Photo: joe labozzetta, NYRA
Chitu runs a fast nine furlongs
It seemed a natural progression for, Chitu, runner-up in the Robert B Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita against Candy Boy in only his third lifetime start, to come down to New Mexico and win the rich Sunland Derby. It looked good early on as he pressed Garen comfortably from the outside, and was ready to pounce on the far turn. When the other Baffert, Midnight Hawk, with Mike Smith, came right up to him and looked like a winner at the quarter pole, though, we needed to learn something about Chitu. We did. Rebuking the challenge of his stablemate, the son of Henny Hughes still had plenty left for Midnight Hawk, and plenty left to run a fast nine furlongs. ZATT’s Star of the Week was timed in 1:47.88, just a click off the track and stakes record, and considerably faster in comparison, than Awesome Baby needed for 8 ½ furlongs to win the Sunland Oaks. I remain skeptical of his chances at ten furlongs in the Derby, but he is a nice horse who continues to progress.
We Miss Artie runs a slow nine furlongs
If Chitu ran a fast nine furlongs, then We Miss Artie did not. Sure, the Spiral Stakes was a thrilling three-horse finish, in which only a last second lunge by the winner could deny the victory for a game Harry’s Holiday, with Coastline also right there, but if you will allow me to get all Allen Iverson here for a moment … Kentucky Derby? Are we really talking about the Kentucky Derby? The 2014 Kentucky Derby? How silly is that? Listen, We Miss Artie is a nice turf horse, and a nice synthetic horse, as he proved with his second graded stakes win on Polytrack, but if you want me to sit here for one second and say that this colt is a real threat on the first Saturday in May, I’m just not going to do it. Ten furlongs on dirt, a champion he is not.
Aurelia’s ... Belle of Spiral Day
While most eyes were on the males for the Spiral Stakes, Saturday at Turfway, I think it was a three-year-old filly who stole the show. Leaving the sun baked main strip at Gulfstream Park, where she was never able to wrangle in the speed of the ill-fated Onlyforyou, proved to be just the tonic for Aurelia's Belle. The good looking daughter of Lemon Drop Kid not only enjoyed her return to Kentucky, but also got over the Northern Kentucky's synthetic surface just fine. She looked good the whole way, and easily collared the talented and previously undefeated Sloane Square, before powering home a 2 1/4 length winner. It appeared even easier than the final margin suggests, and I find it especially impressive considering I believe the runner-up will be another to make noise this year. While I give the Spiral winner very little chance in the Derby, Aurelia's Belle could be a real factor in the Oaks.
Going in, Aqueduct’s feature race of the week, the Grade 3 Excelsior, had all the excitement of watching the soda fizz at the local Quickie Mart. There were two good horses entered, but they were both owned by Godolphin. Having said that, I’m glad I decided to watch. It indeed came down to both halves of the odds-on entry, but the stretch run turned out to be a real beaut. With the Ortiz brothers imploring their respective mounts for more, it appeared that Long River would be able to power on by his stablemate, but Romansh dug down deep and threw everything but the kitchen sink back in reply. In the end, it was the Albertrani trained half of the entry, Romansh, who got the best of his McLaughlin trained adversary, or Jose over Irad, if you prefer. Both colts are still improving and should make noise in New York’s handicap division this year.
Ground Transport to Major Tom
Laurel's Harrison E. Johnson is not a race that generally gets written about in glowing terms, but much like the two colts from the Excelsior, I think the winner is a horse to keep an eye on. Shipping in from New Orleans, where he likely faced a little tougher, Ground Transport was sent right to the lead on Saturday, and the race was effectively over. The favorite, Mr. Palmer, a nice horse in his own right, tried him on the turn, but had no answer for the controlling speed. I'm not saying that the Michael Stidham trained son of Big Brown is on the fast track to grade 1 quality, but he looks like a nice honest colt that should be able to add more stakes wins to his tally this year.
Thumbs down to Winchell Thoroughbreds
I was disappointed to learn of the decision by Winchell Thoroughbreds to leave their runners with Steve Asmussen. I do not believe their stated reason of being too close to the big races to change now is good enough. It reinforces the bad racing message of winning over caring, and as Tapiture and Untapable move closer to the biggest stage in racing, I shudder to think what the ramifications will be if either horse can win at Churchill Downs.
Thumbs up to Rick Porter
I am, however, happy to agree with what owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm has begun over on his website. I believe, like Porter, that the time to sit on our hands, and hold our tongues, has passed. Racing needs to change its ways in policing the garbage that goes on at every racetrack in the nation. Please join me in supporting Porter's efforts to make a difference.