Triple Crown Weekend Prep Report Card: No Risk, No Reward

A trio of graded stakes for 3-year-olds on the Triple Crown trail was contested on Feb. 6, and all three races – two of which offered 17 Kentucky Derby qualifying points on a 10-4-2-1 basis to the top four finishers – look more like steppingstones than definitive contests. Most of the horses contesting these races were unproven at the stakes level, but you have to start somewhere. No risk, no reward.

None of the weekend’s races has been overly productive for Triple Crown success.

The Grade 3 Withers has been around since 1874, run at different New York tracks but only moved to February at Aqueduct in 2012. Before that, Bernardini used the Withers in 2006 as a tune-up for his victory in the G1 Preakness Stakes. No winner since has been victorious in a Triple Crown race.

The G3 Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs has been a gateway race to bigger and better things for several horses in recent years. Most notably, Tapwrit, the Davis runner-up to McCraken in 2017, would win that year’s G1 Belmont Stakes, doing one better than 2016 Davis winner Destin, who fell a nose short of Creator in the Belmont. Both Tapwrit and Destin were trained by Todd Pletcher.

Finally, the G2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita – the only one of the three races not offering Kentucky Derby points – has a solid roster of winners led by 1997 Kentucky Derby-Preakness victor Silver Charm and by 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. At seven furlongs, it’s often used as a starting point for 3-year-olds getting ready to stretch out to longer distances.

Before we look at those three race winners, there was also a highly anticipated maiden event on Sunday at Santa Anita involving one of the most hyped horses of the year, Bezos, a colt by Empire Maker from the Bob Baffert stable. The massive colt, weighing in at over 1,300 pounds, was being compared to horses like Triple Crown winner Justify, who didn’t make his first start until mid-February. Bezos had trained forwardly last year, from early May through late July. Baffert backed off until late in the year, with the colt breezing 10 times from early December until his debut, where he was made the 3-5 favorite.

Bezos, ridden by Mike Smith, got a perfect trip in the 6 ½-furlong race, sitting just behind dueling pacesetters for the opening half mile. But when the field turned for home, Bezos came up empty, winding up seventh of nine runners, beaten 15 ¼ lengths by a 20-1 longshot named Dream Shake, a Twirling Candy colt making his career debut for Peter Eurton.

Dream Shake is geared down nearing the wire by Joel Rosario

With Joel Rosario in the saddle, Dream Shake broke alertly from the outside post and remained wide throughout. Eighth after the opening quarter mile (in a slow :23.40), Dream Shake made a strong run from inside the half mile pole to the quarter pole that brought him into contention. He quickly moved to the lead while still wide, was under an aggressive hand ride from Rosario and got one tap of the whip in midstretch while pulling away. He was wrapped up in the end, winning by 4 ¾ lengths in 1:17.34 on a fast track and earning a 96 Beyer Speed Figure that was higher than any of the weekend Triple Crown prep stakes winners.

Bred by Dunwoody Farm, Dream Shake was a $32,000 pinhook from the Keeneland September Yearling Sale that Cary Frommer sold for $75,000 at the OBS Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training. He races for Exline-Border Racing, SAF Racing and Richard Hausman.

Now, on to the three stakes races. My Report Card grades are on an A to F scale and are subjective, based on my personal “eyeball test,” Beyer Speed Figures from Daily Racing Form, historical significance of the race and perceived quality of field.

Feb. 6 Withers Stakes, 1 1/8 miles, Aqueduct

Risk Taking was made the 19-10 favorite off a solid maiden win in his third career start on Dec. 13 going 1 1/8 miles at Aqueduct. Trainer Chad Brown debuted the Medaglia d’Oro colt sprinting at Belmont October 10 when he raced in seventh throughout. Next start was going 1 1/16 miles on turf, where Risk Taking was a non-threatening sixth. Blinkers were added for his maiden-breaking score and that seems to have awakened Risk Taking.

Risk Taking and Eric Cancel at the wire in the Withers

The Withers field included Capo Kane, the runaway winner of the one-turn Jerome Stakes (graded by me as a C-) on Jan. 1, and Jerome runner-up Eagle Orb. As expected, Capo Kane set the pace, with Eric Cancel keeping Risk Taking in a pocket while racing sixth in the early going. Approaching the far turn, Cancel found a seam and gradually began to gain on the leader, turning into the stretch less than three lengths behind, then ranging up alongside and passing the drifting out leader, Capo Kane, in the final furlong. Risk Taking drew off to win by 3 ¾ lengths, stopping the clock in 1:51.91 and getting an 89 Beyer Speed Figure, a big improvement from his maiden breaking 82 Beyer. Todd Pletcher-trained Overtook, a lumbering Curlin colt coming off a maiden win going one mile, was up for second after trailing early.

