The coast-to-coast battle between Todd Pletcher and California-based Bob Baffert finds middle ground today, but recent results say this is Baffert territory.
The Hall of Fame trainer will send two in today’s Grade II Rebel at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., the only Kentucky Derby prep of the weekend.
Super Ninety Nine is 3-2 on the morning line after his smashing 111⁄4-length win in the Southwest at Oaklawn, and Baffert also has Den’s Legacy, as he shoots for his fourth straight win in this race.
His last two Rebel winners, Secret Circle and The Factor, never raced past the Arkansas Derby, but Lookin at Lucky went on to finish sixth in the Kentucky Derby and win the Preakness, Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby before finishing fourth against older horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Pletcher’s entry is the Pennsylvania-bred Delhomme, formerly owned by quarterback Jake Delhomme and now running for WinStar Farm and Twin Creeks Racing.
Delhomme is the 7-2 second choice in the 11-horse Rebel field while making his first start of the season.
He was second in his career debut at Saratoga Race Course before breaking his maiden at Belmont Park. Delhomme hasn’t raced since a third behind Overanalyze and Normandy Invasion in the Remsen in November.
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas has two entered in the Rebel, Lecomte winner Oxbow and the long shot Will Take Charge, who won the Smarty Jones before finishing 18 lengths behind the front-running Super Ninety Nine in the Southwest.
Oxbow is 4-1 and gets a rider switch to Hall of Famer Mike Smith.
“I spoke to Mike briefly last week,” Lukas told Oaklawn Park. “Of course, it doesn’t have to be a lot of conversation with a rider like him. I’m just going to put him on the horse and send him out there.”
Owners Gary and Mary West have the coupled entry of Title Contender and Treasury Bill, who was second in the San Vicente.
Title Contender was eighth to Shanghai Bobby in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 11th in the CashCall Futurity last year. He opened his 3-year-old season with a second at Oaklawn to Carve, a 15-1 long shot for trainer Steve Asmussen.
The Rebel offers 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner.
After the Spiral and Sunland Derby next weekend, the Derby Championship Series enters the two-weekend second leg, where the points get cranked up to 100-40-20-10 for first, second, third and fourth.
My Miss Aurelia makes her 4-year-old debut on the Rebel card as the slight favorite over Don’t Tell Sophia in the Grade III Azeri.
The 2011 champion 2-year-old filly was third to Book Review to close her 3-year-old season, after having finished second to champion Royal Delta in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.
She broke her maiden at Saratoga before winning the Adirondack and was undefeated at 2.
“It’s exciting when one like her comes around,” said Asmussen’s assistant, Darren Fleming.
My Miss Aurelia will break from the outside of the seven-horse field, with Don’t Tell Sophia just to her inside.
Don’t Tell Sophia (3-2), trained by Phil Sims, hasn’t won a graded stakes, but is one a three-race winning streak that includes the Pippin and Bayakoa at Oaklawn.
“I would like to have more in there,” Sims said. “I hate short fields, mainly on principle because of the pace. It seems sometimes some horses find even more trouble in the small fields because they all bunch up. But she’s ready.”
The top two finishers in last month’s Dearly Precious, stablemates Elghayoor and Railtown Girl, get a rematch in the 21st running of the $100,000 Cicada, the final stakes of the Aqueduct inner dirt season.
Owned by Shadwell Stable and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Elghayoor held off Railtown Girl to break her maiden in the Dearly Precious.
“We’re not trying to keep them apart — yet,” said McLaughlin’s New York-based assistant, Shenendehowa graduate Art Magnuson.
Elghayoor is the 3-1 second choice behind the Pletcher-trained Highestmaintenance (7-5), who broke her maiden at Gulfstream before finishing second in an allowance as the 1-4 favorite.
Mechanicville native Chad Brown has two entered in the evenly matched Grade II Honey Fox at Gulfstream Park, Pianist and Samitar.
Pianist, who won an allowance at Saratoga, opened her 2013 season with a win at Gulfstream last month, and Samitar came to North America midway through her 3-year-old season last year and has raced three times in the U.S.
She won the Grade I Garden City at Belmont after a third in the Lake George at Saratoga.
Joyful Victory, who has been in the money in eight straight since a fifth in the 2011 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga, is 9-5 in the Grade I Santa Margarita at Santa Anita.
