Weekend Lineup: Three Stops On The Road To Louisville

A trio of Kentucky Derby prep races are on the cards this weekend, including stakes at Gulfstream Park, Aqueduct, and Santa Anita.

Each offers the winner 10 points toward the Run for the Roses.

The Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream is perhaps the most contentious of the three, pitting G2 Remsen winner Mo Donegal against a pair of G1-placed runners, Tiz the Bomb and Giant Game.

Aqueduct’s G3 Withers features a field of 11 topped by Jerome winner Courvoisier, while a field of five will contest Sunday’s G3 Bob Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.

Also on tap this weekend are four additional graded stakes at Gulfstream, a pair of G3 turf contests at Tampa Bay Downs, four other graded stakes at Santa Anita, and 10 Louisiana-bred stakes worth just shy of $1 million at Delta Downs.

Saturday

4:25 p.m. – G3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct

Courvoisier will look to build on a 10-point triumph last out in the Jerome on New Year’s Day at Aqueduct. The regally-bred son of Tapit, out of 2014 Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Take Charge Brandi, secured outside stalking position in the one-turn mile Jerome and matched strides with pacesetter Hagler around the far turn before pulling away to a 1 1/4-length triumph over the sloppy and sealed main track. Trainer Kelly Breen said the sizable Courvoisier, who is owned by Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings and James Spry, will appreciate a return to two turns.

Looking to contest Courvoisier once more are Jerome second, third, fourth and sixth-place finishers Smarten Up, Cooke Creek, Unbridled Bomber and Mr Jefferson.

Among the fresh faces is Klaravich Stables’ Early Voting, who will see added ground following a triumphant career debut going a one-turn mile on December 18 at Aqueduct. Early Voting was forwardly placed from the outside down the backstretch and opened up in the stretch before fending off a late rally by Matt Doyle to win by 1 1/2 lengths as the heavy favorite.

Withers Entries

5:10 p.m. – G3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream

Donegal Racing’s Mo Donegal is poised to make his 2022 debut in the $250,000 Holy Bull (G3) Saturday at Gulfstream Park, and his Hall of Fame trainer, Todd Pletcher, has opted for no soft spot for the son of Uncle Mo’s highly anticipated return to action.

Although Mo Donegal, 3-1 on the morning line, will be put to the test in a field that includes two Grade 1 stakes-placed opponents, the Pletcher-trained colt has already passed the most rigorous test for all Triple Crown prospects – the two-turn test over 1 1/8-miles.  The $250,000 purchase at the 2020 Keeneland September yearling sale enters the Holy Bull off a gutsy triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct Dec. 4.

Phoenix Thoroughbreds LTD’s Tiz the Bomb rode a three-race winning streak into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, where he dropped back to 12th while in traffic before rallying strongly to finish second behind Modern Games.

Giant Game made a four-wide move into contention in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before settling for third in his stakes debut. The son of Giants Causeway, who will be ridden by Luis Saez for the first time Saturday, had previously finished third in the debut before graduating by three lengths at Keeneland in his two-turn debut.

Tami Bobo’s Simplification, who won the Mucho Macho Man by four lengths in front-running style, is expected to set or attend the early pace while stretching out around two turns for the first time. The long-striding son of Not This Time broke his maiden at Gulfstream by 16 ¾ lengths at six furlongs in his second career start. He came back to finish a troubled third again at six-furlongs before impressively stretching out to a mile in the Mucho Macho Man.

Holy Bull Entries

6:06 p.m. – G2 Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita

Fresh off the biggest win of her career, the Bo Hirsch homebred Ce Ce heads a field of five older fillies and mares going seven furlongs in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Monica Stakes at Santa Anita.

A handy 2 ½ length winner of the G1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint going seven panels at Del Mar Nov. 6, Ce Ce will be bidding for her third consecutive graded stakes win in what will be her first start at age six on Saturday.

Bob Baffert will be represented by a pair of distaffers, recent Grade 1 winner Kalypso and Merneith, who ran a big second in the ungraded Kalookan Queen at 6 ½ furlongs Jan. 2 following a nearly one year absence. A winner of last year’s Santa Monica, Merneith, a 5-year-old mare by American Pharoah, will be ridden for the third consecutive time by Edwin Maldonado, who was aboard for last year’s Santa Monica score.

Hronis Racing’s Park Avenue, who had a two-game winning streak snapped when a well beaten second in the G3 La Canada Stakes going a mile and one sixteenth on Jan. 1, will shorten up out of five consecutive routes in what will be her second stakes engagement.

Santa Monica Entries

7:10 p.m. – G2 San Pasqual at Santa Anita

In what shapes up as an important prep to the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 5, C R K Stable’s Express Train heads a field of six older horses going a mile and one eighth in Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita.

A game nose winner over A-List sophomore Hot Rod Charlie in the G2 San Antonio Stakes going a mile and one sixteenth on Dec. 26, Express Train is the defending champ in the San Pasqual and he’ll be seeking his fourth graded stakes win on Saturday.

A newly turned 4-year-old, Twin Creeks Racing Stables’ Law Professor prevailed in a protracted stretch battle with Grade 1 winner Beyond Brilliant to take the G2 Santa Anita Mathis Mile by a half length on Dec. 26 and he has the look of a “now horse” as he bids for his third consecutive victory.

With John Velazquez riding him back, Bob Baffert’s Eight Rings, who went to the front in the opening day San Antonio and nearly dead heated with Hot Rod Charlie for the place while beaten a half length by Express Train, rates a big chance in what will be his 14th career start. A Grade 1 winner here at two, Eight Rings is a 5-year-old horse by Empire Maker seeking his second graded stakes win and his fourth overall.

In a dominant gate to wire performance, trainer George Papaprodromou’s American Theorem took a second condition allowance at a mile an one sixteenth by 2 ¼ lengths over Shooter’s Shoot on Jan 2 and was flattered by the fact the runner-up came back to post a big second here in Saturday’s G3 Palos Verdes Stakes.

San Pasqual Entries

Sunday

7:12 p.m. – G3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita

Second at 1-2 in his most recent stakes assignment, Messier will be out to make amends and stamp himself an “A-List” Derby hopeful as he heads a field of five sophomores going 1 1/16 miles in Sunday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.

An important prep on the road to both the Santa Anita and Kentucky Derbies, the Lewis will provide the winner with 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and the second, third and fourth place finishers with four, two and one point respectively. However, the Bob Baffert-trained colt is not eligible for those points due to Churchill Downs’ ban of the Hall of Fame trainer.

Messier’s primary rival certainly appears to be the Simon Callaghan-trained Sir London, who crushed four rivals in breaking his maiden by 10 lengths as the 1-5 favorite on Dec. 4 at Los Alamitos. Second in a pair of maiden sprints on Oct. 3 at Santa Anita and Nov. 13 at Del Mar, Sir London led every step of the way in breaking his maiden at a flat mile Dec. 4 and seems very well spotted in Saturday’s Lewis as he retains the services of Flavien Prat.

Lewis Entries

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