Neither the winner or the runner-up showed any early speed or quick acceleration, but both look like further distances would be no problem. There’s probably a reason both Risk Taking and Overtook were left in New York for the winter rather than head to Florida where the waters are a little deeper for Triple Crown hopefuls.

From a pedigree standpoint, Risk Taking is by a proven stallion who has sired Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, the brilliant Songbird, and G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic. Risk Taking, bred by G. Watts Humphrey Jr., is out of the Distorted Humor mare Run a Risk and traces back to a very successful female family developed by Ogden Phipps, including fourth dam Con Game, who produced Seeking the Gold and Fast Play, and fifth dam Broadway, who produced Ruffian’s sire Reviewer. Risk Taking was purchased on behalf of Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stables for $240,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

Grade C

Feb. 6 Sam F. Davis Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Tampa Bay Downs

Todd Pletcher-trained Known Agenda was made the 3-2 favorite in the field of 12 in this 1 1/16-mile race, but 3-1 second choice Candy Man Rocket got the job done in workmanlike fashion in his first time around two turns for trainer Bill Mott. The Candy Ride colt, ridden by Junior Alvarado and owned by Frank Fletcher Racing Operations, was one length the best over stablemate Nova Rags (by Union Rags), who had the benefit of a race over the track (winning the Pasco on Jan. 16 and getting a grade of D from me) but also making his two-turn debut.

The third-place finisher, Hidden Stash, gained 4 1/4 lengths on the winner in the final furlong, according to the Equibase chart, and visually did not appear to be accelerating as much as the winner was slowing down.

The final time of 1:44.30 came after a six-furlong clocking of 1:10.80 and mile split in 1:37.22, meaning a final sixteenth in 7.08 seconds and a final five-sixteenths in 33.50. The winner received a Beyer Speed Figure of 85, the same as his maiden win.

Candy Man Rocket and jockey Junior Alvarado winning the Sam F. Davis Stakes

My first thought after watching the Davis was that Bill Mott is not the kind of trainer who is going to try to pound a square peg into a round hole. Candy Man Rocket looked sensational sprinting to a 9 ¼-length victory at Gulfstream Park Jan. 9 in his second career start. He was good enough to win at 1 1/16 miles over a fairly weak field, but it’s hard to make a case that he’s going to get better as the races get longer. I would not be surprised to see this colt doing his best racing at seven furlongs to a mile in the spring and summer.

From a pedigree standpoint, Candy Ride has been very successful at stud and was a classic-distance winner himself. Like Risk Taking, the real quality in Candy Man Rocket’s female family is in the fourth generation where you find 1983 Broodmare of the Year Courtly Dee, dam of Althea and other stakes winners.

Grade C-

Feb. 6 San Vicente Stakes, seven furlongs, Santa Anita

Gary and Mary West’s homebred Street Sense colt Concert Tour was favored at 2-5 but was all out to get by Bob Baffert stablemate Freedom Fighter (by Violence) to take down the winner’s share of the $200,000 purse.  The latter, away at 5-1 odds, set the early pace in a five-horse field, dueled with the quick California-bred gelding The Chosen Vron, then forgot to read the odds board as he continued to roll down the stretch, not giving way to Concert Tour until the very end, beaten a half length. That was Freedom Fighter’s first start since winning his debut at Del Mar Aug. 1 at 1-2 odds, prevailing by a head in a five-furlong tilt.

Concert Tour (outside) overtakes Freedom Fighter in deep stretch to win the San Vicente

The winner also won his debut on Jan. 15 at even money, earning an 88 Beyer Speed Figure (compared to Freedom Fighter’s 79 last year).

Baffert has won this race 11 times since Silver Charm’s victory in 1997 and said after Concert Tour’s victory that he likes using it as a progression for horses like Nadal, the 2020 winner who then stretched out to two turns, taking both the G2 Rebel and a division of the G1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn. Don’t be surprised to see Concert Tour try a similar path, as Baffert’s No. 1 Derby prospect, Life Is Good, will remain at Santa Anita to contest the G2 San Felipe Stakes on March 6.

Sire Street Sense was precocious enough to win the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at two and won four of eight starts at three, including the Kentucky Derby and G1 Travers at 1 ¼ miles. Concert Tour’s dam, Purse Strings (by Tapit), wasn’t the most successful racemare, not breaking her maiden until her 12th career start and never racing again, but she appears to have produced a good one in Concert Tour.

Grade B

Coming up this Presidents’ Day weekend are the G2 Risen Star from Fair Grounds on Saturday and Monday’s G3 Southwest Stakes from Oaklawn.


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