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Handicapper's Edge Derby and Oaks Notes 04/06/10

Odysseus, Aikenite settle in at Keeneland in advance of Blue Grass

Tampa Bay Derby (G3) winner ODYSSEUS (Malibu Moon) and multiple Grade 1-placed AIKENITE (Yes It's True) arrived at Keeneland Sunday afternoon, six days ahead of their clash in Saturday's Blue Grass S. (G1). Both had wintered at Palm Meadows in South Florida.

Padua Stables' Odysseus wasted little time Monday morning getting acquainted with the Keeneland racing surface. With assistant trainer Dan Blacker up, Odysseus went to the track around 7:30 a.m. (EDT). He jogged a mile and then stood near the paddock runway for a few minutes taking in all the morning's activities before a leisurely 1 1/2-mile gallop.

Looking on was jockey Rajiv Maragh, who has been aboard Odysseus in all four of his starts that include victories in his past three starts. Odysseus is trained by Tom Albertrani, who is expected to arrive in Lexington, Kentucky, on Wednesday.

"I got on him the first day he arrived at Saratoga," said Blacker, who has been with Odysseus since the chestnut arrived in the barn last summer. "He's got a lot of class about him and a great feel. The owners are very high on him."

Odysseus ran second in his first start last October at Aqueduct and then broke his maiden on January 14 at Gulfstream Park. He exploded onto the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail with a 15-length victory in allowance/optional claiming company at Tampa Bay Downs on February 17 in his first start around two turns, and followed that with a narrow victory in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 13.

Odysseus has had two works since the Tampa Bay Derby victory, the final one coming last Wednesday when he turned in a five-furlong move in 1:01 2/5 at Palm Meadows. Blacker said that Odysseus would have a paddock schooling session this week as he prepares for his racing debut on an all-weather surface.

"He trained and breezed on the all-weather last spring at the sale in Ocala," Blacker said.

Dogwood Stable's Aikenite shipped to Keeneland with five other horses trained by Todd Pletcher. On Monday morning, he galloped about a mile on the main track with exercise rider Melvin Hernandez aboard. Aikenite had already turned in his final work for the Blue Grass at Palm Meadows on Saturday, covering five furlongs in 1:02 1/5.

Aikenite, who ran second to Noble's Promise (Cuvee) in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) here last October, enters the Blue Grass off a third-place finish to stablemate Eskendereya (Giant's Causeway) in the February 20 Fountain of Youth S. (G2) at Gulfstream Park.

"It made sense from the very beginning," Dogwood's Cot Campbell said about racing Aikenite in the Blue Grass. "The distance (1 1/8 miles) was right. He'd been on this racetrack and run well on it, so there was no doubt about what we were going to do. So here we are."

Aikenite's connections already have victories in the Blue Grass. Dogwood won the race in 1990 with Summer Squall, who went on to finish second in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and later captured the Preakness S. (G1). Pletcher won the race in 2005 with Bandini and in 2008 with Monba. Jockey Garrett Gomez won the race in 2006 with Sinister Minister.

Pletcher was expected at Keeneland on Monday for the April Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale. His Keeneland assistant is Ginny DePasquale, who returned to the United States on April 1 from accompanying multiple Grade 1 winner Take the Points (Even the Score) to Dubai, where he finished fifth in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free (UAE-G1) on March 27.

In other Blue Grass news:

Palm Beach S. (G3) hero PADDY O'PRADO (El Prado [Ire]) jogged two miles under Mary Doser at 6:30 on Monday morning.

Florida Derby (G1) runner-up PLEASANT PRINCE (Indy King) jogged a mile under Brian Pena at 9:45, one day after working five furlongs in a bullet :58 2/5.

Grade 3-placed CODOY (Bernstein) jogged twice around the Keeneland Training Track with exercise rider Mimi Davis aboard.

Multiple Grade 1-placed MAKE MUSIC FOR ME (Bernstein), who drilled six furlongs in a bullet 1:13 on Sunday morning at Hollywood Park, is scheduled to arrive at Keeneland on Tuesday. The Alexis Barba trainee came home fourth in the Breeders' Futurity last fall, and most recently broke his maiden in the Pasadena S. on Santa Anita's turf.


