Photo: adam mooshian, NYRA
Fiftyshades back to making hay
Back when I saw Fiftyshadesofhay storming the corn fields of Iowa in person last summer in to win their Oaks, I liked what I saw. To me she looked like a filly on the precipice of taking that next step to being a bonafide grade 1 gal. The problem was, she hadn’t won since. Sure, she had run well in many of those five consecutive losses, but after a 6th place finish in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita, I was beginning to question my usually trustworthy eyes. All that changed in yesterday’s Grade 2 Ruffian. Never looking like a winner at any point in the first seven furlongs, John Velasquez was able to swing her outside of a couple of very talented mares in My Wandy’s Girl and Grace Hall, and she let loose on a determined late drive that carried her to fifty shades of victory. It was very reminiscent of a run she made to win last year’s Black-Eyed Susan. Granted the fast early fractions did not hurt her late run one bit, but she is once again a filly that I am expecting big things from in 2014. For what it’s worth, the keen eye of Maggie Wolfendale tabbed her as much more physically mature as compared to last year. Sounds good to me, and as far as yesterday; I liked her performance so much that I named her ZATT’s Star of the Week.
With extreme Malice
Poor Declan’s Warrior, I’m Steppin’ It Up, and Red Rifle. The trio showed up to a gunfight in the Grade 3 Westchester armed only with a penknife, butter knife, and a plastic spork respectively. In their defense, you do not see a horse as good as Palace Malice is right now, turn up in a grade 3 very often. Sure enough, the result was not pretty. The 2013 Belmont Stakes winner showed off extreme disdain for his overmatched competition with a near ten-length romp, that looked like it could have been a lot more. He flashed potential at two, he mixed success with bad luck, and disappointment at three, but now at four, Palace Malice looks the part of a serious racehorse. Provided the son of Curlin is completely over his knack of breaking slow, or finding trouble, it truly looks the sky's the limit for him this year. Yesterday’s race was more of a workout in company than it was a competitive affair. The Dogwood runner should be in fine fettle when he gets his biggest test of the year in next month’s Met Mile.
Tonalist is better with every start
I’ve seen a few grumblings that the Peter Pan win by Tonalist was not as impressive as they were hoping for. Really??? I loved what I saw. Saturday’s four length score in the Grade 2 stake looked very much like a cat toying with mice to me. It appeared that Joel Rosario knew he had a ton of horse, and therefore was not afraid to go right to the lead on the backstretch. He was right. Tonalist has a great mix of brilliance and stamina in his bloodlines, and in just four career starts, he has gone from a promising maiden to an impressive grade 2 winner. Don’t forget in his second place finish in the race before the Peter Pan, the allowance race featured the class of a grade 1 test. As a matter of fact, three of the top finishers in the race came back to win a big race in their very next start. Constitution in the Florida Derby, Wicked Strong in the Wood Memorial, and now Tonalist in the Peter Pan, made that Gulfstream allowance race about as key as a non-stakes race could be. As for Tonalist, he is improving with each start, returned great from a brief setback, and deserves a shot at the last leg of the Triple Crown. I still like Danza best of the lightly raced sophomores, but this one is not far behind.
Don’t look now, but it is never too early to start paying attention to some potential stars of tomorrow. Case in point came yesterday at Gulfstream Park in the day’s opening contest, when Gennadi Dorochenko unveiled a first time starter named Dekabrist. You could say the Kentucky bred son of Street Boss came out running in his career debut. Stalking a fast first quarter mile, the 7-2 third choice ranged up effortlessly on the outside. He quickly took command, and the Gulfstream stretch became nothing more than his own private launching pad to bigger and better things. By the time he hit the wire, Dekabrist was more than 15 lengths clear of second place, while under a hand ride. The final time for the 4 ½ furlong baby race was a sharp :51.31. A $50,000 yearling purchase, he was a January foal, so he may be farther along than his competition, but regardless, this was a debut to remember. Look for him to graduate into stakes racing sooner rather than later.
Tonito M. hits the mainland
A Kentucky-bred son of Rock Hard Ten, Tonito M. began his career far from home. Making his first seven starts in Puerto Rico, the bargain basement colt became a bit of a sensation in the unincorporated territory of the United States. Already a grade 1 winner there, when he scored his sixth victory in seven career starts, and did so by better than 11 lengths in mid February, it was time for Tonito M. to revisit his roots. A private purchase by the M Racing Group, sent him off to California, rather than Kentucky, and specifically into the successful barn of Jerry Hollendorfer in March. Working well and impressing his new trainer from the get go, Tonito M. would make his American debut in Saturday’s Grade 3 Lazaro Barrera at Santa Anita. While not a winning debut, the Puerto Rican sensation nonetheless looked like a horse with a bright future. Sent off at 9-1 with Kentucky Derby winning rider, Victor Espinoza in the irons, Tonito M. stayed in touch with the leaders early, but was in tight on the turn, and when he started to drop back, it looked like he might not factor into the result at all. Not so, as soon as he had more room to run, he started to move up again, and kept running on through the stretch to finish second. The competition will get better down the road, but the seven furlongs of Saturday is likely not his best distance, so watch out for him stretching out this summer.
Social Inclusion, Bayern, Ride On Curlin, General A Rod, Kid Cruz, and Dynamic Impact are all nice enough horses, but if I’m being honest with myself, none seem like the type to knock of the Derby winner in the Preakness. California Chrome should be able to sit off a brisk pace and pounce on the turn, and from there demonstrate his superiority over this crew. No odds with this belief, so I may well consider him as a single in the Pick 5. If for whatever reason, Chrome is upset in Baltimore, Kid Cruz would the first one I’d look towards. He has a win over the track, and I could see a fast pace developing at Pimlico, which would aid his late running style. More likely though, is that his rally will just be in an attempt to get up for second, as California Chrome moves a step closer to a date with destiny in the Belmont Stakes. While I would have loved to see Danza in the Preakness, I can certainly understand why they want to give him some time between the Derby and the Belmont. This strategy worked for his trainer, Todd Pletcher, last year with Palace Malice. What I don’t understand is the need for the guys at Loooch Racing to feel the need to run their 6th place Oaks filly, Ria Antonia, in the Preakness.