travers.
Starlight’s Ailalea, winner of the Grade III Tempted at Aqueduct, couldn’t sustain a drive down the stretch and faded from third to sixth in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks on Friday. Trainer Dale Romans’ Quiet Temper, the 5-2 post-time favorite, passed pacesetter Champagne d’Oro in the stretch to win by a half-length under Robby Albarado.
Here and there
Mine That Bird, the 50-1 Kentucky Derby winner in 2009, has resumed training at his home base of Double Eagle Ranch in Roswell, N.M., and will be moved to Churchill Downs later this spring. Trainer Chip Woolley told the Daily Racing Form that the June 12 Grade I Stephen Foster would be a target, but it might come up too soon. …
Owner Paul Pompa Jr. has retired Backseat Rhythm and plans to breed the Grade I-winning mare to Big Brown. Backseat Rhythm scored her first stakes win at Saratoga in 2008, in the Grade II Lake Placid, and followed that up with a win in the Grade I Garden City at Belmont.