JC / Railbird


Classy Kat

A Beyer speed figure of 90 for Kathmanblu, winner of the one-mile Sweetest Chant over the Gulfstream grass on Saturday (replay). “It may be sacrilege to say,” tweeted @BH_MaidenWatch minutes after the race, “but Kathmanblu is starting to remind me of a former Maiden Watch horse named Rachel.” I’m not quite ready to commit myself like that, but the 3-year-old filly did deliver a classy, controlled performance in her first start of the year, neatly gaining ground and picking off rivals in the stretch, finishing 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Excited in 1:39.14 as the 1-2 favorite on a turf course labeled good.

[Jockey Julien Leparoux] said she was struggling with the turf, but she’s just that good,” said trainer Kenny McPeek. “I was never really worried,” said the rider. “Good horses run on everything and she’s clearly one of them.”

McPeek now faces the challenge of mapping Kathmanblu’s best route to the Kentucky Oaks. “I hate to disappoint Gulfstream but the only two-turn stakes they have for her is the Oaks in April and I don’t want to wait that long,” the trainer told Mike Welsch, indicating that a two-dirt race in February (possibly the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at the Fair Grounds) would most likely be the versatile filly’s next start, and that either the Gulfstream Oaks or the April 9 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland would be her final Oaks prep.

For the watch list: Check out Hout Bay, an impressive debut winner at Santa Anita on Saturday for trainer John Sadler. After breaking slowly and settling into a run at the rear, the 3-year-old Harlan’s Holiday filly flashed some late speed in the stretch, rallying to win race nine by 1 1/2 lengths … I’ve been following Madcap Escapade’s 2008 colt by AP Indy since he first popped up in training for Todd Pletcher at Belmont last July. After several weeks in which he didn’t appear in work reports, the half-sibling to stakes winner Mi Sueno turned up at Palm Meadows in November, where he’s been working steadily since, most recently over turf. And now he has a name — California. Could a start be near? … The 7-year-old Euroears looked like a different horse in his first start for trainer Bob Baffert, winning the six-furlong Palos Verdes in 1:07.23. Asked after the race if he had bet the horse, who hadn’t won since late 2009, Baffert replied, “When I saw he was 9-1, I had to take a shot.”

1/24/11 Addendum: Lecomte Stakes winner Wilkinson may wait for the Louisiana Derby, rather than start in the Risen Star, said trainer Neil Howard. Wilkinson was given a Beyer speed figure of 77 for the Lecomte — he’ll have to do better next out to be taken seriously as a Kentucky Derby contender.

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.”