Ahhhh....that was a sigh of relief that should have been heard nationwide. After spending a day without a computer since my laptop died, which prevented me from doing a lot of things, including blogging, I now have a computer to use. Granted, it is a dinosaur of a computer and not my trusty laptop, but, at this point, beggars cannot be choosers, and I am just happy to have a computer. On a positive note, that unwanted 24 hour hiatus gave me a lot of time to think about yesterday's races at both Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs, and, when you throw in today's Fountain of Youth Stakes, you are left with a lot of food for thought. Performances on both coasts made me reconsider a lot, so let's get to it.
Yesterday's card at Tampa Bay Downs included an unnamed Handicap and the Tampa Bay Stakes, featuring It's Me Mom and Barbaro's full brother Lentenor, respectively. After reeling off four straight victories, the talented sprinter was handed her first defeat in 7 1/2 months when White Merlot got up in the final strides to post a half-length upset over the race favorite, who set a punishing pace and paid the price at the end. The final time of 1:16.04 for the 6 1/2 furlong race set a new track record. The Tampa Bay Stakes, run directly after the Handicap, did not have a definitive favorite, and the top three choices finished way off the board. Instead a trio of longshots, Roman Tiger, El Commodore, and Swift Warrior, crossed the wire first. Lentenor, a favorite among those who adored Barbaro, finished fifth, while Duke Of Mischief, who was as inconsistent as ever, finished second last. Lentenor, despite being a full brother to Barbaro, has yet to show the same brilliance that kept Barbaro undefeated until his tragic breakdown in the 2006 Preakness Stakes or the same courage that won over a nation as the champion battled for his life. As is the case with many full siblings to champions, we tend to look for that same special something that made one brilliant, but we rarely find a duplicate, despite bloodlines. It is likely that that will always be the case with Lentenor and Margano, another full brother to Barbaro, but it never hurts to hope.
Meanwhile, across the state on Florida's east coast, the handicap and three-year old filly and mare divisions were heating up with the return of Royal Delta, Awesome Maria, Grace Hall, Perfect Shirl, and Keertana. Neither Grace Hall nor Perfect Shirl could find the winner's circle yesterday, but both can easily be forgiven due to falling victim to the Breeders' Cup Bounce. Both fillies made their first start since the Breeders' Cup, and Grace Hall finished a game second to upset winner Yara in the G2 Davona Dale Stakes after leading for a good part of the race, and Perfect Shirl just flat out failed to respond and finished 8th in a field of eleven in the mile and three-eighths G3 Very One Stakes. Grace Hall's second place finish kept her record looking impressive. In five career starts, she has not finished worse than second, and she looks to continue to be a legitimate threat to division leader My Miss Aurelia. Keertana, who also started in the Very One, finished second, a length behind Here to Win. Though I had predicted Keertana would return to the winner's circle in the Very One, she did build nicely on her third place finish in the Endeavour earlier in the month and looks to be coming along nicely on her own comeback trail.
Reigning 3-YO Filly Champion Royal Delta squared off with the very talented Awesome Maria in the G3 Sabin, who was making her first start since being injured last year. I honestly thought Royal Delta had the upper hand in this match-up on account of Awesome Maria's long layoff, but in a race that was startlingly like the G1 Beldame, Royal Delta was stomped by yet another talented older mare. Just like with Havre de Grace, Royal Delta proved no match for Awesome Maria, who drew off to win by 8 lengths. Royal Delta's loss yesterday confirmed what I have suspected for some time now. The Empire Maker filly turned out to be the best of a group of moderately talented fillies, but, when faced with a true champion, she cannot keep pace. If she cannot even defeat Havre de Grace or Awesome Maria, then a trip to Dubai is likely to be a bust since she would face the best males in the world. Granted trainer Bill Mott did not expect Royal Delta to win, I do find it rather suspect that two of the filly's biggest losses have come to high caliber mares. Perhaps I am writing Royal Delta's chances in the World Cup off too soon, but only time will tell if my hunch is correct.
With the scratch of Algorithms in the Fountain of Youth today, the role of race favorite fell surprisingly on Discreet Dancer on the basis of already having a win at Gulfstream. Though Discreet Dancer had already raced on and won twice over the Gulfstream track, today's start was his first beyond a mile. Despite being sent off as the race favorite, once the starting gate clanged open, the race was all about Union Rags. The colt made his presence known throughout the race and took command while three wide on the far turn to draw off in decisive fashion under a hand ride. It may still be February, but I am almost fully convinced that Union Rags is for real. Hansen fans will point to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and say that the flashy gray colt is obviously the best of the crop, but Hansen barely hung on at the mile and a sixteenth distance while Union Rags rebounded to post an authoritative win at the same distance. Union Rags still has yet to face most of the newly "discovered" talent, but all in good time. Besides, with regional trends continuing, he may not even face some of his biggest competition until the Big Day. Perhaps today would have seen a different race if not for the unfortunate scratch of Algorithms, but that is something we will never know. Regardless, Union Rags has proved that he is a deserving favorite in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager pools.