Photo: Hodges Photography/Alexander Barkoff
Now squarely into the new year, it’s time for the three-year-olds to take center stage, and as we move inexorably closer to the one race everyone wants to win, new names need to emerge. 3 ½ months from the 2014 Kentucky Derby, the three-day holiday weekend afforded sophomores the chance to strut their stuff on five different stages around the nation. Not easily impressed by young horses at this stage of their career, I believe the five stakes races the past three days featured better performances, on average, than the cynic in me expected. Here are my grades for the winners of each of the five races. Either I’m in a really good mood, or we did in see some quality horseflesh.
In winning today’s San Pedro Stakes at Santa Anita, Indianapolis announced himself as a major talent. In the six furlong test of speed, he was fast enough to contend for the lead, and then talented enough to power home a dominant winner in racehorse time of 1:08.80. I could not bring myself to giving an out an ‘A’ considering there were only four horses in the field, but make no mistake, this horse can run. With plenty of speed influence on the female side, it remains to be seen whether the now 2-for-2 Bob Baffert trainee will go on to be a serious contender at classic distances, but his trainer says it it full steam ahead on the Derby Trail for the son of Medaglia d’Oro.
Vicar’s In Trouble (B+)
Going into Saturday’s Lecomte Stakes, I was admittedly skeptical of this colt coming out of an open length win against Louisiana-bred maidens at six furlongs. I was wrong and the money that came pouring in late was dead on. Rosie Napravnik had the speed measured the whole way as this son of Into Mischief waited to pounce on the far turn. He did, and the decision was quickly a done deal, as he spurted away from his competition. The only thing that takes away from the 6 ¾ length romp was the fact that the pace was on the slow side, and he got the perfect trip against questionable competition. Things will get tougher from here, but at the very least, Vicar’s In Trouble proved that he will be a player in bigger preps from here.
Exit Stage Left (B)
This may seem like a high grade for what on paper appears to be a nothing special edition of the California Derby. I saw a lot more, though. Now 3-for-3, all in stakes, Exit Stage Left had every reason to lose, and instead he proved resolute to the wire. Truly pressured every step of the way, I thought it was just a matter of how many horses would pass him as I watched on the computer screen. It never happened. The race favorite, Enterprising, who I believe to be a nice three-year-old, came right up to him in the stretch, but it was soon clear that the winner was better. I love finding horses with a strong will to win, and I did in the California Derby.
Tanzanite Cat (B-)
Another who appeared in trouble of losing on the far turn, this lightly raced son of Graeme Hall, also found another gear to edge clear in today’s Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. It was a smart progression for a good looking colt who sprinted in his first two career races. Or did his competition just stop running? It was probably a little bit of both. The Hot Springs oval has been slow this year, but the :26.38 final quarter will not strike fear into any of the connections of horses looking to take on Tanzanite Cat in future preps at Oaklawn Park.
Hot Heir Skier (C-)
Ben Perkins, Jr. brought this fast son of Appealing Skier to New York from Laurel for the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, and like so many of his horses, he proved to be a stakes quality sprinter. That’s the good news, now for the bad … After taking control of the race in the stretch, he struggled home to win by a diminishing half length. I believe the late stages of the race not only demonstrated his lack of distance potential, but also likely the fact that he will have trouble against top horses even sprinting.