Photo: Coady Photography/Oaklawn
It’s that time of year again. Excitement over the potential of countless young three-year-olds is part of every weekend of racing as we transition from the winter months into the spring. Today was a great example, as four different sophomores, at four different tracks, made a statement that they are horses to watch not only in the here and now, but also for the rest of the season. On Fire Baby at Oaklawn Park, Agave Kiss at Aqueduct, Prospective at Tampa Bay Downs, and Trinniberg all impressed me today, and all for different reasons.
I like On Fire Baby as much as any three-year-old filly in the nation, and in today’s Grade 3 Honeybee, she did nothing to shake my faith. Sent off as a strong choice in the field of eight, it appeared that the multiple graded stakes winning daughter of Smoke Glacken only had one filly to worry about on paper, and that filly, Amie’s Dini, would do everything in her power to give On Fire Baby a real test. In the end it would matter little. Allowed to set a moderate early pace, Amie’s Dini would feel the pressure of the favorite less than halfway through the 1 1/16 mile affair. As the pair entered the Oaklawn lane, it was clear the Honeybee would be a two-horse race. Amie’s Dini was game, but On Fire Baby was too good, as she powered home a two length winner. Her final time of 1:43.64 was less than a fifth of a second slower than top older horse Alternation’s winning time in the Razorback Stakes a few races later. Trainer Red Dog Hartlage does not hide his faith in his star filly.
“We’ll see how she comes out of this race before we decide on her next race, but it will be here (at Oaklawn). We have options now. We have enough earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby at this point and she’s undefeated at Churchill. I’ve been training horses around here for 25 years and the last horses I’ve seen that trained like her were Curlin and Rachel and I know that’s saying something, but she’s just so flashy. So professional I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be training one like her. If I had lost today, I would have had to go crawl in a gutter."
Agave Kiss might not be Kentucky Oaks bound, but she looks like something special in her own right. Not tested in any of her first three starts, including a win in January’s Ruthless Stakes, it was more of the same today for the daughter of Lion Heart. Treating her rivals with her usual disdain from the get-go, Agave Kiss jumped out to another effortless big early lead. From there it was just a matter of her young rider, Ryan Curatolo hanging on. He did, and the duo hit the wire geared down and three lengths the best in today’s Grade 3 Cicada Stakes at Aqueduct. Distance remains a big question for the yet to be tested chestnut filly, but her freakish early speed cannot be doubted. While the one-mile Comely Stakes is an upcoming option, the main goals for Agave Kiss this summer will include a pair of grade one sprints in the Prioress and Test. If she is still unbeaten after those races, we will be counting the New York-bred miss as a special one indeed.
Prospective may still be a ways from being considered one of the favorites for the 2012 Kentucky Derby, but after today, he has a few positive things going for him. First off, winning today’s Tampa Bay Derby means he has the earnings to be a part of the Run for the Roses. Besides money won, the Mark Casse trained runner also has heart. Wearing blinkers for the first time, Prospective looked strong as he smoothly moved to the lead on the final turn, but his lead would be short-lived. Briefly headed by Golden Ticket with a furlong to run, Prospective came right back at him under jockey Luis Contreras, and edged away in the final fifty yards to hit the wire ¾ of a length in front. The final time of 1:43.35 goes down as the second-fastest Tampa Bay Derby in the race’s 32-year history, with only Kentucky Derby winner, Street Sense having run faster. Competition will only get tougher, but as a son of Malibu Moon, Prospective is also a prime candidate to get better as the distances get longer. His trainer spoke of his will to win after the race.
“I rode him pretty hard,” Casse said jokingly, his voice hoarse from yelling. “Was I worried? Well, I wish he could have won by five. But was I worried? You know, he’s a fighter, and I didn’t really think anybody would beat him once he made the lead.”
Trinniberg may not have the unbeaten mystique of Agave Kiss, but what the son of Teuflesberg does have is speed, speed, and more speed. Winless in four stakes attempts last year after a sharp first-out win, Trinniberg got off the stakes schneid today by blitzing his opponents in the Grade 3 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park. In his first start since tiring to finish seventh in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint, a race in which he set down an opening quarter mile of :20 4/5, the Bisnath Parboo trained runner was let go at 7-1, despite having the most speed in today’s race. Second in both the Hopeful and Nashua as a Juvenile, Trinniberg left little doubt that today would be his day from the opening bell. Setting all the pace from the inside, he sped through moderate (for him) fractions of :22.65 and :45.00, before leaving the field in his dust early in the lane. He hit the eighth pole in 1:08.98 before cruising home in 1:21.69 for the seven furlongs. The final margin over longshot Hello Prince was five lengths with the favorite Ever So Lucky checking in a well beaten third. While certainly not a Derby horse, Trinniberg just might be the quickest sophomore in the land.