Eskendereya heading back to Palm Meadows

A little more than 12 hours after his smashing 9 3/4-length victory in Saturday's $750,000 Wood Memorial S. (G1), ESKENDEREYA (Giant's Causeway) was on his way back to Florida, where he will spend the next couple of weeks preparing for his likely role as the favorite for the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1).

"I like the surface at Palm Meadows, as does he," trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday morning. "And, the weather will be more reliable there."

The trainer said he plans to send Eskendereya to Churchill Downs 10 days before Derby, a race in which Pletcher is 0-24. This year, Pletcher could have a half-dozen or more starters in the Derby, with Eskendereya the most prominent member of the "Todd Squad."

"We'll just try to keep him happy," Pletcher said. "We'll keep doing what we have been doing. We're not going to try and get creative."

Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito reported Sunday morning that Wood Memorial runner-up JACKSON BEND (Hear No Evil) exited the race in good order and will most likely depart for Churchill Downs in a few days.

"He'll probably just hang out here for a couple of days, and then I'll make arrangements for him to go to Kentucky," said Zito, adding that he loved the way the compact colt fought back in the stretch to outgame AWESOME ACT (Awesome Again) for second place in the 1 1/8-mile race.

"He ran really great," Zito said. "The other horse (winner Eskendereya) is just in another league right now. It's sad, because that was a really thrilling race -- for second."

The trainer also pointed out that a number of horses who ran in the Wood and did not win went on to take the Kentucky Derby, among them the Zito-trained Go for Gin, who finished second to Irgun in the 1994 Wood and then won the Derby.

"A lot of horses ran second in the Wood and ran good in the Derby -- Go for Gin, Funny Cide (2003) -- so you never know," said Zito, who also won the Derby in 1991 with Strike the Gold.

Awesome Act, third in the Wood Memorial, will continue preparations for the Kentucky Derby at Belmont Park, where he has been stabled since an impressive victory in last month's Gotham S. (G3).

"We'll train here until about five days before the Derby, then ship down to Kentucky," said Wayne Tanner, assistant to trainer Jeremy Noseda, who is based at Newmarket in England and trains Awesome Act for Mrs. Susan Roy and Vinery Stables.

No worse for the wear after an eventful trip in the Wood in which he stumbled out of the gate and lost a shoe in the process, the chestnut colt was resting comfortably in his stall at Belmont Sunday morning. 

"He's come out of it well," Tanner said. "He couldn't wait to get into his grub last night. He's a very relaxed horse, and about the only thing that gets him going is the sound of his feed being poured into the bin."

Awesome Act was beaten just a head for second by Jackson Bend, and Tanner said he thought the colt's troubles at the start had probably cost him the place. 

The Wood Memorial was only the second start on dirt for Awesome Act, who won the Gotham following a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2) at Santa Anita last fall, in which he closed late and missed third by a half-length. 

"We'll let him have an easy couple of days and move on from there," Tanner said.


Sidney's Candy, Lucky in good shape after Santa Anita Derby

It was all quiet on the Western front Sunday morning after the most eventful Santa Anita Derby (G1) in recent memory Saturday. It was on to the Kentucky Derby (G1) for front-running winner SIDNEY'S CANDY (Candy Ride [Arg]), and ditto for third-place finisher LOOKIN AT LUCKY (Smart Strike), the 4-5 favorite who, after troubled trips in three of his last four races, perhaps should be called Lookin at Unlucky.

On a pleasantly cool, intermittently sunny Easter morning, tempers and rhetoric had subsided to the norm less than 24 hours after blows both verbal and physical were hurled following the West Coast's premier stepping stone to the Run for the Roses on May 1.

An incident midway on the second turn in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby sparked the outbursts. Lookin at Lucky, ridden by Garrett Gomez, "steadied and was shuffled back midway on that turn" when WHO'S UP (Graeme Hall), running in second at the time under Victor Espinoza, "angled to the rail." Gomez lost whatever chance he had of winning, but rallied to finish third, beaten six lengths by Sidney's Candy and 1 1/2 lengths by SETSUKO (Pleasantly Perfect), who closed from 10th and last to capture second.