Two-time defending champion Eighttofasttocatch, General George winner Javerre and 2011 Preakness runner Norman Asbjornson are among the five challengers to Koh I Noor in the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial at Laurel Park, an early prep for the Pimlico Special.
Koh I Noor has won four straight at Laurel since October and is making his stakes debut.
“We are looking to see how he does against better company,” trainer Dove Houghton told the Maryland Jockey Club. “This is definitely the best field we have faced, but he did beat a horse who ran in the Kentucky Derby [Done Talking] last out in convincing fashion,”
SOME ‘MO’ FOR ‘CAIXA’
Caixa Eletronica got his 8-year-old season off to a running start by winning an overnight stakes named after his former stablemate, Uncle Mo, at Aqueduct on Thursday.
Since being claimed for $62,500 by Mike Repole in March of 2011, Caixa Eletronica has been a rugged stakes competitor, running in six Grade I’s without a win, but taking the $1 million Charles Town Classic last April, which he will point toward again this year, Repole told the New York Racing Association.
“If I wasn’t in Ocala trying to find the next Uncle Mo or Caixa Eletronica, I definitely would have been at Aqueduct,” Repole said. “There is a nice contrast between those two horses. Owning a horse like Uncle Mo was special and having a race named for him was great.
“To win the race with a fan favorite like Caixa Eletronica was also great. Uncle Mo was the best and favorite horse I’ve owned, but Caixa Eletronica has been the funnest horse I’ve owned.”
Caixa Eletronica is 20-8-11 from 61 starts lifetime for over $1.6 million.
His record is 21-8-1-4 since Repole claimed him, including Grade III wins in the Westchester and last year’s Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct to finish his 7-year-old season.
“He’s a pro horse, a very straightforward horse,” jockey Javier Castellano said. “He’s a smart, old horse; he knows what he’s doing. He’s been running with the best horses in the country, and I think today was a good prep for the big races.”
“It was good to get a race into him. It looked as if he finished up strong and galloped out well,” said Pletcher’s assistant, Michael McCarthy. “Hopefully, this will set him up well for another run at the Charles Town Classic.”
STEP TOWARD UNIFORMITY
The regulators of eight states, including New York, have agreed to implement a uniform medication and drug testing program, which could be a step toward uniformity on a national level.
The newly formed Mid Atlantic Uniform Medication Program divides medications into two categories, controlled therapeutic substances and prohibited substances.
The two groups were identified after consultation with the sport’s most prominent veterinary and pharmacological organizations.
The eight states will employ uniform testing procedures and levels of detection.
Lasix will continue to be the only medication allowed to be administered on race day.
The new standards are expected to be approved by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and the Association of Racing Commissioners International on April 1.
The other states in the agreement are New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Massachusetts.
The uniformity movement by this group was spearheaded by the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.
“Many horsemen race in more than one state and, in some instances, on the same day,” THA chairman Alan Foreman said in a release. “There is no region in the country where uniformity is more imperative than in the Mid Atlantic and Northeast.
“The horsemen have been asking for this for years, the time has come and we are finally in a position to do it.”
“The program creates an eminently viable blueprint for national uniformity of medication rules and drug testing, and the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance will do everything in its power to ensure its implementation,” National Thoroughbred Racing Association president and CEO Alex Waldrop said in a release.
HERE AND THERE
The Breeders’ Cup board approved the operating budget for 2013 which, for the first time, will include travel allowances paid to all participants shipping from outside of California, $40,000 for those outside North America and $10,000 for domestic horses.
Also, the Breeders’ Cup will reduce entry fees for its races from 3 percent to 2 percent. . . .
Registration for Churchill Downs’ “Road to the Roses” free online fantasy game will run from March 22-28.
Participants can pick a stable of six horses nominated to the Kentucky Derby and earn points for top-4 finishes in Championship Series preps. The grand prize is a VIP package trip for two to the Derby and Oaks that includes air travel, hotel and official Derby merchandise.
Players can sign up at www.KentuckyDerby.com. . . .
Frank Carulli, who has set the odds for the Preakness Stakes since 2002, is leaving as handicapper and racing analyst at Pimlico and Laurel Park.
Keith Feustle will take over Carulli’s morning-line duties in September. He has had a similar job at Colonial Downs since 2003.