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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, February 3, 2014 at 12:00 AM

PREPPING FOR THE DERBY – 2014
Volume V…Number 4
Monday, February 3, 2014

SAMRAAT EDGES UNCLE SIGH IN WITHERS…VENECEREMOS A LENGTH OR LESS BETTER THAN THREE OTHERS IN SAM F. DAVIS
Will Any Of them Be In Louisville On The First Saturday In May?

While one could legitimately argue that Cairo Prince’s victory in the Grade III Holy Bull Stakes a week earlier figures to have more impact than the performances of any of Saturday’s 3-year olds in the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct and the Grade III Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay, we did see both continued solid potential from the first two finishers in the Withers as well as a handful of “glass half full” efforts in the Sam F. Davis.

WITHERS LIVES UP TO BILLING AS TWO HORSE BATTLE FLATTERS NEW YORK BREDS

Prior to the running of the Grade III Withers Stakes on Saturday few pundits strayed far beyond discussing the prospects of either Samraat or Uncle Sigh (a pair of NYSB colts) as the legitimate contenders to win the second of four Derby Trail prep races to be run in New York. The Grade II Jerome (January 4) was won by Noble Moon and the Gotham Stakes (March 1) and Wood Memorial (April 5) will follow.

And of course the pundits turned out to be correct as Samraat and Uncle Sigh hooked up right out of the gate, separated themselves from the rest of the field by the time they reached the 13/16th pole and continued to battle side by side and widen the margin on their pursuers.

Uncle Sigh, the less experiences of the two after having broken his maiden in career start number two in his prior took a neck lead over Samraat, a last out winner of the restricted $100,000 Damon Runyon Stakes and held that lead with the latter flanked on his outside as they turned into the stretch 8 lengths clear of the rest.

The final furlong of the mile and a sixteenth race proved the difference as Samraat, who actually went off as the second favorite by a few dollars (each went off at 1.15-1), drew clear by a length in the final sixteenth.

Listening to Samraat’s trainer Richard Violette after the race, it is likely that the son of Noble Causeway, who will return to Florida where he has been training at the Palm Meadows facility near Gulfstream, will next run in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 5. Although this is the time when trainers, many of whom want to both ensure they have enough points for inclusion in the 20 horse Kentucky Derby field also want to be judicious as to the timing of their preparations so as to peak on the first Saturday in May as well as not bag heads too early with the same contenders they will likely meet in the Derby…if they get that far.

That being said, Uncle Sigh’s trainer Gary Contessa probably has fewer options than Violette given that his second place finish earned him only 4 points, which leaves the son of Indian Charlie down line in the qualification standings. This means that if the colt continues to thrive over the course of the next few days he will be trained forwardly for the March 1 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

Interestingly both colts are influenced bloodline wise by Indian Charlie. Samraat’s sire Noble Causeway (Giant’s Causeway) does have some stamina in his second and third male generations, but has been more a developer of mile speed progeny. Nonetheless, Samraat’s female line, which goes back through dam sire Indian Charlie, has plenty of foundation and that combination of mile speed on the male side and female foundation has been rather potent in the recent history of the Derby.

That does not, however, leave Uncle Sigh at a disadvantage when it comes to speculating on the value of the comparative bloodlines. Indian Charlie, as previously mentioned is his sire and while that multi-Graded Stakes winner has classic distance influence, he has also been a progenitor of fabulous speed and his dam Cradlesong is a daughter of Preakness winner Pine Bluff so experience and distance should only help.

There is another positive to consider when projecting forward regarding Samraat and Uncle Sigh and that is their running style. Professional cruising speed is highly valued as three-year olds begin to stretch out through the spring and in the Withers the two colts ran even :24 plus splits for the first three quarters of the race. They then slowed down and ran the fourth quarter in :26 2/5 and the final 5/16ths in :33 3/5. At this point one would be advised to consider the positive of the opening three-quarters of the race over a glib race track than the relatively sub-par final 5/16ths.

In any case, there is every reason to be interested in both colts as they move forward.

As to the rest of the field, Giacnroll, who ran second to the well-regarded Noble Moon in the Grade II Jerome, was never a factor and was a well beaten fourth. He was even beaten home by third place finisher Scotland, who despite finishing third in both the Jerome and the Withers is still a maiden. Honorable Judge and Street Gent ran to their long odds.


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VINCEREMOS STAYS AT TAMPA BAY…SNEAKS UP THE RAIL AND UPSETS SAM F. DAVIS

As has been the case many times over with the deep Todd Pletcher barn, in last Saturday’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes from Tampa Bay Downs the longer priced of his uncoupled entry jumped up and beat the more highly regarded stable mate.

