JC / Railbird

Oaks Preps

Weekend Figures

The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep schedules have been updated with weekend results. Beyer speed figures of 102 for The Factor and 100 for runner-up Sway Away in the San Vicente at Santa Anita yesterday; 94 for Mucho Macho Man in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds on Saturday; 83 for Kathmanblu in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at the same distance over the same track; 95 for It’s Tricky in the Busher Stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday; 89 for Archarcharch in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Monday.

Saturday Notes

It’s become fashionable to say that we haven’t seen the Kentucky Derby winner yet, the “yet” referring to any race for 3-year-olds in January, but looking over the prep schedules of the last four Derby winners, it occurs to me that we may not have even seen the winner work yet. Super Saver posted the first work of his sophomore year on January 24, 2010; Big Brown didn’t get started until February 24, 2008; Street Sense worked for the first time on January 29, 2007. All three, plus Mine That Bird, then had only two prep races, none earlier than Mine That Bird’s start in the February 28, 2009 Borderland Derby at Sunland.

Despite the trend, Derby watchers can’t help getting excited over allowances such as that won by Soldat at Gulfstream on Friday over a sloppy track (replay). The race, which Jeremy Plonk predicts will produce at least two winners of major Triple Crown preps, lost a little of its shine when trainer Nick Zito scratched maiden winner Dialed In because of the track condition. The colt will now point to the January 30 Holy Bull. “It’s not what I wanted to do, but it looks like that’s what we’re going to do,” said Zito. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said that Soldat could start next in the February 26 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. [Soldat was given a Beyer speed figure of 102 for the win.]

Foolish Pleasure rounds up today’s interesting 3-year-old runners, leading with the Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream, which drew trainer Ken McPeek’s Kentucky Oaks filly Kathmanblu. She’s making her return to turf after winning the Golden Rod at Churchill last November. “I want to keep her around two turns and get a race into her, and then get her back to dirt,” said McPeek. At the Fair Grounds, Aide, fourth in the Golden Rod, returns for trainer Al Stall in the Silverbulletday Stakes. She’s the one starter out of eight who didn’t win her last race. The Fair Grounds also features the Lecomte Stakes on today’s card with its five-horse field headed by the “quirky” Justin Phillip, getting blinkers on. For a much more comprehensive preview of the Lecomte and other prep races, subscribe to the Hello Race Fans! weekly Derby Prep Alert emails. (I do contribute to the site and the DPA; I get nothing for the plug, other than the pleasure of steering people to a genuinely good Derby Trail resource.)

Trainer Bob Baffert will be at Oaklawn for the February 21 Southwest Stakes. He’s still considering with which horse he’ll be making the trip.

At the CHRB board meeting on Thursday, there was little interest in rescinding the January 1 takeout hike on exotic wagers that’s infuriated horseplayers. “That would have to come from the tracks themselves and from the TOC,” said commissioner John Harris. There was no sign from Santa Anita last week that track executives would be requesting a rollback, despite a handle drop. “We’re where we want to be, but that’s something that’s we’re looking at every day,” track president George Haines told Steve Andersen.

Speaking of the Santa Anita handle numbers, about which there’s been some uncertainty, Mark Thurman gave a presentation on CHRIMS, the accounting and settlement system used by the track (and other California tracks), during Thursday’s CHRB meeting. Of interest to those following the numbers, Thurman said that CHRIMS was working on making “a small database” of handle figures available on CalRacing. Asked when that database might be online, Thurman replied, “Our goal is to have it up within two weeks.”

Saturday Line-Up (Updated)

Oaks prep, Derby preps, and two big stars making their first starts of the year:

The NTRA, which unveiled a fresh new web site look last Friday, launches a new feature, NTRA Live!, a series of webcasts hosted by Randy Moss, this Saturday. Beginning at 6:00 PM, racing fans with an Internet connection anywhere in the world will be able to watch a live video stream — free! — of both the New Orleans Ladies and Santa Margarita Handicap. Very cool. (And not just because the video venture was inspired by “Take Back Saturday!“)

Also Saturday: 2009 Tampa Bay Derby winner Musket Man tries something new, starting in the five furlong Turf Dash Stakes at Tampa (4:57 PM). Musket Man, making his second start off a long layoff, has never finished out of the money, but he’s also never raced at less than six furlongs or on turf. [9:50 AM: Just saw this post on PaceAdvantage, in which someone familiar with the connections’ intentions reports Musket Man has breezed over turf once before and that the race is a prep (a prep they expect to win) for the Carter at Aqueduct. DRF shows trainer Derek Ryan with a .38 percentage (out of eight starters) in turf sprints; Musket Man is the 5-2 morning-line favorite.]

Three potential Omnisurface Stars to watch: In the New Orleans Ladies, Zardana — trained by John Shirreffs, shipped in to take Rachel Alexandra’s measure — makes her first start on dirt [in the US]. The 6-year-old mare won the 2009 G2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood (Cushion Track) and the Swingtime at Santa Anita (turf). Also trying dirt for the first time is Noble’s Promise, who makes his first start of the year in the Rebel Stakes. Noble’s Promise won the G1 Breeders’ Futurity last fall at Keeneland (Polytrack), and broke his maiden over the Ellis Park turf. At Santa Anita, Interactif makes the move to synthetics in the San Felipe Stakes. The Todd Pletcher-trainee won his maiden debut on the Monmouth dirt and boasts two 2009 turf stakes wins, the G3 With Anticipation at Saratoga and G3 Bourbon at Keeneland.

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