Jill Baffert, wife of Bob Baffert, trainer of Lookin at Lucky, verbally took Espinoza to task outside the jockeys' room after the race, but Espinoza said Sunday morning that apologies had been exchanged Saturday night.

Directly after the running of the race, the stewards conducted an inquiry, but took no immediate action. Not so for Gomez, who confronted Espinoza weighing in at the scales, raining at least one punch on Espinoza. It made good theater on ESPN's SportsCenter Saturday night, and in Sunday's print publications, but common sense prevailed Sunday and it was back to the business at hand.

The California Horse Racing Board of stewards held a hearing on the incident Sunday morning before the races. Frank Alvarado, rider of fifth-place finisher SKIPSHOT (Skip Away), was absolved of any wrongdoing; Espinoza received a three-day suspension starting next Sunday; and Gomez was fined $750 for his actions after the race, according to steward Tom Ward.

"Sidney's Candy came back good," said John Sadler, on his way to his second straight Santa Anita training title. Sadler would have his second starter in the Run for the Roses with the son of Candy Ride. "We don't have a departure date yet. We'll play it by ear, but we're not going for at least a week."

The Derby would be the first race for Sidney's Candy on traditional dirt after six starts on synthetics.

"I don't think he's going to have a problem," Sadler said. "He's a good horse."

"Lookin at Lucky looks fantastic today," said Baffert, who is seeking his fourth Derby win. "He's happy, so that's good. He leaves on the 12th (for Churchill Downs) and yeah, Gomez will ride him back.

"Garrett came by the barn this morning and we talked things over. I didn't like where the horse was the first 100 yards, but I should have told Garrett exactly what to do. I just left it up to him and I messed it up.

"In the Rebel ([G2] at Oaklawn Park on March 13), he was really knocked out after the race. But this is the best the horse has ever come out of a race. He was ice cold and he was bouncing.

"We learned a lot about the horse that will really help his chances in the Derby," Baffert added. "We got beat by a very nice horse (in Sidney's Candy), and you can't make any mistakes against a horse like that. We're not the favorite (for the Derby) anymore. We've dropped down a few notches, but what the hell. California three-year-olds are very good this year. They're tough."

"If we can go, I want to go," said Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella of Setsuko, who picked up $150,000 for finishing second, giving him $180,000 in graded earnings, the final criterion in determining the 20 horses that will start in the Kentucky Derby.

"He came out of the race great. Now, it just depends on if he gets to do it or not."

Mike Machowsky, trainer of CARACORTADO (Cat Dreams), who ran fourth after steadying in the incident with Lookin at Lucky and Who's Up, is taking a wait-and-see approach to the Kentucky Derby.

"We have no plans right now," Machowsky said. "We'll see how it plays out. I wouldn't rule out the Derby, but he'd have to be kicking the barn down, and all that.

"I don't think anybody was going to beat Sidney's Candy. He looked very, very strong. Too bad there was all that rough riding."


Pleasant Prince blitzes in a bullet :58 2/5 for Blue Grass

Florida Derby (G1) runner-up PLEASANT PRINCE (Indy King) worked five furlongs in a bullet :58 2/5 over Keeneland's Polytrack on Sunday morning, signaling his sharpness for Saturday's Blue Grass S. (G1). Jockey Julien Leparoux was aboard for the move, which easily ranked as the fastest of 17 at the distance.

"That was about as good as a horse can work," trainer Wesley Ward said.

Pleasant Prince broke off about four lengths behind workmate Hunter's Kitten (Kitten's Joy), a once-raced sophomore, and tracked that horse until just before the eighth-pole when he easily breezed past. Hunter's Kitten finished up in 1:01 3/5.

Keeneland clockers caught Pleasant Prince in fractions of :12, :23 1/5, :34 4/5 and :46 1/5, with a six-furlong gallop-out in 1:11 3/5. Pleasant Prince pulled up seven furlongs in 1:27 2/5.

