We welcome Adam Hickman to the Horse Racing Tavern, who has over 22 years experience in Canadian Thoroughbred Racing. He regularly contributes to Horse Racing Nation and has strong ties at Woodbine. Adam will be writing on all things horse racing from across the big pond, hopefully finding you a few winners along the way.
Adam kicks off at the Horse Racing Tavern with previews of the cards at Santa Anita and Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday evening, with some important prep races for the Kentucky Derby on the agenda.
This weekend features Kentucky Derby preps on east coast and west coast fronts in the United States. While Union Rags and Hansen have solidified their stature as key contenders for the 1 ¼ first jewel of the American Triple Crown, there are still plenty of positions in the starting gate waiting to be filled, especially in light of recent defections of such as Algorithms and Out of Bounds.
On Saturday, the Grade 2 San Felipe has lured a field of 10 sophomores. The 1 1/16-mile event is headlined by the third-place finisher in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Creative Cause and the Cash Call Futurity winner Liaison.
Creative Cause, a gray son of Giant’s Causeway, entered last fall’s Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs with a 3-for-4 record, including an impressive 3 ¼-length tally in the Norfolk at Santa Anita and at the same distance he’ll try Saturday. He tracked Hansen from third in the Breeders’ Cup and checked in one length behind. He kicked off his campaign to get back to Louisville with a close third to Drill in the San Vicente at seven furlongs. The quickly run event should have the Mike Harrington trainee sharp for his return to two-turn racing.
Liaison reeled off back-to-back scores in the Real Quiet and the Cash Call Futurity last year. The son of Indian Charlie’s return in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis on February 4 was anxiously anticipated. The result is best forgotten as he clipped heels in the stretch and unseated his jockey after a stalking trip behind rapid fractions. He was reportedly not injured in the spill and will race without blinkers for the first time in the San Felipe. The Bob Baffert trainee worked a half-mile in :47-flat on March 5, signalling his preparedness. Martin Garcia will take over for Rafael Bejarano.
Bejarano will partner the highly-regarded Bodemeister in the San Felipe. Also trained by Baffert, the Zayat Stables charge broke his maiden at a mile on February 11 by 9 ¼ lengths. The effort earned the son of Empire Maker a strong speed figure and he drew post two for his stakes debut. He worked six furlongs in 1:14-flat on February 26.
Empire Way is a second Mike Harrington pupil that is also worth a mention in the San Felipe. He drew post 10, but that shouldn’t bother him because of his sustained style. In his final start of 2011, he finished a belated fifth in the Cash Call Futurity. He appears to have turned the corner this year, having finished second to I’ll Have Another in the Grade 2 Robert Lewis. The usual speedy nature of the Santa Anita surface may work against him, but closers have managed to succeed of late, as last weekend’s Santa Anita Handicap showed.
Tampa Bay Downs
Meanwhile on the East Coast, all eyes will be on Tampa Bay Downs, where the Grade 2, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby has attracted an interesting group of 12. The top two finishers from the local prep for the event, the Grade 3 Sam Davis Stakes, will also compete in the Tampa Bay Derby at 1 1/16 miles.
Battle Hardened actually broke his maiden in the Sam Davis. Under Julien Leparoux, the son of Giant’s Causeway converted a perfect ground-saving trip into a 1 ¼-length victory over Prospective, who endured a very wide trip in the 1 1/16-mile event. Trained by Mark Casse, Prospective ran several feet further than the winner according to Trakus statistics and arguably may have been the more impressive performer on that day, despite being excluded from many Top 20 lists of Kentucky Derby contenders. Prospective, who won the Grade 3 Grey at Woodbine last fall, drew the rail post, which may lessen the likelihood of a wide journey.
The most anticipated horse in the Tampa Bay Derby is Spring Hill Farm, a Todd Pletcher trainee who enters with a perfect 2-for-2 record. Both wins took place in wire to wire fashion at Gulfstream Park. The son of Smart Strike drew post nine for his stakes debut.
Another shipper from South Florida who hopes to make some noise on the Gulf coast is Take Charge Indy, who is by A.P. Indy. The Patrick Byrne trainee hasn’t run since January 29, but he turned quite a few heads in this event finishing two lengths behind Padrino, who went on to win the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. Take Charge Indy was almost 14 lengths clear of the third-place finisher in the 1 1/16-mile event. Byrne’s given him plenty of time to recover from what was easily the fastest performance of his career thus far. He drew post 10 and will be ridden by Calvin Borel.
The Tampa card also features the Grade 3 Hillsborough at 1 1/8 miles on the turf for fillies and mares, which has attracted Grade 1 Diana winner Zagora, who seeks her third win in four starts.
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Photo Credits: seeing-stars.com, sptimes.com