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Did you see that!

Santa Anita OaksIf you missed last Saturday’s blitz of racing, I have to say I feel sorry for you. It was the kind of racing day that affirms the greatness of this exciting sport. West coast shipper I Want Revenge tried dirt for the first time at historic Aqueduct and blew the rest of the field to smithereens, pulling away to win the Gotham by six lengths; he is doubtlessly Derby-bound, and suddenly one of the main competitors for Kentucky’s coveted roses. On the undercard for the Santa Anita Handicap, Stardom Bound looked as if she would never make it up to the wire in time, but proved her tenacity when she pulled off a squeaker in a four-horse photo finish. And in the Big Cap, the agile Einstein became a Grade I winner on synthetics his first time over the surface, smashing a field full of talent to cement himself as one of America’s leading older horses. Contenders became champions last weekend, winning Blockbuster races that elevated them to superstar status. And it’s not even May yet.

This Saturday heralds four three-year-old races, four more chances to prepare for the Derby, and perhaps one last chance for some to have their names emerge as serious players. After this will be their last big prep before the Kentucky Derby. The weeding begins now.

The South is seeing both the Louisiana Derby and the Rebel Stakes, featuring two fields of horses who’ve been testing each other all season. Have some of them lost their luster, will the lightly-raced horses find an edge? Or will the tried and true favorites turn their challengers away? In the Grade II Louisiana Derby, a full field of ten will vie for graded stakes money, the yellow brick road that leads to Kentucky.

Friesan Fire, the back-to-back winner of the LeComte and Risen Star Stakes, is the morning-line favorite. Larry Jones, who trains Freisan Fire, says his colt has matured at just the right time, and is now buckling down to become a serious race horse. The colt will see several familiar faces in the field, including Flying Pegasus (the runner-up in the Risen Star), Giant Oak, Uno Mas, and Soul Warrior. But his biggest opposition perhaps lies in Patena, the colt who came flying late in the Lecomte and lost by a length in the one-mile race. The distance of this renewed rivalry will be stretched out to 1 1/16th miles; both colts have already won at this distance, and so it’s just a matter of how they’ll stretch out against each other. Patena hasn’t run since his loss in the Lecomte, and should be fresher for the fray. Flying Pegasus was coming off a five-month layoff when he finished second in the Risen Star; this Saturday could be perfect timing for the son of Fusaichi Pegasus to sharpen in peak condition. Then there’s the West coast challenger, Papa Clem, who was about to win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes until Pioneerof the Nile snagged it at the last possible moment. It will be Papa Clem’s first start over dirt, but I have my doubts he will impress as much as I Want Revenge did in the Gotham.

Old FashionedPoor Hamazing Destiny, entering only the second career start of his life, will be right next to Old Fashioned in the starting gate of the Grade II Rebel Stakes. If he’s not blown out of his wits when the big gray bursts from the gates to the lead, he may stand a chance; in his maiden race, Hamazing Victory romped by 10 ½ lengths going six furlongs at the same track. But this is Old Fashioned we’re talking about, the brilliant winner of the Remsen and Southwest Stakes, the colt Larry Jones is streamlining for a summer of big stakes races. He is being primed for things yonder, where roses bloom and mint juleps are sipped; he’s already got his ticket to the Derby. The question is: how much effort must he put forth to win the Rebel?

Old Fashioned will be surprised to find eight others willing to contend him in the Rebel, including Silver City, the other gray he turned away in their last outing together. The Rebel will be the deciding factor for whether or not Silver City will continue on the Derby trail, with the question of distance dictating which way he goes; according to his connections, he must at least put in a good second-place effort if he is to continue to make his way toward Kentucky. As he stands now, Silver City is in 25th place for graded stakes earnings. Only 20 can enter the Derby gates.

One colt who does have a shot of dipping into the $300,000 purse of the Rebel is Wise Kid, a latecomer to the racing scene. Wise Kid didn’t begin racing until he turned three years old, and since then, he has won two of three starts. A colt with a lot of heart, watch for Wise Kid to pick up the pieces if one of the seasoned horses doesn’t perform.

Saturday is also Tampa Bay Derby day, a Grade III $300,000 race featuring eleven starters, including General Quarters and Hello Broadway. GQ finished best in the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes, drawing off to win by 3 ½ lengths and setting a new track record. In that race, he beat several horses that are coming back to try their luck at him again, including Sumo, Musket Man, and Top Seed. Hello Broadway finished second in his last two starts, the Hutcheson Stakes and the Nashua, but is regarded among horsemen as a real threat. Hello Broadway must finish in the top two placings if he is to earn enough graded stakes money to make it to Kentucky; General Quarters has just enough at this state in the game, but anything can happen between now and May 2nd. Nowhere to Hide opted out of the Louisiana Derby to enter this one, but it’s not clear if he’s ducking Friesan Fire or trying to find tamer waters.

Speaking of intimidating horses, the Baffert-trained Pioneerof the Nile will be headlining the Grade II San Felipe Stakes this Saturday at Santa Anita. It appears he has scared off some of the competition, as he will be facing only six other horses this time out. As it stands prior to this Saturday, Pioneerof the Nile is in second place for graded stakes earnings in the Kentucky Derby list of eligible contenders; none of the other horses in the San Felipe are in the top fifty. But you could do worse than run second to Pioneerof the Nile and get a hunk of that $200,000 purse, and that’s most likely why these horses have shown up. Kelly Leak appears to be the colt with the best shot at a runner-up performance, having more wins and more races under his belt than any of the other colts not named Pioneerof the Nile. Also look for New Bay, the aptly-named colt who will be trying stakes competition for the first time after winning his last two starts. In his maiden, New Bay beat the favorite, Turk, by a nose going six furlongs.

If you missed last weekend’s spectacular races, be sure not to do the same this time around. We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty here. Horses are beginning to drop from the Derby radar like flies. Who will be next to fall, and who will remain?

The Grade II Louisiana Derby is scheduled to post at 4:45pm CDT and will be aired on HRTV. Coverage can also be heard on the Horse Racing Radio Network from 4-6:00pm ET with live streaming at  

The Grade III Tampa Bay Derby will post at approximately 5:26pm ET and will be aired live on TVG.

The Grade II Rebel Stakes is scheduled to post at 5:50pm CT and will be aired on HRTV.

The Grade III San Felipe Stakes will post at approximately 2:03pm PT and will be aired live on HRTV and TVG.

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