"He went very nice and handled the track well," said Leparoux, who will have the mount in the Blue Grass.

Owner Ken Ramsey had wanted Pleasant Prince to train up to the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1), but with $162,500 in graded stakes earnings, the possibility existed that the colt might not have enough money to secure a spot in the Derby starting gate that is reserved for the top 20 graded money earners.

"Another inch in Florida and we wouldn't be having this conversation," Ramsey said, referring to Pleasant Prince's nose defeat to Ice Box (Pulpit) in the March 20 Florida Derby. "But this looks like the right spot. It is three weeks before the Derby, and he ran well on this track here last fall."

Pleasant Prince made his second career start at Keeneland in October, finishing third in an $80,000 maiden claimer going seven furlongs.

"He trained great on this track last year, and after that race (at Keeneland) Julien got on him the first time and he broke his maiden at Churchill Downs," Ward said.

Leparoux rode Pleasant Prince in the Florida Derby and also was aboard for a fourth-place finish behind Eskendereya (Giant's Causeway) in the Fountain of Youth (G2).

While Pleasant Prince entered the Blue Grass picture, Sam-Son Farm's GIANT'S TOMB (Awesome Again) has been ruled out.

"I told (Racing Secretary) Ben (Huffman) yesterday that we are not running," trainer Mark Frostad said.


American Lion bound for Keeneland

WinStar Farm's AMERICAN LION (Tiznow), who captured Saturday's Illinois Derby (G3), was scheduled to return to Keeneland on Sunday afternoon.

American Lion's victory gave WinStar three horses with enough earnings to be guaranteed a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate, along with Sunland Derby (G3) hero ENDORSEMENT (Distorted Humor) and multiple Grade 3 winner RULE (Roman Ruler), who was third in the Florida Derby (G1) last out.

"We are evaluating all of them," Bill Casner, president of WinStar, said about the farm's Derby hopefuls. "I thought American Lion ran a much improved race yesterday, and (jockey) David Flores gets along with him well.

"He was more relaxed yesterday and it looks like he might like dirt better. Dirt tends to favor speed, and that was a thought in running there."

American Lion, successful in the Hollywood Prevue S. (G3) last November, was third in the Robert B. Lewis S. (G2) and fourth in the San Felipe S. (G2) in his last two starts.

"Endorsement is here (at Keeneland) and Rule is still in Florida," Casner added. "SUPER SAVER (Maria's Mon) is still in Florida, but will be shipping to Oaklawn for the Arkansas Derby (G1) on Saturday. DROSSELMEYER (Distorted Humor), we are going to bring him in here and see."

Super Saver, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club S. (G2) at Churchill Downs in his juvenile finale, finished a close third in the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) in his seasonal reappearance. With $163,832 in graded earnings, Super Saver is outside of the top 20 on the graded earnings list at the moment, but can move up significantly with a strong effort in the $1 million Arkansas Derby.

Drosselmeyer's troubled trip in the Louisiana Derby (G2), where he wound up third, leaves him much lower on the list with only $87,000 in career graded earnings.


Contessa mulls Withers, Derby Trial for Eightyfiveinafifty

After his anxiety-inducing yet impressive victory in Saturday's Bay Shore S. (G3), EIGHTYFIVEINAFIFTY (Forest Camp) will set his sights on one of two races for his next target. According to trainer Gary Contessa, the explosively fast three-year-old colt will either remain at Aqueduct for the Withers S. (G3) or ship to Churchill Downs for The Cliff's Edge Derby Trial S. (G3). Both are one-turn mile races.

Eightyfiveinafifty first served notice when posting a 109 BRIS Speed figure for his 17 1/4-length romp in a six-furlong maiden at Aqueduct in January. The bay earned a 106 Speed rating for his 2 1/2-length victory in the seven-furlong Bay Shore.

In between those sprints, he endured an adventurous trip in the 1 1/16-mile Whirlaway S. at Aqueduct on February 6. That was intended to serve as his two-turn debut, but Eightyfiveinafifty never made it to the second turn. Bolting around the first turn, he took himself out of the race and ran through the outer rail.

