ESKENDEREYA IN A ROUT
Eskendereya stamped himself as the favorite for the May1 Kentucky Derby with a smashing 9-3/4-length victory in Saturday's Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
The victory means trainer Todd Pletcher will have his best chance at winning America's most famous race, as he has lost with his first 24 starters, including an 0-for-5 try in 2007.
"It's amazing," Pletcher said of Saturday's romp. "The further he goes, the stronger he gets. He's a horse that has natural stamina. It would be big to win the Derby. We'll try to make that happen."
Sent off as the 1-2 favorite, Eskendereya raced in third under jockey John Velazquez, chasing the moderate pace being set by Most Happy Fella and Jackson Bend.
As the field entered the final turn, Velazquez closed ground on the top two while racing three-wide, before Eskendereya cruised to the front under a hand ride.
In the stretch, Velazquez looked back over his right shoulder to see how far back the competition was and eased up on the strapping colt, who crossed the wire in 1:49.97 for the mile-and-one-eighth distance, returning $3.
"Once we got to the three-eighths pole, he got on the bridle pretty strong, and when I gave him his head he just went up and up and up from the horses," Velazquez said. "He was just galloping. It was a good feeling."
Pletcher's 0-for-24 streak is the longest in Derby history but could end this year with Eskendereya.
"We've never had a horse we knew could handle the mile and a quarter and we've never had one put together a couple of preps like this one," he said. "We've had some good prep wins, but none as impressive as these two."
Eskendereya won the Feb. 20 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park by 8-1/2 lengths in his previous start.
"He ran as well as he did in the Fountain of Youth," Pletcher said. "The thing that Johnny did today was take pretty good care of him from the eighth pole to the wire. There was more there than what we saw, even as impressive as it was."
Second choice Awesome Act made a threatening move on the turn for home to move into second at the top of the stretch but hung, losing the place photo to Jackson Bend by a head.
"My horse was not suited by the pace," said trainer Jeremy Noseda of Awesome Act, who won last month's Gotham Stakes. "It was a great performance by the winner, but for my horse the pace was wrong."
On the Arkansas worktab
Grade 1 winner NOBLE'S PROMISE (Cuvee), a head second to Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike) in the March 13 Rebel S. (G2) and a leading contender for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), breezed five furlongs in a bullet 1:00 4/5 over the fast track at Oaklawn Park on Saturday. It was the fastest of 23 workers. Robby Albarado will have the mount next Saturday for Kenny McPeek.
Multiple Grade 3 queen JUST JENDA (Menifee), fourth when making her 2010 bow in the March 6 Azeri S. (G3), completed five-eighths in 1:02 1/5 in advance of a possible start in Friday's Apple Blossom S. (G1).
On the Kentucky worktab
River City H. (G3) winner and Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) runner-up KARELIAN (Bertrando), who exits a victory over multiple champion Gio Ponti (Tale of the Cat) in the Tampa Bay S., breezed four furlongs in :48 3/5 over Keeneland's Polytrack on Saturday. He's headed to Friday's Maker's Mark Mile (G1).
Grade 2 winner PALLADIO (Lycius), second by a neck in the Sunshine Millions Classic last out, sped a half-mile in :47 1/5. The April 18 Ben Ali S. (G3) is a possibility.
Grade 2 king FLORENTINO (Jpn) (Swept Overboard), unplaced versus allowance/optional claiming rivals last time at Gulfstream, traveled in :47 4/5.
Stakes victress BEST LASS (Werblin), last seen finishing eighth in the El Encino S. (G2), clocked :50.
Grade 3 scorer EL CRESPO (A.P. Indy), seventh when making his 2010 debut versus allowance/optional claiming rivals, worked in :48 1/5.
Grade 3 winner AFTERNOON STROLL (Stroll), up the track in two starts this year, recorded :48 1/5.
Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) heroine HOT CHA CHA (Cactus Ridge), readying for her 2010 bow in the April 10 Jenny Wiley S. (G2), breezed five-eighths in 1:00.
Grade 2 winner MISSIT (Ire) (Orpen), unraced since an unplaced finish in the Palomar H. (G2) at Del Mar, negotiated her move in 1:00 3/5.
At Churchill Downs, Grade 3-winning multiple stakes hero CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE (War Chant), readying for the April 10 Shakertown S. (G3), completed four furlongs in :50 1/5. He opened his six-year-old season with a victory in the February 20 Colonel Power S. at Fair Grounds.
from brisnet.com Noseda also noted that Awesome Act threw a shoe coming out of the gate, but the trainer still intends on running his horse next in the Kentucky Derby. "I think we still have a good chance in Kentucky," said jockey Julien Leparoux. "With more pace, he can relax better." There's no doubt Eskendereya is bound for Kentucky, but Pletcher said the 3-year-old would first ship back to Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida. He'll head to Louisville on April 20. "I said to Mr. Zayat (owner Ahmed Zayat), this horse literally improves every week," Pletcher said. "A lot of times they improve to a certain point and then level off. He keeps doing it."
Get more articles by John Piesen here...