Stardom Bound powers through the stretch to win the G1 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita
This Saturday marked perhaps the biggest day on the 2009 Kentucky Derby trail so far this year, and was (in my opinion) the most exciting day in racing since the Breeders’ Cup last October. Four horses took major steps forward, including Haynesfield, Pioneer of the Nile, Stardom Bound, and Friesan Fire.
Stardom Bound may well have rocketed herself all the way to the top of many Derby contender lists with her dominating performance in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita. The daughter of Tapit race behind the field for much of the early going as the Doug O’Neill runner Pinkarella got away quickly with the lead. As the field turned for home Stardom Bound was desperately seeking running room, which opened up for her to the outside just as they entered the stretch. From there on out it was her class on display as she sized them and up and gunned them down in her typical warrior-like fashion.
Saucey Evening made a race of it for her by making her earn each step along the way throughout most of the stretch, but Stardom Bound was never in question. Eventually she pulled away from Saucey Evening, who wound up being nipped by Haka at the wire for place.
Stardom Bound has yet to run on true dirt, and until we see her on the conventional surface it will be hard to get a true read on her potential to win a race like the Derby, but this much is certain; if she enters in the Santa Anita Derby this April, she will have a huge shot to dominate. I’m hoping she gets a dirt prep somewhere in between. She reminds me quite a bit of Zenyatta with her determination to win and her running style. The only hurdles left for her in California are to beat the top 3-year-old boys, namely Pioneer of the Nile and The Pamplemousse.
Pioneer of the Nile wins a thriller in the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita
Speaking of Pioneer of the Nile, the Empire Maker colt continued to solidify his status as top 3-year-old male on the California circuit (with all due respect to The Pamplemousse and Chocolate Candy) by prevailing in a thrilling rendition of the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita. He’s already racked up more than enough earnings to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, so up next is anyone’s guess. Might he ship south and east (or even north) looking for a dirt prep? Or will he stick around to tackle Stardom Bound in the Santa Anita Derby in April?
Brother Keith got away early on in the Robert B. Lewis but was not able to hold on. I want Revenge and Papa Clem both looked impressive along with Bittel Road in running well late, but none of them could hold of a dominating wide run down the center of the track by Pioneer of the Nile. Pioneer’s late stretch burst clearly separates him from the other impressive runners of the race. It really looked to me at the top of the stretch that I Want Revenge was going to run away with this one, but Pioneer of the Nile had something to say about that. Don’t sleep on Bittel Road and Papa Clem – these guys ran BIG races today and could turn out to be very useful horses later on.
Perhaps the most impressive performance of the day, however, was one I do not have a youtube clip available to share. Friesan Fire was absolutely brilliant in taking the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. Sent off as the second choice behind Giant Oak, he patiently waited for his moment to strike and then gunned down Flying Pegasus (who also looked noteworthy) to prevail, capturing his second major Derby prep this year having won the Lecomte last month.
The win gives trainer Larry Jones and jockey Gabriel Saez, the same tandem that met with tragedy last year with the filly Eight Belles, a legitimate contender for the Kentucky Derby. The way Friesan Fire pulled away in the stretch and the fact that it was on true dirt really make this son of A.P. Indy one to pay close attention to. It’ll be anyone’s guess who might be favored in the next Kentucky Derby future wagers pool. Will it be Stardom Bound? Friesan Fire? Perhaps a colt like Old Fashioned? Any way you slice it those three should be at or near the top slots in everyone’s Derby watch lists now.
What’s that? Feel a segue coming on? You guys know my style too well. Yes indeed, without further adieu, here’s my read on the ever confusing Derby trail scene:
1. Stardom Bound - Still need to see her on dirt, but she’s got “it”, whatever “it” is. Likely pointing to the SA Derby in April.
2. Old Fashioned - There will be a tendency to rank others higher as we live in a “what have you done for me lately” world, but don’t forget what this guy did in the Remsen. Another big threat for trainer Larry Jones.
3. Friesan Fire - Larry Jones has colts going 2, 3 on this list. Friesan Fire’s big run in the stretch of the Risen Star solidifies his placement on this list. He’s chewing up the competition in Louisiana and will likely stay through the LA Derby next month.
4. Vineyard Haven – to be honest, I’d still bet this guy on top if the Derby were run tomorrow, so it’s hard to rank him effectively. As long as he stays overseas he’ll continue to slide, but if he shows up stateside again and gives an indication of being his former self, watch out.
5. Pioneer of the Nile – it’s always hard to rank the California colts effectively since the synthetic surfaces went into place, but this guy continues to improve. He’s an Empire Maker colt, so distance and dirt should be well within his reach. His late stretch burst in the Robert B. Lewis to outgun Papa Clem, Bittel Road, and I Want Revenge makes it impossible to drop him down the list. Would prefer to see him on dirt though before ranking higher. That may seem contradictory to my ranking of Stardom Bound, but as it stands I’d expect her to beat “Pioneer if they faced off in the Santa Anita Derby.
6. Captain Candyman Can - not one of the more household names on the list, but that’s because he’s been running down south and not getting the glory of horses out west. He took the Hutcheson at Gulfstream last out and would appear to be a serious contender. We’ll find out a lot more about this guy in the next month.
7. Chocolate Candy – here’s a runner I’m not entirely sure what to do with. About a month ago I was ready to write him off as a plodder when he wasn’t moving as well as I’d have liked in the stretch of the Cash Call. Then he went up north to Golden Gate and turned in a good stakes win over (edit) the tapeta. That win makes him more of a known quality from a KY Derby perspective, but when matched up over synthetics against the main CA competition he’s seemed a cut below. Of course, the KY Derby isn’t run on synthetics, so all of that might be a moot point.
8. The Pamplemousse – another California runner who is difficult to rank. You could interchange this one with Pioneer of the Nile. I just prefer Pioneer’s “killer instinct” a bit more. Pamplemousse could wind up as Stardom Bound’s main rival in the Santa Anita Derby this April if they each point that way. Up next could be the Sham later this month.
9. Haynesfield – he continues to dominate 3-year-olds in New York, as evidenced by his win in the Whirlaway yesterday, but we still don’t really know how he stacks up against the better runners in Florida, Louisiana, and California. We might not find out until the Wood Memorial.
10. Midshipman – I’m not going to sleep on this guy and am not ready to take him off this list. I know we likely won’t see him again until the Derby (if even then), but I’m still banking on the way he finished his 2-year-old campaign as reason enough to consider him in this top 10 list….until someone else runs impressive enough to make me forget about him.