THE LEXINGTON STAKES & CHARLES TOWN CLASSIC
We'll find out Saturday if Edgar Prado will be a player in the Kentucky Derby.
Prado picks up the mount on Square Eddie, who will be a short price in the $300,000 Lexington Stakes, a mile and a 16th Grade 2 over the Keeneland polytrack.
The Lexington, the last stop on the Derby Prep trail, attracted a field of 12, and with $180,000 going to the winner, said winner will make the Derby cut.
Folks with long memories will recall that D. Wayne Lukas used the 1999 Lexington as a Derby springboard for Charismatic.
Prado gets the call on Square Eddie because trainer O'Neill needs a replacement for regular whippersnapper Bejarano, who is committed to Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem for the Derby two weeks hence at Churchill Downs.
Square Eddie doesn't have to win Saturday to make the Derby cut. With a bankroll of 750K, the chestnut son of Smart Strike already has a Derby berth locked up.
After enjoying modest success as a 2-year-old in Great Britain, Square Eddie was sent to this country last fall, and promptly won the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, and at the same distance as the Lexington.
As a result, Square Eddie went favored in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, where he went a good rail trip for second to Midshipman, and then finished second again -- to The Pamplemousse -- as the 3-5 chalk in the San Rafael at Santa Anita.
Folllowing that race, Square Eddie sustained a cannon-bone stress fracture, and his Derby hopes appeared done. But the colt seems to have made a miraculous recovery, judging from his recent works at Hollywood Park, so O'Neill decided to roll the dice and put him in the Lexington to learn if he is Derby-worthy.
Of Eddie's 11 rivals Saturday, the only graded stakes-winner is El Crespo, and that came in the Grade 3 Palm Beach on the grass at Gulfstream Park.
Todd Pletcher, who never misses a dance, has a pair in the Lexington -- Masala and Advice, both of whom are eligible for non-winners of one-other than.
Garrett Gomez picks up the mount on Advice, a Chapel Royal colt who was actually favored over Square Eddie in the Breeders' Futurity. He made a strong middle move from post 11 that day, but faded to ninth, beating only two horses.
Alas, Advice again draws the 11-hole for the Lexington.
Note that Johnny Velazquez made the schlep to New Mexico to ride Advice a month back in the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park...only to check out at the first turn.
Eibar Coa, who rode the winners of the Illinois Derby and Blue Grass Stakes the last two Saturdays, will shoot for a hat trick on Masala, who exits a troubled fourth to I Want Revenge in the Gotham at Aqueduct.
An interesting player in the Lexington is a Holy Bull colt from Team Valor named Hull, who had the misfortune to draw the extreme outside post. Jockey Mena has the return call from trainer Romans.
Hull is more than a headline writer's delight.
Unraced at 2, he debuted with a five-length score under Gabriel Saez on Feb. 7 at Fair Grounds, getting six furlongs in 1:10 2/5. The Beyer boys were sufficiently impressed to award him a 97 number.
Off that race, Hull went off at five cents to the dollar in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance at Turfway Park, and won by eight with an 86 number.
From the 12-hole, Hull will bust out of there like a rocket, and it will be interesting to see how far he will go. Hey, maybe he'll keep going.
What a Hull of a story that would make.
For those interested in making a buck on the Lexington, my selections will be up and running here online and on the world-famous John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283).
Win or lose on Square Eddie, Prado will take a short flight to West Virgina to ride three at Charles Town on Saturday evening -- Top Seed in the $100,000 Blue and Gold Stakes, Super Slash in the $250,000 Sugar Maple, and Dry Martini in the $500,000 Charles Town Classic.
The Classic is the brainstorm of Sam Huff, a West Virginia businessman, who, for years has taken an active role in his home state's racing.
Yes, this is the same Sam Huff who played a little middle linebacker for the New York Giants a few years back.
Huff has assembled a quality field for the Classic, headed by Commentator, who, last Monday was honored as the 2008 New York-bred of the Year in ceremonies at the Gideon Putnam Hotel in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The selection of Commentator was a no-brainer. In six starts last year, he won four times, including the Mass Cap and the Whitney, and was a finalist for an Eclipse Award.
Commentator just doesn't win. He blows the competition away. His four victories in '08 came by a combined margin of 46 lengths!
Commentator has been training well in south Florida for his '09 debut, and, at age 8, just how much does he have left in the tank?
Trainer Zito says the old boy is going as good as ever, and Johnny V will have his usual seat on the speedball, who is 13-1-3 from 21 starts for earnings of $1.9 million.
That said, Commentator is guaranteed nothing in the Classic.
Dry Martini is a worthy rival from the one-hole, a distinct advantage in the three-turn race, as is hometown favorite Researcher. All this 5-year-old has done in his last two starts over the track is win by a combined 36 lengths -- and, like Commentator, runs triple-digit numbers virtually every time.
Moreover, three California-based stakes-winners found their way to West Virginia for the Classic. They are Mast Track, the Hollywood Gold Cup winner from Bethanny Frankel's father; Magnum, the San Antonio winner from trainer Vienna, and Zappa, a 7-year-old burner from trainer Sadler.
ESPN will air the Lexington on The Deuce, but unlike previous years, our favorite sports network is blowing off Charles Town's big night, much like they are blowing off the Kentucky Oaks and the Preakness undercard.
Closer to home, Aqueduct is offering its weekly $250,000 guaranteed Late Pick Four on Saturday afternoon.
The sequence kicks off with Race Seven, a mile on the grass for New York-bred maidens...and it's a dandy.
The 10-horse field is a combined 0-for-77, and seven of the 10 riders in the race this year are a combined 5-for-216!
None of the 10 horses finished in the top four in their last start, and the likely favorite will be 4-year-old gelding named Smarteralex, who is presently 0-for-30.
The eighth race is a 10K claimer at a mile, and the major players appear to be Hurricane Heat from the red-hot Maggi Moss; Eltish Star and Legends Way.
The eighth race, the $150,000 Bed O Roses Handicap for fillies and mares, marks the return of Seattle Smooth, who, in her last start at 3, upset champion Proud Spell in the Cotillion at Philadelphia Park.
Proud Spell was retired two weeks back, and last Saturday was bred to Indian Charlie.
As for Seattle Smooth, she'll be a short price under Ramon Dominguez in the Bed O'Roses...especially since Cowgirls Don't Cry is expected to scratch in order to run in the Sugar Maple at Charles Town.
Naturally, The Toddster will run an uncoupled entry -- Spritely and Distorted Passion. Both 4-year-olds cost 475K, and both are on top of their game.
Chuck Lopez and Cornelio Velasquez, off to a slow start at Aqueduct, are the respective riders.
Dominguez (who else?) will ride the favorite in race nine, a maiden-special at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.
That will be Cozy Lion, who exits a strong fourth in a Gulfstream maiden-special. Second in that turf race was Sleepless Knight, who came back to win his next start.
Finally...our latest Kentucky Derby Top Ten
|1. Friesan Fire
||Worked 5F in 1:00 3/5 on Monday. |
||Now #16 on the money list. |
|3. I Want Revenge
||Went easy half in :50. |
||Will quarter-crack be a problem? |
|5. Papa Clem
||Won the most important Derby Prep. |
|6. Pioneerof the Nile
||Jock agents are knocking down the door. |
||Form Baze to Rosario to Mike. |
|8. General Quarters
||Did Coa make the right choice? |
|8. Musket Man
||Coa has a history with the barn. |
|10. Hold Me Back
||HOF trainer looking for his first Derby |
Good luck this weekend, and see you back here on Monday.
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