Race of the Week 2017

Handsome Mike Needs Derby Graded Earnings

Handsome Mike Needs Derby Graded Earnings
Photo: Oaklawn Park
J. Paul Reddam's Handsome Mike has traveled far afield in the last three months trying to find his niche among this year's 3-year-old crop. The son of Scat Daddy has gone from L.A. to San Francisco to Cincinnati and now Hot Springs with a start coming Saturday in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at Oaklawn.

Trained by Doug O'Neill, Handsome Mike is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Vinery Spiral Stakes (G3) at Turfway Park on a synthetic surface. Rather than return to his Southern California base, O'Neill sent him directly to Arkansas to get one final dirt test before shelving Kentucky Derby dreams.

"He has to be 1-2 to be legitimate, I think," said O'Neill Saturday hours before he sends Reddam's Lewis Stakes (G3)-winner I'll Have Another in the Santa Anita Derby (G1). "He's been surrounding them and coming close, but we need to see if he's that good on dirt."

O'Neill will send jockey Mario Guittierez to ride Handsome Mike. The journeyman rider originally from Mexico had been plying his trade in Western Canada until taking a chance riding at Santa Anita this winter. The move paid off when O'Neill and Reddam gave him a chance on their horses and he scored the Lewis at 43-1.

Handsome Mike joined O'Neill's barn in December after a second-place finish on turf in the Generous Stakes at Hollywood Park. He set the pace in the CashCall Futurity but faded to seventh, then had a mild bounce-back when fourth in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in January. That's when he hit the road to Golden Gate Fields for a third-place finish in the El Camino Real Derby then the Turfway trip in Northern Kentucky. Since getting to Hot Springs, O'Neill says Handsome Mike has adjusted nicely.

"He's doing great and got a chance to settle in early," he said. "We're just looking for a good clean trip and see where he can take us."

Najjaar Shuns Typical Tactics, Sustains Speed in Final Ark. Derby Workout

Trainer Danny Peitz was in a joking mood Saturday 24 hours after Shadwell Farms' Najjaar showed more speed in a five-furlong workout than the confirmed closer usually shows as the colt prepares for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1).

Under jockey and Hall of Fame nominee Calvin Borel, the son of Jazil was clocked in 1:00 over a fast track with early fractions that were a little more than 12 seconds each furlong. His breeze last week featured early fractions that were a second slower.

"I told Calvin I wanted a real five-eighths work, not just a final quarter-mile," Peitz quipped. "I knew it all along that he could go fast whenever we asked him. I think we'll probably go to the lead now in the Arkansas Derby."

That last part was a joke. Najjaar loves to drop off the pace and make a big closing run. That has worked twice in a maiden and an allowance race, but he fell too far behind in the Rebel Stakes (G2) March 17 and had to settle for sixth. Peitz says Borel learned an important lesson in that race.

"Calvin, by his own admission, let the horse kind of fall asleep back there," said Peitz. "Calvin thought they were going faster up front than they did and he was too passive. I think we'll still be back there, but we won't be 20 lengths out of it. Hopefully we can get an honest pace."



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