It’s a good thing Quality Road tore up the headlines with his record-smashing victory in the Donn last Saturday, otherwise racing wouldn’t have had anything to talk about. Santa Anita’s Saturday card was cancelled once again due to water standing on the track, meaning the big stakes races for Derby and Oaks hopefuls were rescheduled for this weekend. So with the Robert B. Lewis Stakes and the Las Virgenes pushed to this Saturday, you will have to cancel all your previous plans, as this promises to be one helluva 3-day weekend for 3-year-old prospects.
The Robert B. Lewis Stakes has suffered a few deflections from its field, but its top three favorites will still run: American Lion, Tiz Chrome, and Dave in Dixie. American Lion won the Grade III Hollywood Prevue Stakes last time out going 7 furlongs on November 21. Tiz Chrome’s last time out was also a one-turn race, a victory for trainer Bob Baffert in the Stuka Stakes at Hollywood last December. Also entered is Caracortado, who I watched sizzle in his last time out in the California Breeders’ Stakes on Santa Anita’s opening weekend; Caracortado is on a 4-race win streak. As for the Las Virgenes, Blind Luck is still in, and that’s pretty much all you need to know.
Along with the aforementioned rescheduled stakes races, Saturday will also see the Grade III Sam F. Davis stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, featuring hot up-and-comers Uptowncharlybrown and Rule. Rule enters as the favorite, off a 3-race win streak, which was capped off most recently in the Delta Jackpot Stakes over a sloppy track at Delta Downs. Uptowncharlybrown is untested in two starts, both of which he won laughing; in his second start, Uptowncharlybrown drew away to win the Pasco Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs by six lengths. The race is a prep for the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby, won last year by the third place finisher in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Musket Man. Musket Man’s trainer, Derek Ryan, enters Schoolyard Dreams off a two-race win streak.
Saturday will also be the running of the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn, a 3-year-old filly race that has seen such rising stars as Eight Belles and Rachel Alexandra. A full field of 12 fillies have lined up to fill some pretty big shoes; top contenders include Shotgun Gulch, a winner in 4 of 5 starts, Decelerator, the winner of the Grade III Debutante at Churchill Downs, and the undefeated Eve Giselle.
Monday will see the invasion of three West Coasters for Oaklawn’s Southwest Stakes, a prep race for the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby. The first three finishers in the Grade III San Rafael, Conveyance, Cardiff Giant, and Domonation, will be trying their luck on dirt for the first time. Dublin, the winner of the Grade I Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last year, will be entered for his first start since back-to-back disappointing finishes in the Grade I Champagne Stakes at Belmont and the Grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs. A bullet 6-furlong work at Oaklawn Tuesday morning signals that Dublin may be coming back to form and shouldn’t be tossed out as a serious threat to the dirt surface amateurs. Dryfly enters with the hometown advantage: the Lynn Whiting trainee is coming off a victory in the $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn and will be ridden by a jockey that is no stranger to Hot Springs, Calvin Borel.
Though the weeding process is still going on as far as Derby and Oaks prospects go, history shows us that therin the aforementioned prep races, we will probably see a few contenders that will make it into the gates on that most storied first weekend in May, so pay attention to the winners! Several promising colts and fillies will be pushing their boundaries this time out, which will tell the tale just how they measure up on this winding road to Louisville.
Off the Derby trail, a headline broke yesterday that has the racing world near the point of spontaneous combustion. The Apple Blossom showdown is back on. As Samuel L. Jackson so eloquently put it in Jurassic Park, “Hold onto your butts.”