- The favorites swept the four graded stakes at Fair Grounds on Saturday, producing a Pick Four payoff of $90.60. The races turned into little more than a showcase for four up and coming stars in the sport.
In the Mineshaft, Grasshopper, pinned down on the rail on the backstretch by Corey Lanerie on Silver Lord, exploded between the two tiring longshot front-runners in the stretch for a convincing victory, his first stakes win. Robby Albarado said:
"His turn of foot today was so explosive it was awesome....I didn't have to hit him any, I just hand-rode him in. That was unbelievable." [Times Picayune]Of course, with Curlin back for his four-year old campaign, Grasshopper's win has the feel of Mike Huckabee's primary wins; we all presume that Curlin will be the last horse standing in the division when all the votes are ultimately counted. But the big guy is off to Dubai on Friday, so Neil Howard will happily point his son of Dixie Union to the New Orleans Handicap on March 8.
- The wire to wire win by Daytona in the Fair Grounds Handicap was his 4th win in a row, all in graded stakes. It was also the first of those in which he was favored. That was a slight surprise, given the presence of Better Talk Now and the fact that it was his first effort outside of California. Jockey Mike Smith said: "I was worried about the soft ground and long stretch."
But it was no problem, with Daytona smoothly setting solid splits of 23.97, 24.58, and 23.86 to the 3/4's, and cruising home in 37.68 for the last 3/8ths. "I had to work hard to pull him up." [DRF] This four-year old gelded son of the Irish-bred Indian Ridge has really burst upon the scene after winning just one of four allowance races upon shipping to these shores last year; and now trainer Dan Hendricks has options: "We’ve got to decide whether to come back to Fair Grounds [for the Mervin H. Muniz], stay home (in California), or go to Dubai.” [Bloodhorse]
Better Talk Now was nowhere, rallying meaninglessly from 10th to 6th, and Ramon Dominguez said that he was "just was kind of flat."
- You could sense the bettors' hesitancy about Indian Blessing on the tote board. The juvenile filly champ was 4-5 in the morning line, but was struggling to get below that, finally settling at 7-10. I know that I've been negative about her distance prospects in the past, and I certainly saw the way she barely hung on in the Santa Ynez. But, given the lack of speed in the Silverbulletday, the only thing that saved me from losing money was the paltry double will-pay with her and Z Fortune.
As it turned out, there was a little speed in the race, with 93-1 shot Miss Missile getting the jump. But there was Indian Blessing, under tight restraint by Garrett Gomez, sitting off her flank for a good portion of the first half mile, which went in 47.14. That's quite a difference from her 43 3/5 half at Santa Anita. I know the track was a freak show that day in terms of running times, but still, I liked the way she handled herself, and the way she pulled away effortlessly after that point to open up a lead large enough to withstand the last sixteenth. Gomez said:
"Up until the 16th pole, she was doing things in perfect manner for me today, and I was very happy with what was going on. When I hit the 16th pole, I was wishing it was the wire." [Times Picayune]Proud Spell was closing at the end, but not eating up ground, and besides, who knows what will happen if and when the two of them reach even terms in deep stretch? I still imagine that, at some point, we'll have a chance to see if Indian Blessing truly does have the heart of a champion. But I can understand why Baffert was psyched.
"It was exciting to see. She handled a lot today. She showed today she can get the distance. (Gomez) took hold of her early. I think she likes two turns better. We’ll see how she is after the race, and we may come back (for the Fair Grounds Oaks).” [Bloodhorse]- As far as Pyro goes, before we all get our underwear in a bundle, as some people already have, betting him down to 5-1 co-favoritism in the futures pool after his startling last-to-first rally in the Risen Star, let me add some cautionary notes:
1) The race was almost a second slower than Indian Blessing's.
2) Far back behind an extremely dawdling pace, he only had to run for a quarter of a mile.
3) Other than his stablemate Z Fortune, he beat a field of dubious quality.
4) Remember how excited we were about this?