In a fabulous stretch drive that saw the top 4 horses finished with a length of each other, WinStar Farm LLC and Twin Creek Racing Stables’ LLC Vinceremos ($26.80) dug in along the rail and held off the late charge of the other Pletcher runner Harpoon.

Vinceremos, a son of Pioneer of The Nile out of the More Than Ready mare Kettle’s Sister was cross entered in the 7 furlong Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream on Saturday but one has to assume that Pletcher needed to find out more quickly if the colt could handle two turns. His tough performance along the rail under Edgar Prado indeed demonstrated his mettle and now Pletcher will likely send him next in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby on March 8. This will not only give the conditioner a better idea of the level of comparison with many of the others in his usually deep 3-year old barn (42 of his sophomores were early Derby nominations) but will also set him up to begin accumulating qualifying points for Derby inclusion as the Davis was not a designated qualification race this year so provided no points.

Vinceremos was followed by his stable mate Harpoon, whom he beat by a nose, Cousin Stephen, who was another 3/4 of a length back and fourth place finisher Matador, who checked in a neck behind that one.

The difficulty in evaluating this race is compounded on many levels. First and foremost is the time it took to run the mile and a sixteenth. The final time of 1:47 1/5 was a troubling 22 lengths slower than the track record of 1:42 4/5. Obviously that slow time can be mitigated somewhat by the heaviness of a drying out surface but the top four finishers each ran the opening quarter between :24 1/5 and :24 4/5, the half between :48 3/5 and :49 flat and 6 furlongs between 1:13 3/5 and 1:14 2/5.

It was also how they finished as they battled each other through the stretch that makes pure evaluation problematic. Vinceremos went out early to battle with pace setter Cousin Stephen, dropped back to fourth entering the stretch and then re-rallied to get the nose victory.

Harpoon, who was sent off as the ever so slight favorite behind Wesley Ward’s last out Remington Park Springboard Mile Stakes winner Noble Cornerstone (who was a no-excuse 7th) with both going off at 9-5 undoubtedly ran the best overall race. Jockey Luis Saez tracked close-up in fourth throughout the early going while just off his interchanging rivals but had to wait a bit before dropping back to sixth and then moved 4 wide entering the lane and even farther out while getting the son of Tapit into gear for the furious close that just missed. If any of the eight runners can be seen as getting anything truly positive out of the race it has to be this guy as his recent development, he finally broke his maiden in his fourth start two back, his running style and his breeding suggest that the more ground the better.

Cousin Stephen, a son of Proud Citizen from the Chad Brown barn made his first stakes start and career start number four in the Davis after a tough trip 5th behind the well regarded duo of Commissioner and Top Billing in a 9 furlong allowance race at Gulfstream. The colt challenged on the outside out of the gate, took command by a half length a quarter in and held that lead until mid-stretch before giving way while holding on for the show spot. Based on his pressured effort before the trouble in the allowance race two back and the show result in the Davis the one thing that conditioner Brown will need to do is get the colt to relax a bit, although given his breeding and running style, a mile and a quarter is likely a major hurdle while middle-distance turf racing at a high level might be right up his alley.

It is also difficult to measure where Mark Casse’s fourth place finisher Matador belongs at this point. The Ontario-bred son of hot sire Malibu Moon is well blood-lined to get the classic distance and as they turned for home and he swept up on the outside he appeared as though he was going to run away from them. But as they straightened away for the stretch run he began to flatten out just a bit and shied away a bit as Cousin Stephen dug in to his inside and Harpoon swung up outside of him. But this was his first race that wasn’t conducted in Canada on turf or the synthetic Woodbine surface and was his first try since November 17 so it isn’t unreasonable to believe that Casse might move him forward in his next try.

The biggest disappointment was of course post time favorite Noble Cornerstone, who was sent off as the actual 9-5 favorite despite having made just two career starts that included a MSW win at Aqueduct 11/3 and a second in the Springboard Stakes at Remington on 12/15. One supposes that one of the eight had to be favored but given his lack of experience he was an odd choice. As we move forward where trainer Wesley Ward goes from here with the son of Noble Causeway, remains to be seen.

Asserting Bear, another Woodbine runner who was also making his first south of the border try offered little at any stage, School On A Hill moved up to third on the backstretch but quickly retreated and Imaginethatmom exchanged 7th and 8th place positions with Noble Cornerstone all the way around the race track and checked in last.

To repeat, this was a difficult race from which to make any confident progress reports although the two Pletcher runners did acquit themselves well enough to require close attention.

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