New York joins the Kentucky Derby points series today with the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct, and it comes as no shock that trainer Todd Pletcher has the horse to beat.
Revolutionary, who debuted with a third-place finish on closing day of the Saratoga Race Course meet, is the 3-5 morning-line favorite off an impressive 81⁄2-length win on Dec. 28 at Aqueduct in his fourth start.
He’s owned by WinStar Farm, for whom Pletcher won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver.
“It was a combination of a lot of things, the stretch-out, the two turns, the clean start, a good trip,” Pletcher told the New York Racing Association, of Revolutionary’s improved performance last time out.
“We weren’t surprised he did something impressive, and it was the first time everything had gone smoothly.”
Revolutionary is a son of More Than Ready, who was a breakthrough horse in Pletcher’s career, finishing fourth in the 2000 Kentucky Derby before winning the Grade I King’s Bishop at Saratoga.
Revolutionary was second to Little Distorted at Belmont Park in October and third at Aqueduct in November before breaking his maiden.
“He didn’t have a bad trip when he was second at Belmont, but I thought the track that day was very speed-favoring, and it was hard to make up ground,” Pletcher said. “A talented horse got loose, and we just couldn’t run him down. And he had a horrible start in the one-turn race at Aqueduct.”
The Withers, which is worth 10 points to the winner under the new Derby entry system, drew a field of eight that includes New York-bred long shot Smooth Bert, who won the Damon Runyon for Bona Venture Stables.
Pletcher has another possible Derby trail hopeful who was sired by More Than Ready, Verrazano, entered in a strong allowance at Gulfstream Park today.
He won his career debut by 73⁄4 lengths at Gulfstream on New Year’s Day and is the 8-5 favorite going a mile in the sixth race.
With the Super Bowl on Sunday, the stakes activity is light that day, although four-time Grade I winner Game On Dude is the 123-pound highweight in the Grade II San Antonio at Santa Anita in his second start since finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Game On Dude won the San Antonio last year.
There is plenty of action today, with three other stakes on the Withers card and two other Derby points series races, the Grade III Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs and the Grade II Robert Lewis at Santa Anita, which drew just four, including 3-5 favorite Flashback off a 31⁄2-length maiden win for trainer Bob Baffert and owners Gary and Mary West.
Trainer Mark Casse and owner John Oxley have the coupled favorites in the Sam Davis, Northern Lion and Dynamic Sky, at 9-5.
Dynamic Sky was second in the Grade I Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland heading into a sixth to Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Mechanicville native Chad Brown has a tough pair in the Grade III Endeavor on the Sam Davis card, Dealbata and Pianist.
Dealbata was second in the De La Rose at Saratoga, and Pianist won an allowance at Saratoga before winning the Given Stakes at Belmont.
Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can, who gave jockey Rosie Napravnik the first Grade I win of her career, is 7-5 in the Tiffany Lass at Fair Grounds in her first start since a second in the Mother Goose last June.
The Withers card at Aqueduct also includes the Grade III Toboggan and Correction for sprinters, and the Busher for 3-year-old fillies, where Pletcher has even-money
favorite Princess of Sylmar attempting to extend a three-race winning streak.
Nicole H, fifth in the Ballerina at Saratoga, is 4-5 in the Correction as she tries to make it four stakes wins in a row, and multiple stakes winner Johannesburg Smile is a slight favorite, at 2-1, in the Toboggan.
The Robert Lewis card includes the Grade II Strub and Grade II Arcadia.
The Strub field includes the top three from the Grade II San Fernando, Fed Biz, Tritap and Guilt Trip, as well as Stephanoatsee, the full brother to Shackleford who is coming off a third in the Discovery at Aqueduct in November after winning the Barbaro at Delaware Park.
San Pablo, who won the Birdstone at Saratoga, is 4-5 in the Essex at Oaklawn Park. His only loss in the last five starts was a ninth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
PHELPS’ DERBY DREAM
The 18-time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps and his long-time coach, Bob Bowman, may have the Kentucky Derby in their sights after Cerro won a strong allowance at Gulfstream Park last Saturday for Team Valor International.
Phelps and Bowman joined the Team Valor group that races Cerro after he finished third at Gulfstream on New Year’s Day.
Bowman and Phelps were both traveling when Cerro scored by two lengths last weekend.
Cerro is scheduled to race at Gulfstream on March 3 in the Grade III Palm Beach and then move on to Kentucky for the Grade III Spiral at Turfway Park on March 24.
Phelps has been eager to get involved in horse racing since he retired from competitive swimming after the 2012 Summer Olympics. Bowman bred and raced thoroughbreds in the past and introduced Phelps to the intricacies of the sport. They have visited trainer Graham Motion’s base at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland.
Phelps grew up watching the Preakness in his hometown, Baltimore. Bowman and Phelps attended the Kentucky Derby together in 2009 and were at Pimlico Race Course when Team Valor’s Animal Kingdom finished second in the 2011 Preakness.
