Weekend Takeaways: Vasilika has earned a shot outside California

Vasilika_Buena Vista 2019_615x400
Photo: Benoit

Vasilika has paid dividends since being claimed by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer a year ago. In for a $40,000 tag last February, Vasilika is now a five-time graded stakes winner after Saturday’s Beuna Vista (G2) and is on a trajectory to soon join the million-dollar earners club.

The 5-year-old mare has proven herself dominant in the filly and mare turf division on the West Coast. She scored her biggest victory back in September in the Rodeo Drive (G1), which offered an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf at Churchill Downs. Although Hollenforfer did not ship for that race, Vasilika has seemingly earned the chance to take on horses outside of California.

Vasilika won eight consecutive races last season, including Santa Anita’s Goldikova (G2) the same weekend of the Breeders’ Cup. She was fourth next out in the Matriarch (G1) but rebounded to win the Megahertz (G3) prior to the Buena Vista.

“I don’t know if there’s anything this horse can’t do. If there is, we haven’t found it yet,” Hollendorfer said after Saturday's race. “I thought going down the backside Flavien (Prat) had a good idea of how fast they were going, so he started moving a little earlier than he usually does, then she kicked in her last eighth like she always does and ran very well, we are very pleased.”

Next, Vasilika looks primed for a bigger challenge. She faced familiar rivals in the Buena Vista, but
the Daily Racing Form’s Steve Anderson reports she could ship for the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2), won by the likes of Grade 1 winners Tepin, Coffee Clique and Stephanie’s Kitten in recent years, during Kentucky Derby weekend. It could mean facing some of the top runners from Chad Brown's barn, too.

The race is only a consideration right now. While she’s raced exclusively in Southern California since 2018, she spent her first two years on the track in Florida and New York, with one stop at Arlington near Chicago. Though her form then was nothing like it is now, she does have experience at multiple tracks.

Even if she doesn’t make the trip to Churchill Downs in May, the Breeders’ Cup will be back at her Santa Anita base this year and the East Coast competition will come to her should she run.

“Vasilika is certainly one of the barn favorites and really seems to come through for us every time,” Hollendorfer said. “Even the couple of times she hasn’t won, she’s still tried so hard. We’re blessed to have her.”



Prince Lucky moves up the ranks

Trainer Todd Pletcher has one to watch for on his hands with
Prince Lucky, the six-length winner of Gulfstream Park’s Hal’s Hope (G3). The 4-year-old Pennsylvania-bred gelding made his first start Saturday since winning the Easy Goer at Belmont Park in June, and the effort made him look like he belongs at the forefront of Pletcher’s older male division.

Prince Lucky sat off the pace from post nine and bested his stablemate Copper Town in the stretch. He completed the mile in 1:34.84.

“We just felt like the distance suited him well, he was doing well, and then he drew a really favorable post position for him,” Pletcher said. “I was happy to see him come back strong off the layoff, and hopefully bigger and better things to come.”

The performance could make Prince Lucky an early favorite for the March 30 Gulfstream Park Mile (G2), which Pletcher is looking at for Prince Lucky's next race.

“I don’t’ think he’s limited to that,” Pletcher added. “I just think it’s a good distance to start him back at.”

As for Copper Town, he was a distance second, but the Hal’s Hope was still a big improvement following two off-the-board finishes. Now 5, Copper Town showed potential in the fall of his 3-year-old season, but was away for over a year before returning a winner in a Keeneland allowance.


Copper Town then ran last in the Cigar Mile (G1) after being bumped at the start, and didn’t have a good start in the Fred W. Hooper (G3) either. There he reared in the gate and faded in the stretch over a sloppy track.

While he hasn’t reproduced that Keeneland effort, where he rallied to a five-length win after getting bumped at the start, he ran better in the Hal’s Hope. As of now though, Prince Lucky looks like the one to beat going forward.

“Copper Town again didn’t get away real cleanly,” Pletcher said. “He kind of bobbled at the start and recovered and put himself in a good position, but was just second-best on the day.”



Fincher earns milestone win

Trainer Todd Fincher had plenty to celebrate at Sunland Park on Sunday. First,
Runaway Ghost won his second race off the layoff in the Curribot Handicap. Fincher patiently brought the colt back, who was away almost 10 months due to a cannon bone fracture. Two races later, Hustle Up held off Wicked Indeed to win the Mine That Bird Derby and deliver Fincher his 1,000th training victory. 

Runaway Ghost was working toward a start in the Kentucky Derby last spring after winning the Sunland Derby (G3). The colt was forced off the trail when he was injured in an April workout, but Fincher has never rushed him since he returned to the track. It paid off when Runaway Ghost win the Ft. Bliss Stakes earlier this month.

“He’s given us no indication to worry since he’s been back,” Fincher said before the first race back. “We’ve taken it extremely slow with him. We know the future is bright for him, and we just didn’t want to risk any new injuries.”



Following a great start to his 3-year-old season at Sunland and two stakes wins against older horses this year, Runaway Ghost looks like a top-notch horse in New Mexico. Fincher has said all along he’ll let Runaway Ghost tell him what to do next. 

“If he shows us we need to go to the next level, that’s exactly what we’ll do,” the trainer said.

The Mine That Bird Derby, a race Runaway Ghost was second in a year ago, was the third consecutive win for Hustle Up. The New Mexico-bred gelding ended his juvenile season by winning the Steve Prather Stakes and opened this year with a win in the Red Hedeman Mile. 

If Hustle Up continues on to the March 24 Sunland Derby like Runaway Ghost did a year ago, he could earn himself a spot in the Churchill Downs starting gate May 4 by collecting the winner’s 50 points.

 

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