He also displayed certain antics in the Bay Shore, looking at the infield numerous times on the backstretch, leave Contessa wondering just how good he can be with a few adjustments.

"How dangerous would he be if he learns to run straight?" Contessa, New York's leading trainer four years running, asked Sunday.

"He is a highly perceptive horse, and yesterday when the rail disappeared on the backstretch, he started to look left. Imagine that he can turn his head 180 degrees left and still run :22, :45, and 1:08 and change.

"It's incredible, and the sky is the limit if he ever gets it all together and puts his mind on business. He's given me some fits, but we've managed to figure him out and I have to keep tweaking him and making him better. He's the best horse I've ever had."

When asked about potential distance limitations, Contessa clearly wants to take a wait and see approach.

"I'm not sure how far he will go," he said. "Yesterday he looked like a sprinter, but it's important to take into account that he has never had uninterrupted training.

"We've never seen him at 100 percent. For his maiden victory he was 75 percent and yesterday he was also 75 percent. It will be very interesting to see how he develops and matures over the year to come."


Evening Jewel returning to Santa Anita to prepare for Kentucky Oaks

EVENING JEWEL (Northern Afleet), gritty winner of Saturday's Ashland S. (G1) at Keeneland, is heading back to her home base at Santa Anita on Monday, according to trainer Jim Cassidy.

"We can keep her happier out there rather than leaving her here with someone else," Cassidy said Sunday morning. "Hopefully, we will be back in two weeks."

Evening Jewel held off IT'S TEA TIME (Dynaformer) by a neck to stamp herself as one of the prime contenders for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) to be run April 30 at Churchill Downs.

"I will probably work her the 14th or 15th and I may work her twice out there, depending on how she is doing," Cassidy said. "If I can get into Louisville early enough on a charter (flight), I may work her three-eighths over that track before the Oaks."

The Oaks is also a possibility for It's Tea Time, according to trainer Rusty Arnold.

"It was a hard race for her since she had only run two times, but the Oaks is a possibility," Arnold said. "It is a long year. I think I have a nice filly and I am not just going to throw her in there. We will take it a step at a time."

It's Tea Time had made her first two starts on grass before her synthetic debut in the Ashland.

"She will stay here at least two weeks and if we think she will make the race, we will go on over to Churchill Downs," Arnold said.

Champion SHE BE WILD (Offlee Wild), who finished third, "looked very well this morning," trainer Wayne Catalano said.

"We're really proud of her," he said about She Be Wild's performance on Saturday, which came in her second start of the year. "We couldn't get all the training we wanted in Florida; she wasn't really handling that surface."

Future plans for She Be Wild are to be determined.

"We'll just see how she comes out of the race and sit down and make a plan with Mr. and Mrs. (Mike and Nancy) Mazzoni and go from there," Catalano said. The Mazzonis bred She Be Wild, who races in Nancy's name.

The remainder of the Central Bank Ashland field also came out of the race well.

Robbie Medina, assistant to trainer Shug McGaughey, said that fourth-place finisher PROTESTING (A.P. Indy) "would probably go to New York in a few days and her next start most likely be on grass."

Trainer Mike Stidham was not sure about the next race for fifth-place finisher UPPERLINE (Maria's Mon).

"We're probably going to give her a short little break and then look for something," he said.

APPLE CHARLOTTE (Smart Strike), who finished sixth in her Polytrack debut, "is going to go back to Fair Hill (in Maryland) and we will sort it out from there," said Alice Clapham, assistant to trainer Graham Motion.

NEGLIGEE (Northern Afleet), winner of last fall's Alcibiades (G1) at Keeneland who ran seventh in the Ashland in her 2010 debut, "came back fine," said Reynaldo Abreu, assistant to trainer John Terranova. "We have no idea why she ran like she did. We are going to wait a couple of days before deciding what's next."

Alan Shell, assistant to trainer Ken McPeek said that BEAUTICIAN (Dehere) was OK Sunday morning after finishing last of eight in the Ashland.

"We are going to pull some blood and see if that tells us anything," Shell said.