“I’ve always loved racing, and I got out because it just got to be a little much with the coaching, but now that Michael has retired and we’re on a little more flexible schedule, we both wanted to have fun with it,” Bowman said in a Team Valor release. “I think he’s always seen how much fun I’ve had with it and wanted to get involved, and this is a great opportunity for us to do it.”
Team Valor managing partner Barry Irwin discovered Cerro in Italy, where he won his career debut on turf last spring. He raced on turf in his first two starts in the U.S. and improved when he switched to dirt this month.
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame will be closed through Wednesday, March 6, as the museum prepares its exhibit to celebrate the 150th anniversary of thoroughbred racing at Saratoga.
The exhibit, sponsored in part by a grant from the Alfred Z. Solomon Charitable Trust, will open to the public this summer.
AROUND THE TRACKS
Sean Avery, who won the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga in 2011, will make his 2013 debut in an allowance at Gulfstream on Wednesday.
He raced just three times last year, winning the Affiliate at Belmont in September before finishing fifth in the Grade I Vosburgh and eighth in the DeFrancis Dash at Laurel. . . .
Finger Lakes will spend $12 million to expand its VLT facility.
The expansion will provide space to accommodate over 300 more VLTs, bringing the total to over 1,500, a restaurant and a new bar/lounge area. It’s scheduled to be completed in November. . . .
Jockey Gerard Melancon reached the 4,000-victory mark for his career when he won the sixth race on Doc R U It at Delta Downs on Wednesday. . . .
Bullet Catcher, who made headlines earlier this month after escaping from the Laurel Park backside and taking a 1.6-mile journey on city streets, finished in a dead heat for second at 12-1 in Thursday’s feature at Laurel, a $40,000 allowance.
Making his first start on his home track and second start since the incident, the son of Strong Hope flashed early speed, pressed the pace before surging to the lead, then held on to tie for second in a four-horse blanket finish won by 23-1 Disco Elvis.
“He tried really hard,” jockey J.D. Acosta said of Bullet Catcher. “He made a really good effort in the end. It looked like he was going to get there but it felt like he slowed down in the last 25 yards.”
On Jan. 11, the 4-year old Jerry Robb trainee tossed jockey Jeremy Rose while heading back to the barn after a workout and got loose. He made his way out of the stable gate, made a left on Whiskey Bottom Road and another left onto U.S. Route 1 before being caught, un-injured.
Jockey Abel Castellano captured part of the adventure on his mobile phone.
“It was fun to ride him,” added Acosta. “I went on YouTube and saw Abel’s video. I am glad he is OK. He is a fighter.”
HERE AND THERE
Trainer Chris Englehart began a 60-day suspension in New York on Thursday because of a total carbon dioxide overage detected in a pre-race blood test of Pawley’s Porch on June 17, 2012.
Pawley’s Porch exceeded the allowable level after finishing third in the first race at Belmont Park that day.
Total carbon dioxide (TCO2) testing is performed to detect the illegal practice of “milkshaking” a horse.
This was the first TCO2 violation for Englehart since he became a head trainer in 1974.
He trains Formal Attire, who was the eighth racing fatality at Aqueduct during the winter inner track meet. . . .
Jim Benes of Countryside, Ill., topped a field of 455 to win the $750,000 first-place prize and an Eclipse Award as handicapper of the year at the 14th annual Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) Presented by Treasure Island and Sovereign Stable last Saturday.
The 50-year-old Benes, a professional horseplayer, amassed a winning score of $268.40 from 28 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers and two mythical $4 win-and-place “Best Bet” wagers over the two-day tournament held at Treasure Island Las Vegas.
He qualified for the NHC at Hawthorne Race Course.
JOCKEYS SUPPORT TJC
The membership of the Jockeys’ Guild voted to support tightening of race-day medication rules and penalties during its annual assembly in Hollywood, Fla.
Members passed a resolution supporting The Jockey Club’s Reformed Racing Medication Rules, including a two-category medication system, progressive points style penalties and reciprocity among jurisdictions.
That resolution also includes the statement that, “No race day medication shall be permitted with the exception of Lasix, which should be administered by an independent regulatory veterinarian.”
“Our unanimous vote to support these rules should send a strong signal that the Jockeys’ Guild is united in efforts to make racing safer for both jockeys and horses,” guild chairman John Velazquez said in a release. “This is our livelihood, and we strongly encourage these efforts which will strengthen the integrity of racing.”
In addition, Guild members elected two new active jockeys to serve on the board of directors. Mike Smith and Joe Bravo replace Jerry LaSala and Perry Compton on the board. The membership re-elected the Guild’s officers, including Velazquez; G.R. Carter, vice chairman; Rodney Prescott, secretary and Joel Campbell, treasurer.
The Jockeys’ Guild 2012 awards for outstanding achievements and contributions to the racing industry went to Ramon Dominguez (Laffit Pincay Jr. Award) for thoroughbred jockey achievement; Jerry and Nancy LaSala (Eddie Arcaro Award), for their commitment to the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund; and G.R Carter (Jacky Martin Award) as the outstanding quarterhorse rider.